Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 17, Lent 1: WWGD

I preached the sermon ex tempore. I don't have an actual manuscript. But these are the rough notes:

Lent 01 2013, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4::1-13 Daniel Meeter

Brooklyn, 02/17/13

What is Salvation? Series: #1, WWGD

Romans 10:9-10: what’s salvation?

Many versions of salvation, both sacred and secular. Here is one powerful secular version which is in vogue today: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Another one is: "Fix the economy."

In Paul’s day, the Roman Empire offered salvation, and Caesar was the savior. Yes, literally so. Caesar claimed to be Dominus et Salvator, Kyrios kai Soter, Lord and Savior, even a god and a son of god. So for the Christians who lived in Rome, the question was very much close to home: what kind of salvation could this Jewish Messiah offer that was better than Caesar’s, and what kind of salvation could this obscure Jewish God offer that was better than that of Jupiter or Mars with their temples of victory on the glorious hills of Rome?

(Romans 10: 9: a technical formula to get you into heaven, like a password?)

Salvation is not just eternal life, but already this life, a continuity

Rescued like by a lifeguard, or out of the ruins, set aside like money, preserved for the future.

What do you want from salvation? What do you want from God?

If you were God, what would you do for people, for the world?

If you wore, not a WWJD bracelet, but a WWGD? "What would God do?"

Well, that’s what Jesus had to do. He had to sort it ou. Consider options. Temptations. WWGD.

We assume that he was tempted in his humanity: he was, but also in his divinity.

Can God be tempted? Original Greek, "thou shalt not tempt the Lord your God."

The devil is the Satan of the Book of Job, living above the landscape, an angelic power out of whack, buddies with Jupiter and Wotan and Shiva. He represents to Jesus the kinds of salvation practiced by normal gods and goddesses, the salvations we humans project onto the gods we imagine, and the salvations that you would consider if you were god.

Well, how about if everyone had enough to eat. The eradication of hunger. Not only Third World hunger, but Park Slope hunger, foodie hunger. Judging by the volume of content in the media, our consumption of food is far more important than praying. But of course it’s not just food. It’s health-care in general, welfare in general. We would consider it salvation if Jesus had given himself to that. We all would be more satisfied with God if God would pay better attention to our physical health and well-being.

For us who have enough to eat I think it would be health-care. Mind you, I'm the first to pray for healing, for my niece Ragan for example. She's got the advantage of one of the best children's hospitals in America. But when we were in Grand Rapids last week, and drove up Michigan Avenue past the huge expansion of health care facilities in the last decade, and realized that health care is now the number one industry in Grand Rapids, more than automotive or furniture, I considered the great expense we spend on health care, I think what we would suggest to Jesus is to solve our health-care problems.

The second temptation is power in the world. That Jesus would save us by taking ordinary power in the world and using his power for good. We ask for this all the time. Why did God allow the Nazis to get away with it, and Stalin, and al Qaida, take your pick. We would consider salvation if the Messiah would take some power in the world to take out the bad guys and set things right. This is a great mistake of the Religious Right. But to be fair, the theocratic stance was part of Christendom for most of our history. Our own congregation was established by the hand of government. Could Luke have imagined this? And would he say that the price of this privilege has been that the church has not been serving only God, but also serving the interests of the other regnant powers of society? We will discover that whenever, in the name of Jesus, we take real power in the world, we will be compromised and corrupted.

The third temptation is for God to get us out of trouble. To rescue us, to be a great lifeguard. Well, that is an obvious meaning of salvation. Praying for just this kind of thing is normal and appropriate. The scripture is full of passages that ask for this, including Psalm 91 which we just read and which the devil quotes. And if God would just keep doing this kind of thing we would be largely satisfied. If God would rescue us, that would just about be a proof of God.

All these things are what gods do. In all religions. So what kind of God shall this God be? What kind of salvation can we expect from the Lord Jesus Christ when we call upon his name?

Not these. Of course all of these from time to time are done by God, and you may ask for them in prayer, but, on the other hand, for example, if you live in Park Slope, your not having anything to eat might actually tend toward your salvation. And dare I say it, if you are living the life of pleasure and consumption which is advertised in our magazines, and if your terminal illness is what it takes to save you, God may well not heal you, no matter what you pray.

The salvation he offers is what he demonstrates. The salvation he offers is two things here: freedom and wisdom. Freedom needs wisdom, or it devolves to license and chaos. Jesus claims his freedom here, and he does it by means of his wisdom. That’s the salvation he demonstrates.

The freedom here is freedom amidst temptation. Freedom in the temptations of nature in its neutrality, in the forms of hunger and pain and such, and freedom in the temptations of humanity in its rebellion, in the forms of money, sex, and power. Freedom to say No, in order to say Yes. Not freedom from temptation, no, temptations will never end, and they may increase in your discipleship. The freedom is from the compulsion of temptation. And freedom from your guilt, which is what forces you into complicity with the temptations of the world.

The core of the wisdom is Romans 10:9-10: "Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead."

a motto, a powerfully functioning slogan, like "Don’t tread on me, (the Tea Party) or "Liberty, fraternity, equality" (the French Revolution) or "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" (NRA) or "For king and country" (the Brits in the War) or "Be Prepared" (the Boy Scouts) or some other motto that keeps guiding your behavior through life. It’s an algorithm like in your GPS direction finder, no matter which way you turn it keeps find your route for your destination.

If you believe that and keep telling yourself that— "Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead"— that motto is enough to keep saving you through every situation and get you to your destination.

Copyright © 2013, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

No comments: