Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Salvation (Page 1 of 2)

Come and follow – A sermon for 11 November 2018 (Remembrance Sunday)

[This post is the transcript of a sermon I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark 1:14-20. You can read the text here.

Introduction

I’d like to invite you to cast your minds back, if you can, to the summer of 1985. Ronald Reagan had begun his second term of office as US President; Mikhail Gorbachev had risen to power as de facto leader of the Soviet Union; scientists had recently announced the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer; and the soap opera Neighbours had made its first appearance on Australian television. And there were no doubt many other significant events that happened that year.

But whatever else was happening in the world back in 1985, for me, as a nearly 15-year-old lad from South Yorkshire, one event happened that summer that far surpassed anything else in its significance and consequences. Under the rather grand title Mission: England, American evangelist Billy Graham held a series of rallies at Bramall Lane football ground in Sheffield.

Looking back, it seems like a bit of a cliché, but after listening to Billy Graham talk about God’s love and forgiveness, I was one of hundreds who responded to the famous invitation to “Get up out of your seat”. I went forward, prayed a prayer of repentance, confessed Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, and turned my life over to God. I can honestly say it was an event and a decision that changed my life forever.

Read More

What will it cost us to follow Jesus? A sermon for Proper 23B

[This post is the transcript of a sermon I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark 10:17-31. You can read the text here.

Introduction

“Money makes the world go round”.

“Money can’t buy happiness.”

“Money isn’t everything.”

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

“You cannot serve both God and money.”

… and I could go on. We have a lot of sayings about money in the English language, don’t we? Only one of those I quoted is from the Bible, but in fact, the Bible contains over two thousand references to money and possessions. (By contrast, it only contains around five hundred references to prayer and a similar number of references to faith.)

Jesus tells thirty-eight parables in the gospels, and sixteen of them deal with how we handle money; in fact, according to the gospels, Jesus said far more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined.

Our gospel text today seems to be about money, but I hope to show you that it’s actually about something deeper than money – something of which money is only one example.

With that in mind, I’d like to simply walk us through the text and see what we can glean along the way, and then at the end we’ll try to pull out one or two conclusions.

Read More

Repost: Salvation Reimagined

[My blog has many more readers now than it did a couple of years ago. With that in mind, from time to time I like to repost things I wrote some while ago. This post was originally posted in June 2014.]

A few months ago, I wrote a post called On being saved, in which I sought to address the question “What must I do to be saved?”. In other words, it was a post about the how of salvation.

Today I’d like to think about the question “What does it mean to be saved?”. In other words, this is a post about not the how but the what of salvation. Another way we could ask the question is “What are we saved for, or what are we saved into?”.

If you asked a random sample of western believers what is the purpose of salvation, I’m pretty sure a high proportion would give as their first answer something involving eternal life and/or “going to heaven” after you die. We see salvation largely as a kind of status that secures benefits for us that kick in once our time on this earth is done – a celestial insurance policy, if you will. Of course, there are also some benefits to be enjoyed now, but these largely revolve around the assurance of knowing that we are included in the group whose eternal destiny is sorted and secure.

This “now versus future” duality is so deeply ingrained in our western psyche that it’s hard for us to be aware of, let alone shake off.

In almost thirty years of being a Christian, I’ve sat through more evangelistic services than I could possibly count. The vast majority of them have operated on the premise of “selling” the benefits of eternal security in order to get people to “make a commitment” today. Often no apology is made for using extreme psychological and emotional pressure to get people to “pray the prayer”. The justification is apparently quite sound: when someone’s eternal destiny is at stake, you use any means you can to get them to sit up and take notice.

If I sound uncharitable about those who practice this approach to evangelism, I don’t mean to. In most cases, they are deeply sincere and loving people who genuinely want the best for those they are addressing.

But I’ve been thinking. Specifically, about Jesus and his ministry. If you measure evangelistic efficiency by the number of appeals or altar calls made, Jesus wasn’t much of an evangelist. He didn’t go around trying to convince people to tick the right boxes so they could be saved. He mostly just encouraged people to repent and follow him. Which could be paraphrased “Change the way you think, and do like I do”.

Read More

Resurrection as a map for the journey

Darkness to lightToday I’m delighted to feature a guest post written by my good friend David Jenkins. David posted it a few days ago in a Facebook group I belong to, and I liked it so much that I asked his permission to repost it here in slightly edited form.

In my deepest wound I found you, Lord, and it dazzled me.
(St. Augustine)

It seems hauntingly apparent that there can be no resurrection unless there is death. Yet this is, historically, something I have attempted to avoid, preferring instead a victorious, suffering-free version of resurrection. And indeed, this death can be avoided, if Jesus only achieves resurrection for us and does not invite us to walk in his steps. But if we consider resurrection as “a map for the journey”, our relationship to it becomes far more participatory; it becomes a great pilgrimage into the unknown.

Jesus says that true life is found in losing our life. One way I have understood this is my need to learn to embrace the reality of my powerlessness and failure. In order to find this life or resurrection he offers, it seems there must be loss. I feel myself drawn back to an ancient Christian practice, but from a different angle: that of constant confession of sin; not in a legalistic, self-flagellating, fearful, begging kind of way, but as a repeated filial confession of weakness, doubt, anxiety, and so on, and the acceptance that I can do nothing to save (heal) myself.

I also think of loss in terms of laying my life down for others and suffering loss for the sake of love. Whatever appears to be the path of descent can also be understood as the path of death. We need only do the dying, the losing, the giving in, the confessing of weakness; resurrection itself is beyond our ability to influence. So I think we take the path of descent and hope that God will be there at the bottom. Jesus assures us, “I am the resurrection and the life”. If we meet God “at the bottom”, maybe that is where we also meet “the resurrection and the life”.

I guess this is where faith comes in. For me, faith is better understood as trust. Personally, it often feels like blind faith – trust when I have nothing left.

No strength of conviction or confidence.

A trust born of desperation rather than bravery.

A surrendering to the darkness.

So we learn, day to day, to seek out this downward humble path of trust and love; of prayer and confession; of vulnerability, honesty and weakness. We do this and we pray, “Whatever happens, happens. Lord, I am in your hands and my only hope is you now”. Resurrection in my day-to-day life is the finding of life in the depths of loss; faith in the abyss of doubt; God at the bottom, waiting for me in my deepest wounds.

[ Image: Hartwig HKD ]

The answer to sin

Forgive prisonEarlier this week I wrote a post suggesting that we can often fall into the trap of viewing Jesus’ death on the cross, and the sacrament by which we remember it (commonly referred to as communion or the eucharist), as a kind of repeated scapegoating of Jesus. Just as ancient Israel’s sins were expunged by symbolically transferring them onto a goat that was then sent out into the wilderness, so we deposit our sins on Jesus and trust him to carry them away.

Now, we know that Jesus only died on the cross once: we’re quite happy to state with Peter that Jesus died once for all. However, when we treat Jesus’ death and our remembering of it as outlined above, in effect it’s as though he were having to be put to death again and again, each time we need our sins carried away and our consciences salved.

This, to me, is the fundamental problem with any theology in which salvation is essentially an abstract one-time event: it doesn’t deal with our ongoing sin problem. We may feel temporarily relieved of our burden of guilt, but — all other things being equal —the same patterns of sin continue to entangle and ensnare us, leading us back over and over to the same need for absolution… and thus the need for Jesus to be symbolically re-crucified again and again. Rather than being a journey of progressive transformation into the image of Christ, the Christian life thus becomes a continual cycle of guilt management.

Another way of stating the problem is that salvation has become detached from sanctification. Salvation is commonly understood to mean a place in heaven for us when we die, secured by means of a transaction in which God acquits us of our guilt by declaring Jesus guilty in our place. However, salvation conceived of in this way can do nothing, in and of itself, to free us from the grip of sin in the here and now. It might give us some kind of mental assurance as to our eternal destiny, but it is powerless to effect change in the present. So we end up struggling on in the same old ruts while trying desperately to feel like we’re saved.

Read More

Of sin, law and sacrifice

GavelFollowing on from my recent post Salvation reimagined, I had an interesting discussion with a friend at church about what an updated perspective on salvation might do to our understanding of certain Old Testament practices, including in particular law-keeping and sacrifice. I thought it would be good to unpack this a little here on the blog.

My contention is this: whether we’re aware of it or not, our understanding of sin and salvation is closely tied to our understanding of Old Testament law and sacrifice.

The discussion with my friend was triggered by a disconnect. On the one hand, he found the idea of seeing sin as a form of sickness or brokenness, rather than simply as wrongdoing, inherently appealing. On the other hand, he found it hard to completely let go of the notion of sin as legal offence, mainly because of the huge Old Testament emphasis on law and sacrifice.

I think this is a problem for very many Christians. In my experience, many believers instinctively resonate with the idea that sin is better understood as a condition we suffer than as legal offences we commit. The reason people resonate with this idea is that it makes sense in the context of their own lived experience and the flaws and defects with which they personally struggle. But they very often run into the same brick wall my friend did: given that so much of the focus in the Old Testament is on law-keeping and sacrifice, surely sin must to a large extent be legal in nature, mustn’t it?

Read More

Salvation reimagined

SONY DSCA few months ago, I wrote a post called On being saved, in which I sought to address the question “What must I do to be saved?”. In other words, it was a post about the how of salvation.

Today I’d like to think about the question “What does it mean to be saved?”. In other words, this is a post about not the how but the what of salvation. Another way we could ask the question is “What are we saved for, or what are we saved into?”.

If you asked a random sample of western believers what is the purpose of salvation, I’m pretty sure a high proportion would give as their first answer something involving eternal life and/or “going to heaven” after you die. We see salvation largely as a kind of status that secures benefits for us that kick in once our time on this earth is done – a celestial insurance policy, if you will. Of course, there are also some benefits to be enjoyed now, but these largely revolve around the assurance of knowing that we are included in the group whose eternal destiny is sorted and secure.

This “now versus future” duality is so deeply ingrained in our western psyche that it’s hard for us to be aware of, let alone shake off.

In almost thirty years of being a Christian, I’ve sat through more evangelistic services than I could possibly count. The vast majority of them have operated on the premise of “selling” the benefits of eternal security in order to get people to “make a commitment” today. Often no apology is made for using extreme psychological and emotional pressure to get people to “pray the prayer”. The justification is apparently quite sound: when someone’s eternal destiny is at stake, you use any means you can to get them to sit up and take notice.

If I sound uncharitable about those who practice this approach to evangelism, I don’t mean to. In most cases, they are deeply sincere and loving people who genuinely want the best for those they are addressing.

But I’ve been thinking. Specifically, about Jesus and his ministry. If you measure evangelistic efficiency by the number of appeals or altar calls made, Jesus wasn’t much of an evangelist. He didn’t go around trying to convince people to tick the right boxes so they could be saved. He mostly just encouraged people to repent and follow him. Which could be paraphrased “Change the way you think, and do like I do”.

Read More

Page 1 of 2

All content on this site is copyright © Rob Grayson 2013-2016 unless otherwise indicated