Monday, March 23, 2009

Saved From/Saved For

I'm back on the blogging horse after having fallen off for a while. Thanks for reading.

I have always been fascinated by stories of survival. Just this week, I read the story of an eleven year old girl who saved her mother and infant sister after their SUV plunged into an icy river. She was able to escape out of the window and was shocked three times trying to leap an electric fence before leading rescuers back to the accident site, only to discover that more than one vehicle had taken the plunge. This eleven-year-old’s calm demeanor and persistence saved her family from certain death.
Here’s another survival story. A large group of people were wandering in the desert, and their camp was overrun by poisonous, lethal snakes. Their method of survival was pretty unconventional. Those bitten looked at the bronze statue of a snake on a pole and they lived! By doing what God had said, they were saved from death.
That’s what we mean in the Christian Church when we talk about being saved. We mean, saved from death. Saved from eternal death…separation from God…the torment of not knowing love or grace and to keep on existing in that mode…that’s what it mean to be saved.
Jesus used the bronze snake event—where God used an unconventional method to save his people from death--as a launching pad to talk about himself and what he was all about.
Jesus makes the comparison explicit when he says: 14And(A) as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man(B) be lifted up, 15that whoever believes(C) in him(D) may have eternal life. 16"For(E) God so loved(F) the world,[b](G) that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not(H) perish but have eternal life.
The snake on a pole anticipated a man on a pole, or rather, a cross. Lifted up from the earth by a wooden torture and execution device, Jesus would become the one to look to for eternal life. To look to Jesus and believe is to not perish—that is, to be saved from death of body and soul. To lift up your eyes to see Jesus nailed to the cross and to be sure that He’s doing it for you is to know that you have only life with Him ahead of you. Your sins that could have and should have condemned you to never ending darkness and fear have been expunged from your record—all mention of them is gone—because Jesus erased them with His blood. Death is a lame duck, because of Jesus’ resurrection. This is the good news that the Church rightly proclaims—the gospel that changes human hearts and lives. You are saved from hell and the fear of death by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
So…is that the final word on Christianity? Certainly, the work of saving us from death is complete in Jesus. Only He could do what needed to be done, and he did it. So where does that leave us? Be happy you’re saved…relax and put your feet up…or is there something else?
I believe that not only have you and I been saved from eternal despair by the blood and new life of Jesus, but we have also been saved for a purpose. Listen again to what the apostle Paul writes in today’s Epistle lesson: 8For(A) by grace you have been saved(B) through faith. And this is(C) not your own doing;(D) it is the gift of God, 9(E) not a result of works,(F) so that no one may boast. 10For(G) we are his workmanship,(H) created in Christ Jesus(I) for good works,(J) which God prepared beforehand,(K) that we should walk in them.
Did you hear that? “…we are his workmanship,(H) created in Christ Jesus(I) for good works,(J) which God prepared beforehand,(K) that we should walk in them.” We are saved for the purpose of doing good works in Jesus’ name—actions of love and service that God has prepared beforehand for us to do! The opportunities for us to serve are just sitting there, waiting for us, and what’s more, God himself set the whole thing up!
Now I’m going to be candid with you. I’m not a “Lutheran-bashing” Lutheran pastor. I am not someone who is going to stand up here and bash Lutheran teaching or practice or culture (and as weird as it sounds, there are Lutheran pastors out there who do this). But I will say this. It’s not a slam, it’s just a fact. I was born and raised Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, went to all Lutheran schools my whole life; it is in my DNA. Do you know how long it took me to realize that there is a verse 10 that comes after Ephesians 2: 8—9? A lot longer that I care to admit. Just about any Lutheran and really any Christian who’s been around the block should be able to recite by heart, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” Yeah! But who knows verse ten by heart? I didn’t really know it was there! The catechism seems to stop at verse 9! But the idea continues on and says so much more about our lives in Christ! Taken as a whole, this passage does a beautiful job of telling us that we are saved from death and hell and that none of that is by our doing—clearly it is a gift from God. Then it goes on to share the simple insight that we are saved for a life of service. There are things that God wants us to do, as his saved people.
If you have ever had the pleasure of staying at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, (I can count the times on one finger), you know it is one amazing experience. Each staff member is mindful of one thing: serving guests. The hotel’s corporate motto is: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Employees are empowered to correct a problem or handle a complaint. When a guest thanks a staff member, rather than responding “No problem” or, “hey, it’s OK” they look the guest in the eye and say, “It’s a pleasure to serve you.” I don’t care who you are—service like that makes an impression. Service like that doesn’t happen by chance. It is intentional and sincere.You and I are saved for a life of intentional and sincere service. It’s all there in Ephesians 2: 10For(G) we are his workmanship,(H) created in Christ Jesus(I) for good works,(J) which God prepared beforehand,(K) that we should walk in them.” It is time for us to do the good works which God has prepared for us. Now is the time to intentionally and sincerely walk the walk. Let us learn the pleasure of serving. After all, service to our fellow man is service to our Lord Jesus. It is what we have been saved for.