Jesus, our saviour
When my mother was about 36 years old or so, she started attending new Baptist church that opened in the middle of Hampton. They had joined to Baptist churches together and built a brand-new building and my mother started attending on Sunday nights, which meant that we kids mostly had to go to.
My mother had basically been United Church of Canada all her life. Her mother had grown up a Baptist and her Father had been a Presbyterian before the United Church.
And so, we entered a whole new world of religion and faith and Christianity.
I learned that Uniteds and Catholics and Anglicans and Presbyterians with few exceptions were all going to hell because they hadn’t personally accepted Jesus into their life and been born again.
My mother did not want to go to hell, which meant that I didn’t want to go to hell, and so we became Baptists and started attending that church, and in a sense were indoctrinated for lack of a better term into what one might call an evangelical understanding of scripture and Christian faith.
I lived for about ten years attending Evangelical churches. I moved on to a Pentecostal church after a couple of years because they had a big youth group with lots of music and lots of girls. It’s amazing how influential an attraction for a boy or girl can be in your faith life.
I was interested in the Pastor’s daughter. It was during this time I learned to play the guitar, I learned to sing Bass and sing in the choir, which even did some tv shows. I played guitar in a little contemporary band and accepted these Pentecostals, and they accepted me. And I drank in the culture, the spirituality, the ethos, the theology…the whole kit and caboodle… and the kitchen sink as well.
In fact, after high school, I headed off to the Bible Belt and the centre of Pentecostalism in the United States and attended Central Bible College in Springfield Missouri. Springfield was the location of the headquarters of the Assemblies of God, which was the largest Pentecostal Denomination in the United States. In a city of one hundred thousand there were 27 Pentecostal Churches, some with hundreds in attendance, maybe even over a thousand in worship.
“Do ya’ll have cows in Canada?” I was asked by one girl, who knew basically zero about Canada. Many others were similar.
And so, over those about ten years in Evangelicalism I learned what I now call The Big Story.
The Big story, is one’s summation of the Christian faith, or the summation of the what the Bible teaches.
And Evangelicalism had a pretty clear story.
It went like this.
- Everyone is a sinner. All have fallen short of the glory of God. And Everyone is separated from God. We cannot know God at all.
- The Wages of sin is death, so every human is destined to burn in hell for all eternity.
- Jesus Christ is the only bridge to God. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin by his blood. His blood washes us clean.
- In order to be Saved we must pray the Sinner’s pray and invited Jesus into our lives, ask for forgiveness, and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins.
Then we are born again, A Christian and going to heaven.
That was the milieux that was somewhat formative of my sojourn into faith.
And while I have learned many things since, and while I have journeyed into another denomination, and while the big story of faith I hold to now is different than what I learned as a teenager and young adult in another denomination, I am thankful for that part of the journey.
I did for a while find, love, acceptance, belonging and family in those churches, and I deepened my faith in Christ and learned to pray, to read the bible, and I started that long life process of figuring out who I was, and what I was about, and what my relationship to Christ was…
At that time, maybe the most important image of Jesus was that he was my Savior. We sang hymns about being washed in the blood, and songs about getting to heaven. I believed that was what the gospel was about. Jesus saved me from the consequences of a fiery hell to go to heaven with him.
But then one day in Cambridge, Ontario, my life changed, when attending Knox’s Galt, Presbyterian Church, for the first time. During that worship service I heard a voice in my head, which I believe was God, telling me that this is where I could be a minister. Nine months later I was attending Knox College.
There I did not learn one theology, but was exposed to many theologies. There, the professors didn’t tell you what you had to believe, but asked you to think, and pray, and debate, and work out your salvation in fear and trembling.
There I learned critical scholarship and how the bible was put together over a thousand years with many authors, many edits and revisions. I learned about different literary forms and a history of different interpretations of scripture.
That was the start of a long history of study, thought, pray, reading, reason, experience, and discussion with others who have made the same journey. And I have learned more about what it means for me to call Jesus,
Last week, I talked about Jesus as teacher. I told you that of the 90 times Jesus is addressed directly in the gospels, about 60 of them refer to Jesus as teacher.
Only twice in the gospels is Jesus referred to as Saviour. When the angels announce the birth of Jesus, Jesus is called Saviour. And in John’s gospel the Samaritans call him Saviour.
Why so few times, if that is what Jesus and the bible is all about?
The simple answer is that if you read the gospels and read what Jesus says, Jesus’ message is not primarily about praying the sinner’s pray, because we are so sinful, and then becoming a Christian to make heaven and avoid hell.
Jesus’ message was primarily about the kingdom.
Repent for the kingdom is at hand.
The kingdom has come near.
The kingdom is within you.
You cannot see the kingdom unless you are born anew, or from above.
The kingdom belongs to such as these.
Seek first God’s kingdom and all these things will be added to you.
And he taught us to pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And while Matthew calls it the Kingdom of heaven, it is not heaven, the place one goes after death. It is really the kingdom of God. It is just that Matthew, a good Jew, doesn’t use the word God, because it is too holy, so Matthew calls it the kingdom of heaven.
What is the kingdom of heaven or theKingdom of God? It is what this world is like, and what we are like, if we are ruled or governed by God.
And remember. God is love.
So, it is what this world is like and what we are like, if love is what we follow.
And so, Jesus saves us not by taking us out of this world to a place called heaven, but by freeing us from the power of sin and death, that keeps this world from loving one another, and letting love govern the world.
Now the Jews believed in God as Saviour and the saving acts of God. The biggest story in the Old Testament is called the Exodus, about God saving the Israelites from bondage and slavery.
One could summarize the Old Testament in this way.
God makes a covenant with his people. That is about promises God makes to us and we make to God.
God delivers the people of Israel out of Egypt.
God leads the people through the wilderness.
God leads them to a promised land.
And the people do not follow God’s ways and end up in Exile.
They are later restored to the promised land.
This is not only the brief history of Israel, but powerful metaphors of how God deals with us and saves us in Jesus Christ.
We too can know Jesus and know his promise to love us to forgive us, to never leave us or forsake us and we can promise to follow Jesus, to obey Jesus’ command to love.
We too end up in all kind of bondage or exile, to sin, to evil, to falsehoods, to greed, to uncaring, to hurting, to violence, to addiction, and Jesus can forgive us and set us free to love.
We too wander as pilgrims through the wilderness of pain, or loneliness, or worry, or suffering at times, and Jesus will be there with us, living in us.
And we also have promised lands where as it is said in Psalm 23, that there is nothing we lack. Jesus, the good shepherd has led us to green pastures where we have love, friends, God, food, money, employment and much to thank God for.
Salvation for Jesus was not just about getting to heaven, it was about the totality of life.
Think what it might mean for this world to be saved. It would mean the end of war and weapons turned into farming implements.
It would mean justice and equality for all, and it didn’t matter your race, your ethnicity, your religion, your gender, your orientation, your ability or disability, you would have access to education, employment, food, medical care, and to love and acceptance.
It would mean freedom to be you, for you to be your best self, without judgement and condemnation because you were different.
It would mean that people would be healthy, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, and in healthy relationships.
In some ways, that is what the Jews were looking for. They were looking for a Messiah, who would come and usher in such a kingdom of love. You know what they called that. They called it eternal life. Life in the new age or aeon, where the Messiah, or the Christ would rule.
Eternal life, was not when you died, but the quality of life when the Messiah brought the kingdom of heaven to earth.
And Jesus was that Messiah. The difference was that the Jews thought that Messiah would come and sweep out the Romans and usher in the kingdom through violence.
But Jesus came and ushered in the new Kingdom through love and through sacrifice and through dying on a cross.
That cross was the ultimate proof of Christ’s love. Jesus on the cross is demonstrating to us and saying to us: You can kill me and I will still love and still forgive. Nothing can change me from loving. Not even death itself.
And the resurrection was proof that nothing could kill God, and kill God’s love, that Jesus is alive and with us and in us.
So, Jesus invites you to that kind of love…Unconditional love.
And that is what Jesus did when he met a Samaritan woman. He demonstrated unconditional love.
It is very easy for us to miss the full import of his encounter with this woman. The story has to be set in historical setting for us to understand.
The story begins with Jesus having to go through Samaria. But Jews didn’t ever have to go through Samaria. They actually crossed the Jordan River and walked up the East side of the Jordan to avoid Samaria. Because the Samaritans were not considered Jews. And worse, the Samaritans were enemies. There was hate between Jews and Samaritans.
But Jesus had to go to Samaria to prove love.
And then Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink.
Jewish men did not talk to woman in public. Women were not considered equal to men.
And she asks how it is that he would talk to her and ask her for a drink,
To take a cup out of a Samaritan’s hand would be to touch something unclean according to the Jews.
She is a stranger and unclean. She is a woman and not important enough to talk to. She is an enemy.
And to top it all off, she is some might call an immoral woman. It is very possible she is drawing water at the hottest point of the day because she is a pariah, an outcast in her own community.
And Jesus talks to her and offers life-giving water. What is that life-giving water?
It is to love her who has been rejected, who is different, who is an enemy, who is considered to be of less value.
Jesus values her, accepts her, includes her, cares for her….
And the Samaritans call him Saviour.
If you read John’s gospel, as Jesus starts his ministry the first sign is the changing of water into wine,
It is a metaphor of transformation. Jesus is changing us from water to wine, and all through the gospel Jesus is changing people by his teachings, his love, his words, his acceptance.
The chapter before the Samaritan woman he talks about this transformation as being born from above, or being born again. The Greek word anothen has a double meaning.
But it too is a metaphor of transformation. And when Jesus dies on the cross and rises and invites us to take up a cross there is yet again another metaphor of transformation: The cross and resurrection.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to avoid the cross and suffering, but that we might take up a cross and die to ego and selfishness and violence and greed, and be born again or resurrected to new life. A life of love and care for others.
That is how Jesus saves us. At least, that is what Jesus, Saviour means to me today.
We are crucified with Christ, so that we are transformed to let Christ live in us. And the life we live now is by faith. By trusting in Jesus and Jesus’ way of love.
You know whether we think about it or not, we all have a kind of Big Story. A story we think the bible is all about.
Supposedly when Karl Barth the great German Theologian of the 20th century came to New York in the sixties, someone asked him to summarize his theology.
And his answer was: Jesus loves me, this I know. For the bible tells me so.
That was his succinct Big Story.
For me, my Big Story is that God loves you, treasures you, cares for you and wants to have a relationship with.
This is what Jesus came not only to tell us, but to demonstrate and live. And the cross is proof of that love. God showed his love for us in this way, while we humans in many ways were undeserving of God’s forgiveness and love, Christ died for us.
And Christ saves us by living in us, and transforming us, to take up a cross and love others, the same way he loves us.