Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's Your Salvation Story?

(Read Mark 2:13-17, Matthew 11:1-6 and Isaiah 61:1-4)

If Jesus were still alive, on any given night, where do you think he would be hanging out? At Cozimos on Route 9, where you can barely find a parking spot, eating wood-oven pizzas? At the Danbury Plaza ballroom, where Grace James, a female, Pentecostal minister, who looks like Dolly Parton but with black hair and dressed all in black, is shooting the Holy Spirit into people, healing in Christ’s name? Or in the living room of some ordinary family, where television and alcohol are the primary sources of entertainment?

The truth is, Jesus is in all of those places. Wherever people are sick and suffering, wherever people are sinning, wherever people are searching for healing, that’s where Jesus is.

The Pharisees were surprised to find Jesus at Levi’s (Matthew’s) house. Surprised because it seemed like he was keeping unworthy company. They asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 11:16).

Jesus overhears the question and responds by saying, this is where I need to be. Or in his exact words: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." (Matthew 11:17).

And there we have it. Jesus Christ, who is the Living Lord, dwelling among us, is present amongst those who are in need. He doesn’t play it safe, hiding from the problems of life. He enters right in, penetrating into the heart of all that matters, offering comfort, healing and redemption.

One of my concerns with Christian language and theology is its emphasis on sin as the umbrella description of the human problem. I have no problem admitting that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness, but that’s not my only problem, that’s not your only problem.

Marcus Borg, an excellent contemporary Professor of Religon and Culture at Oregon State University, in his book, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, writes: “[Our] problem is not simply that we have been bad and have rebelled against God [aka. sinned], but that we are blind, estranged, lost, in exile, self-centered, wounded, sick, paralyzed, in bondage, grasping, and so forth” (pg. 169-70).

Sin is a part of what you and I struggle with on a daily basis, but it’s not the one-size-fits all designator of our human condition. We also struggle with being confused and not knowing what to do. We also struggle with trying to love people who don’t love us back in the way we need them to. We also struggle with fear so deeply entrenched in our hearts that our entire perception of reality is distorted in some way, making us timid and defensive instead of confident and trusting.

Borg writes, “When sin becomes the one-size-fits-all designator of the human condition, then forgiveness becomes the one-size-fits-all remedy. And this is [a] problem. [Because] If the issue is blindness, what we need is not forgiveness, but sight. If the issue is bondage, what we need is not forgiveness, but liberation.” “If we are in exile, we need to return; if we have closed hearts, we need to have our hearts opened; if we hunger and thirst, we need food and drink; if we are lost, we need a way, we need to be found” (pg. 168).

I chose today’s Scriptures so you would see very clearly who Jesus of Nazareth is, what he did in his earthly ministry, and what he can or is doing in our lives. Isaiah, a great prophet of Israel, testified that one anointed by God would come out of the house of David to “bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).

John the Baptist, who was called to prepare the way for the anointed one (Messiah) that Isaiah prophesized about, baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. And “When John heard in prison what [Jesus] was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:2-5).

Jesus was, and is, a healer and redeemer. He came, and continues to come, to mend our brokenness.

I want to show you a video that witnesses to the power God has in people’s lives. The Bible is filled with stories of a God who saves, and this video is filled with the stories of people like you and me, who have unique journeys of how they went from being sick to healthy, of how they went from being lost to found. As you watch the video, think of how Jesus might enter in, or has entered in, to your life. How would you describe your salvation story?

Watch Video. For those of you who can’t, here is a description: One person after another came forward on a stage carrying their own posterboard, with a word written on the front and a different word on the back. They would stand up and show the first word, and then slowly but surely, flip the board over to show the second. And in just those two words, or maybe two short phrases, these people, these children of God, were witnessing to their unique faith journeys, and the grace, love and mercy that they have known in God.

The poster board would say on one side: hurting; on the other: healed.
On one side: Addicted; on the other side: set free
On one side: Angry; on the other: peaceful.

The people kept coming with their testimonies.

Bitter turned to Gentle.
Despairing. Grateful.
Slave. Servant.
Dead. Alive.
Tortured. Loved.
Desperate. Saved.
Sinner. Forgiven.
Broken. Whole.

Isn’t that an amazing testimony? Do you see what God has done for these people? Every single one of us has or can have a testimony like that. What Jesus did for the sinners and tax collectors 2000 years ago, what God did for those people in the video, the Spirit is doing for us today.

We all have a story, and our happy ending, our salvation, begins by inviting God into our lives to help us. Surrender. Be lead. It’s not easy because it requires you to be vulnerable, to open yourself up.

When God heals us, it often makes us uncomfortable because we are being challenged to be different than we have been before. That’s always a foreign, awkward feeling. It will be uncomfortable and challenging when God puts in your life what you so deeply need.

Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” We have to be willing to think, act and speak different than we always have.

Don’t be insane. Be faithful. This morning I invite you to surrender to God and let real healing and transformation into your lives. Go to that new place and let Christ come with you.

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