December 5, 2021

All flesh

Preacher:
Passage: Malachi 3:1–4, Luke 1:68–79, Luke 3:1–6

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

 

We are going to ponder that today. What does it mean to say that all flesh shall see the salvation of God?

 

 

In the 1998 movie “Armageddon” there is an asteroid heading towards earth which is going to destroy the world. It is so big that even nuclear weapons fired at its surface won’t destroy it.

In order for a nuclear bomb to split it, the atomic war head would have to be implanted deep under the surface of the meteor.

So, they find the best drilling team on the planet. And together with some astronauts NASA sends them up to land on the meteor and drill beneath the surface, putting the warhead there.

The drilling team is headed up by Harry Stamper

After much adventure and the drilling is done, they discover that the timer is destroyed to set off the bomb and somebody has to stay behind on the meteor to set off the bomb manually, which of course means that they will die.

The drillers draw straws and a young man AJ who is dating Harry’s daughter, Grace, pulls the short straw.

But when Harry goes with him to the surface of the planet to say good-bye, Harry pushes him back inside and decides to be the one to set off the bomb and save the world.

The shuttle finally takes off from the asteroid and Harry sets off the warhead. Killing himself, but splitting the asteroid, which veers away from earth and the world is saved.

You didn’t know that Harry was the Saviour of the world, did you?

And in the movie the whole world sees the asteroid blow up and split.

All flesh sees the salvation of the world.

 

That is one kind of salvation.

 

If I were to ask you what salvation in the bible means, I expect I would get all kind of answers.

 

For some, salvation would mean that you are a Christian and those who are not Christians are not saved.

 

For some, salvation would mean forgiveness of sins. That God has forgiven your sins.

 

For some, salvation would mean that you are going to heaven when you die and not to hell.

 

For some, salvation would mean that you have been born again into a new life and died to an old life.

 

For some, salvation might mean that you have a relationship with God or Jesus and that you talk to them and listen to them.

 

Some of you might talk about salvation as God’s free gift that you didn’t earn and that is why it is called grace.

 

Some of you might say that in order to be saved we have to do certain things, like believe in Jesus, or repent of our sins.

 

And maybe I have just scratched the surface of salvation in the bible and the various understandings of salvation.

 

In the Old Testament the greatest saving act was called the Exodus. It was God the liberator, God the Saviour. And it was about release from bondage.

That is another meaning of salvation that is far different than going to heaven. Jews in Old Testament times didn’t believe in an afterlife, but they believed in God the Saviour… God the rescuer.

And so, salvation can be about the many ways we are set free in this life from the things that hold us in bondage.

Sin, guilt, slavery, poverty, illness, bad relationships, lack of meaning, depression, trauma, addiction, harmful patterns, oppression, bullying, racism, prejudice… etc…

 

In fact, there are so many images in scripture of salvation that it could almost make your head spin.

 

It is like a slave who is set free,

It is like an estranged couple who are brought back together.

It is like a wayward son who returns home to find love and acceptance.

It is like an enemy who saves you from dying on the side of the road.

It is like healing, or like a person who is sick in mind brought back to their right mind

It is like a sheep who is lost and the shepherd risks his life to find that lost sheep.

It is like a creditor who forgives your debt.

 

It is like a person who finds a treasure, and that treasure could be love, it could be Jesus, it could God, it could be each other, it could even be finding one’s true self.

It is like being exorcised of the demons inside you.

It is like being set free from evil, or it is like taking on the battle against evil.

 

It is finding a peace that passes understanding.

It is finding real life, or true life or abundant life.

It is finding the light in the darkness.

It is finding the way when you wandered off the path.

 

It is have a life of joy.

 

There are many images of salvation as being the poor lifted up and the powerful brought down.

 

Salvation is also like a barren woman who has a child or like an orphan child being adopted.

 

From one angle salvation is that we have rebelled and sinned again God and we need to be forgiven.

From another angle the human predicament is that we are slaves to external and internal forces and God has to set us free.

From another angle we are estranged or alienated from God, from other people, from creation and from our true selves and Salvation is the restoration of those relationships.

 

The really weird thing is that salvation often is paradoxical and opposites are held in a kind of tension.

 

Salvation is about your choice, but it is also about being chosen.

Salvation is about finding life, but is also about losing life.

Salvation is about being born, but also about dying.

Salvation is about Jesus who is your servant, but about us being servants too.

Salvation is about being forgiven, but about us forgiving others.

Salvation is about us being dreadful sinners, but us also being priceless treasures.

Salvation is about finding greatness by being least.

 

And so, while I and many scholars can say one of the main messages in scripture is that of the salvation of God, I am not sure we can reduce it to one event, one belief, one doctrine, four easy steps to salvation…

 

Because in many ways all of the above might be part of salvation.

Salvation in some ways may be our whole life with God, instead of one moment when we find God, or God finds us, or one moment when we die.

Salvation may be all the moments as we our born, born again, and grow in faith and learn, live, and are transformed into the image of God, and spend eternity in God’s love.

 

So, our task for today is not to understand all of Salvation but to look at a particular passage of scripture and see what it might have to add to our understanding of salvation.

 

And in particular we are looking at Luke’s gospel where John appears on the scene.

 

And the first clue to salvation, interestingly enough, is found in the fact that Luke has John misquoting Isaiah.

 

John is quoting from Isaiah chapter 40.

The Isaiah passage reads:

A voice cries out:

       “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

       Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

 

While what John says in the gospel of Luke is…

Actually, all four gospels have the same mistranslation:

 

       “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

 

In Isaiah the voice is speaking about the wilderness. In the gospels the voice is in the wilderness.

 

Why is that? Scholars think the reason is that while Isaiah is speaking about a coming Messianic age and in that age there are going to be reversals. Valleys lifted up. Mountains brought low. The crooked made straight and the rough places smooth.

 

The gospels place that voice in the wilderness because they understand that coming age to have started in Jesus.

The voice is not speaking about the wilderness and about the future. The voice is now in the wilderness and that leveling, that smoothing, that lifting up and bringing low is happening in Jesus.

 

Salvation is not something we are looking forward too. Salvation has come in Jesus.

It is not when we die, or in the future, it is here and now.

 

Now listen to how Luke introduces John.

       3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

 

Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Annas and Caiaphas.

That is seven very important people in positions of power.

And yet the word of the Lord comes to an unknown person in the wilderness.

 

The word of the Lord didn’t come to the powerful, but to one who was powerless.

The word of the Lord didn’t come to government offices, or palaces, or was found in the wealthiest and most beautiful cities, it was found in the wilderness.

 

And it says something about power.

What is that old saying. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What is your relationship to power? All of us here have some power. We may have some buying power. We may have power in some of our relationships. Parents have power. We may have a job where there are people who work under us. Or our job may make us make decisions that affect others.

With our friends our words may have power. We all have the potential to hurt others with words or actions.

We all have the power to make choices.

We all have the power to love and to do good to others even enemies.

 

So, are you using what power you have for good, to help others, to bring justice, to love, to forgive, to build relationships?

Or are you part of the hegemony. The Rich powerful people who want to keep things the way they are because it benefits the rich?

 

 

In the year 2021 during the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau, while Vladmir Putin ruled the Soviet Union and XI Jinping was president of the People’s Republic of China, while Angela Merkel was head of Germany, and Joe Biden was president of the United States. While Pope Francis was head of the Roman Catholic Church, and Jeff Bezos the CEO of Amazon and richest person in the world, flew into space …

 

The word of the Lord comes to who? It comes to you. Today. In Edmonton Alberta.

 

And that word says: Repent. Change. Deal with your sin. Acknowledge the ways you hurt others. Face the truth of the ways you hurt yourself.

Be aware of whether you bring positive energy or negative energy to your relationships.

Do you abuse power? Do you scapegoat others? Are you afraid to seek the truth and science and to find out if you are wrong, or do you stubbornly hold on to your ways and patterns and insist you are right?

 

The first thing about the wilderness is that it is place of no power. You don’t rule anyone or anybody. There are no games of manipulation and coercion. There are no minions to boss around. There are no servants or lackeys. There is no money or bank accounts to buy your way out. In the wilderness you come face to face with powerlessness; and paradoxically you find new power.

You find that you don’t have to fit in, and you don’t have to have stuff, and you don’t have to be powerful, to be loved and accepted.

God loves you no matter what.

And so, you find power to be yourself. And often when you are yourself you start to choose love.

 

And the second thing about the wilderness is that it is a place of brutal honesty. No illusions, no masks, no false identities, no pretenses, nobody to impress, fool, hide from, or be ashamed in front of.

 

Just you. So, own up to who you are, what you have done and not done, and find in the wilderness that you are forgiven and loved.

 

And now in the wilderness where you have no power but the power to choose love, where you are brutally honest and confess your sin and decide to go a new way…

…you now have a different vantage point.

 

You can now see where the social landscape is unjust. You can see those on the top and those in the middle and those on the bottom of the power ladder, or the social ladder, or the religious ladder, of the political ladder…

 

You see how unequal the playing field is for people of colour or indigenous people, or for people with disabilities, or mental illness. You see the vast differences between rich and poor. You see the ones who use women as their sexual pawns or personal slaves.

You see people in bondage. You see the world need to change.

And from that place of wilderness where you have no power, where you are brutally honest, where you see how the world operates,

…you feel the rough places and you begin to make them smooth

… you see the crooked paths and begin to straighten them.

…you lift up those who are lowly, and bring down the mountain of the hegemony…the powerful.

 

So, in the year 2021 during the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau, while Vladmir Putin ruled the Soviet Union and XI Jinping was president of the People’s Republic of China, while Angela Merkel was head of Germany, and Joe Biden was president of the United States. While Pope Francis was head of the Roman Catholic Church, and Jeff Bezos the CEO of Amazon and richest person in the world, flew into space …

 

The word of the Lord came to Westmount presbyterian Church. It came to First Presbyterian Church. It came to you.

And with your powerlessness, and with your honesty and repentance, and with you levelling the playing field…. And straightening out the crooked places… you a veritable nobody in the wilderness of Edmonton or Alberta, became the place where Jesus lived…

And so, all flesh that you run into, will see the salvation of God in action.

Amen.