2 Easter A—4/23/17
1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Pr. Scott Kramer (Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Seattle)
A couple of weeks ago I was in the checkout line at our local hardware store and overheard a conversation behind me. It was between a store employee and a young man and woman who are fairly new to the area. When he learned that the young woman works in a local research lab, this store employee said, “Oh, my daughter works in the city as an epidemiologist.” And then he chuckled, “She’s trying to save the world.”
I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot since then and wonder how many times a day something like it takes place across our nation or around the world: “Yep, there she goes again—trying to save the world.” It could be the comment of a loving father, as was the case in that hardware store. In other cases, it might be mocking sarcasm in response to what might be perceived as wide-eyed idealism. But whatever the context, the knowing smile or the chuckle signal skepticism: “How could one person ever save the world?”
Well, we have Spider Man, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk. Many of us grown-ups are convinced that the idea of one person saving the world is just that: a comic-book fantasy for kids. Or, it’s so big a project that only God can do it, which is what many Christians believe. But the idea of ordinary folk like you and me saving the world—that’s worthy of little more than a chuckle in the check-out line!
The writer of this morning’s reading from 1st Peter speaks of saving the world. It’s the language of salvation: “…Protected by God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”…and again, “For you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Unfortunately, the words “soul” and “salvation” in our time have become spiritualized, otherworldly. Christian faith for many people has become something that functions as little more than a personal life insurance policy…for the life to come!
But the best of Christian faith has always assumed that salvation is not merely personal nor is it merely for the life to come. On this Earth Day weekend we remember that “God so loved…the world…that he gave his only son.” But if you listened to the story of Jesus in the week leading up to Easter, you heard him mocked as he hung on the cross: “Save yourself!”
This, too, is our temptation: If there’s saving to be done, we need to save ourselves, and settle for that: with our pension plans and 401ks and property investments and health plans and tax breaks and home security systems. Save the world?! It’s enough trouble just to save myself—or me and my “tribe.” But friends, do we really need God for that? Doesn’t the instinct to save ourselves come as naturally as breathing?
Jesus came into the world to save the world—as an example for us all! When we settle for saving ourselves we deny our God-given purpose, our reason for being, because as followers of Jesus we learn from him the secret to saving the world, which is, self-giving love. It is not merely love of one’s self and one’s own tribe. It is a life devoted to learning from and striving to imitate God’s love for the whole world!
The language of salvation is badly needed in our time. How many times have you, or someone you know, said, “I want to make a difference,” or, “I want to change the world.” These sound like lofty and worthwhile goals. But friends, you and I “changed the world” just by being born! You and I “made a difference” just by being born. Each of our lives makes huge demands on water, food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other resources. Just being born makes a difference! No, we Christians don’t speak of “changing the world.” Instead, we speak of saving the world. This isn’t semantics. It’s our Christian vocation!
Saving the world can mean a million different things, depending on our gifts and opportunities. It can be raising a child to be a compassionate, courageous, and engaged citizen. In an overpopulated world, it can mean having no children at all. It can be taking a public stand for justice in support of people who are ignored or persecuted because of who they are. But this is Earth Day weekend so I am pondering what it means for me to save this planet that God created good.
Can one person save the world? Yes! It is the Easter Jesus who saves the world, the risen Christ–not some spirit in the clouds but the one who takes on flesh and blood, in my body, not 2000 years ago but in my world. The living Christ takes on flesh in the lives of anyone who believes that one person really can save the world.
If salvation is our job description, what is it that gets in the way of living out that Christian vocation? Two things in our context come to mind. These twin temptations are what I call the conservative sin of denial, and the liberal sin of despair. The sin of denial means failing to take seriously our Christian responsibility for each other and the Earth. Climate change deniers are a classic example, as are those selfish people who never met a tax they didn’t hate. But the flip side of that coin is people who see the problems of our world quite clearly and accept responsibility, but despair that they are “just one person.” What conservative deniers and liberal despair-ers have in common is a belief only in what they can see. Faith is tossed out the window. Trust in the living God is swept aside.
The author of today’s reading from 1 Peter writes these words: “Although you have not seen him you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him.” Likewise, the wonderful story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas—good old “doubting Thomas!”– is an example of someone who believed only what he could see. But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
So, dear friends in Christ, to what extent do you have faith (trust!) in what you can’t see? Which are you tempted toward, denial or despair? To what extent do you believe that one person really can save the world, that the Easter Christ, the risen Lord is not some storybook character or invisible spirit but the God who has taken on flesh in you, for the salvation of the world? You, literally—each of you and especially all of you together–are the flesh and blood body of Christ, commissioned and equipped to save the world!
I’ve been wondering lately what God is calling me to. The electric car, solar panels, and heat pump my wife and I have chosen to invest in might be a challenge for some. But, they represent for us no big sacrifice. These choices are all well within my psychological and spiritual and even financial comfort zone. In fact, it’s fun! How many people, because of my enthusiasm for solar power and electric cars, have gone out and done likewise!
For example, coming out of a local coffee shop one day I was about to get into my car when the driver of a passing car rolled down his window, and, seeing the “Solar Powered” bumper sticker on our car, asked, “Does that mean you have solar panels on your roof that charge your car?” “Yep,” I replied. “Yeah!” he exclaimed. “That’s what I’m trying to teach my son!”
But God is always after bigger fish than we are, and if God’s love embraces the whole world, how is God stretching me still further to live into the world outside my particular tribe, especially the world of today’s children and generations yet unborn? How about you? How might the Holy Spirit be stretching you beyond what you think you can do?
Fundamentally, saving the world is all about love. And the love of Christ is wider and deeper than allegiances or personal preferences that suit me. Ultimately, saving the world means doing what I can’t do on my own. I can save the world, but only by God’s grace and with God’s power.
Maybe you saw the article in this past Thursday’s Seattle Times, titled, “Bill Nye Back in Bow Tie and Trying to Save the World.” Some of you remember Bill Nye the Science Guy, and the article is about his new Netflix series on climate change, GMOs, vaccination and similar topics. Unlike Bill Nye, you and I are not likely to make headlines for our efforts to save the world. But you and I are called—and equipped!—to follow Jesus, to save the world in the time and the place in which we’re planted, as individuals, households, and congregations.
Good people of Our Redeemer’s, God’s love for the whole world is what life is all about. And we get to help save that world! Thanks be to God!