27 August 2023

Following on from last week’s theme, this week offers us a new encounter with God’s salvation. “Salvation” is a word that is thrown around a lot in churches, and also in the work of evangelism. The readings this week encourage us to revisit this word, to delve deeper into its meaning and to live it out as a daily reality, rather than a future promise of evacuation.

May we encounter salvation again as we worship this week, and may we become not just recipients but also agents of salvation in the world.

Exodus 1:8-2:10: After a regime change in Egypt, the Israelites are made slaves and oppressed by the Egyptians. Midwives are also commanded to kill all male children but they refuse to do so, so Pharoah commands that male children be thrown into the Nile. It is into this context that the boy Moses is born, left on the river by his mother and adopted by Pharoah’s daughter.
OR Isaiah 51:1-6: God calls people to trust in God, remembering how God took Abraham and Sarah as a single couple and turned them into a great nation. In the same way, God promises that God’s justice and mercy will come to God’s people and restore them.

Psalm 124: A pilgrimage Psalm remembering how God has protected and saved God’s people and kept them safe and free from their enemies’ traps.
OR Psalm 138: A Psalm of praise for God’s unfailing love and faithfulness, and God’s commitment to keep God’s promises, to answer prayer and to protect and save God’s people.

Romans 12:1-8: Paul encourages the believers to offer themselves sacrificially to God, and to allow God to transform them by renewing their minds. He challenges them to remain humble and connected to each other, and to use their gifts in God’s service.

Matthew 16:13-20: Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is, and Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus responds by affirming that God has shown him this and that he (or his proclamation – depending on which view you prefer) will be the rock upon which Christ’s church is built, against which hell will not prevail.

This week the Scriptures offer us a theme that can be a difficult one to preach and build liturgy around, especially if we are to connect with the realities of our world. This theme is God’s salvation – God’s protection, rescue and faithfulness to God’s promises. In Exodus, we read the famous story of Moses’ rescue from death and how he was brought into the family of Pharoah. In Isaiah, God’s people are called to trust in the God who saves them. Both Psalms are songs in which God’s saving, protecting love is celebrated, and in the Gospel, after the disciples receive insight into who Jesus really is, Jesus proclaims that the Church will never be overcome by evil. (There is debate about whether Jesus’ mention of “this rock” refers to Peter or to the revelation he received. I think the significance of this has been over stated – mostly in terms of which church is the true church or not. Rather, the focus here, I believe, is on those who follow Christ, and form an alternative community in Christ’s name. The promise is that, though they may be attacked and persecuted, God will ensure that they are not overcome.) Finally, the Romans reading seems a bit out of place in amongst these other readings, but it does reflect on the community of faith, and on God’s work in and through it. Here, God’s people are called to offer themselves completely (as sacrifices) to God, and to trust in God’s transformation, God’s community and God’s gifting – all of which, it can be argued, are given by God to save, protect and empower God’s church, and through it, the world. In the end, though, we have to choose whether we will trust in God’s saving activity among us enough to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, to throw our lot in with the others who make up God’s Church, and to give ourselves and our abilities to serve God’s saving purpose in the world. It’s a challenge we cannot avoid this week.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: The promise of God’s saving acts has often been interpreted in ultra-personal terms, and as a kind of “micro-managing” of the world (to use my friend Alan Storey’s expression). There can be no doubt, however, when we read the Scriptures thoroughly, that God’s salvation has global and communal implications as well. Understanding how this works, takes a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of salvation than a simple “Jesus as Superman” view. Moses was saved personally, yes. But his salvation was not for his own sake – he was saved for the sake of his people. Jesus, on the other hand, was not saved from the cross. He had to go through it, but again, it was not just for his own sake, but for the sake of others. Abraham and Sarah, as referred to in Isaiah 51, were saved from childlessness, but again, not just for their own sakes. Salvation, then, must always be understood in the light of God’s purposes in the world – the Gospel’s call for justice, equality, peace and care of creation. In this sense – and it’s here where the Romans reading is so helpful – we must see ourselves as both recipients of God’s salvation and agents of it. We are brought into relationship with God through Christ (saved) in order to offer ourselves to serve in the Church and the world according to our gifting. Salvation is not something that happens TO us, so much as it is something that happens WITH us. This means that, for us to enjoy salvation – whether we refer to a “physical” salvation from what would threaten or hurt us, or a “spiritual” salvation from evil and sin – we need to recognise what God seeks to do in the world (which is what Jesus’ parables have all been about), we need to participate with God’s purposes by becoming people of God’s reign, and we need to work for salvation by seeking to protect and empower the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the threatened and the neglected around us. In this way, we will both receive God’s grace and protection and be God’s channel to bring this grace and protection to others. Only in this way – and not by using the world’s methods – can we truly know salvation. We are not saved from violence by declaring war on others. We are not saved from poverty by hoarding for ourselves. We are not saved from exploitation by exploiting others, and we are not saved from harm by ignoring those who are hurting. We find salvation and protection as we help to bring them to all people – as we acknowledge who Jesus is, as we embrace our identity as Church, and as we trust that evil – in whatever form – cannot, in the end, overcome God’s grace and God’s reign.

LOCAL APPLICATION: It is unfortunate that salvation has largely been framed in terms of “going to heaven when we die”. While life eternal or abundant is certainly a promise of God’s work, salvation is not just a future hope – an evacuation from the world. The passages this week all speak about God’s saving work, but they all do so in reference to what is happening in the lives of people now. Moses was not saved by going to heaven, but by God’s activity in his earthly life. And he was called to save God’s people, the Israelites, not by giving them a guarantee of heavenly bliss, but by leading them out of slavery in Egypt. Abraham and Sarah were saved from childlessness in their earthly lives, and when Jesus spoke of the Church withstanding the gates of hell, he was responding to what was happening in the realm of human affairs, not to some eternal paradise. As Church we really need to hear this call of God, and bring our gifts and our connections (as Romans teaches) and offer them to be agents of God’s salvation for the people in our communities and families now. This means that we cannot just preach about avoiding hell and finding heaven when people die. We need to help them to discover heaven in their lives now. Our calling is to enable people in all circumstances and walks of life to find God, to find heaven, to find salvation in their daily reality – whether it is freedom from poverty or substance abuse or domestic violence; whether it is healing of a relationship, or a mind or a body; whether it is the discovery of a new dignity, or a new work opportunity or a new home. In every community the “gates of hell” are at work in people’s lives and the pain and destruction that results can be seen easily. But, if we as Church take our calling seriously, we will become known as the bringers of salvation, and lives and communities will be transformed. Then, when we begin to speak about eternity, people may be more inclined to listen.

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Life Giver / You Are The Christ (Link to YouTube video) (From the Musical “The Witness” by Jimmy & Carol Owens)

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