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Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: Micah 5:2-5, Psalm 80:1-7, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-55

At one point in my early years I belonged to a denomination which spoke of being “saved and sanctified.” You got saved through an emotional conversion experience in which you felt yourself forgiven of past sin and found yourself in full communion with the Spirit of Jesus and his Love. To be “sanctified” was to enter into a higher degree of holiness, perhaps even sinless perfection.

On one of the college campuses where I spent a year, there was a young man who used to roam the campus at night with a flashlight. He would come up and shine it in your face and ask, “Are you saved?” Kind of scary, huh? Today they might lock him up as dangerous or unstable.

In contrast to those two situations, the more “progressive” wing of Christianity tends to shy away from, or laugh at, the notion of “being saved.” Why is that? Is it because of the associations we have with that kind of language? Is there nothing we need to be saved from?

Certainly there have been those at many periods in history who have felt a deep need to be saved, not just from inner sin and immorality, but from social abuse and injustice. They were people in deep pain, trampled upon, ignored, physically beaten down. They had reason to cry because, as the Psalmist screams out to God in Psalm 80:5, “You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.” They desperately needed to be saved, and they cried out to God to rescue them from what Pastor Rick might call “the tyranny of empire.” Are we so far removed from that kind of desperation that we no longer need to be saved?

Throughout history there have been those who lived with heartfelt expectation, believing in a promise that there would indeed come one who would save them from all this. In the prophet Micah (Micah 5:5) it is said that “he shall be the one of peace.” After the two pregnant cousins meet (Mary and Elizabeth) and Elizabeth’s child (John, the Baptist) leaps within her, Mary sings her great song, known throughout the Christian world today as the Magnificat. It is more than a thing of choral beauty to be sung in the vaulted chambers of elite music halls. It is a song of radical deliverance wrought by a Mighty God, who “has brought down the powerful . . . and lifted up the lowly; . . . filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

The most basic meaning of being saved is to be “safe,” to be healthy and whole. The English word “salvation” derives from the word “salve,” a healing ointment. Salvation, biblically, is understood to be a state of “shalom,” harmony, peace, where all things work together for the good of the whole. It is a place where we, again as Pastor Rick says, “all take care of one another.”

I haven’t arrived at that place yet. Have you? I don’t feel safe all the time in this world which often feels pretty chaotic. How about you? Although I don’t use the language of being “saved” any more, I still want to live in a world where I feel safe, and that world will never be as long as those with great power lord it over the lowly, leaving many feeling powerless. Even I feel pretty powerless as times. And you?

I would no longer separate being “saved” and being “sanctified." Sanctified simply means to become holy, like a “saint.” Following a God of Love and Justice whose Spirit moves in our midst is a continuing process toward great “holiness,” greater faithfulness to the things that make for peace and justice. The reading from Hebrews speaks of sanctification as something that happens through the sacrificial offering of one’s life in service, like the sacrifice made by Jesus, not through various ritual acts of worship. While not part of today’s epistle reading, Romans 13:1-2, expresses it quite clearly. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

One of my colleagues, in using the language of being “saved,” used to talk about being saved “from” and being saved “to.” The journey of faithfulness is not so much backward looking as it is looking ahead, starting with the now. We are always awaiting the next sign that will indicate where God is taking us and what God wants us to do to “prepare the way of the Lord,” and “make his paths straight,” so that “every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth . . .” (Isaiah as quoted by John the Baptist in Luke 3:4-5).

Not your usual message for the Sunday before Christmas, but we have not been into the usual comfortable Christmas message during the Advent season at Kairos. I’m glad! I’d rather take a stab at the kind of holiness the prophets envisioned than the holiness of a warm glow of a candlelight service. Don’t get me wrong! I like to feel a warm glow as much as the next person, but God wants more for and from us than that. The promise of Advent is that there is more, much more—that a Merry Christmas is a hope which, when realized, will shake things up so much that we and this world will never be the same. Are we up to it? I hope so. The prophets hope so. God believes so—that is, that if we are faithful to the Spirit of Jesus Christ we can live in a world where there is peace and justice. What a Christmas hope!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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