Wednesday, June 19
Sunday, April 22, 2012|
By Which we must be Saved
Easter 3 – 2012 Acts and Psalm 139:1-11 By which we must be saved
When the children of singer, songwriter and actor Tom Waits asked him why he had to be so different from all the other parents in their California neighborhood, he told them this story:
In the forest, there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. Every day, the straight tree would say to the crooked tree, "Look at me...I'm tall, and I'm straight, and I'm handsome. Look at you...you're all crooked and bent over. No one wants to look at you." And they grew up in that forest together. And then one day the loggers came, and they saw the crooked tree and the straight tree, and they said, "Just cut the straight trees and leave the rest." So the loggers turned all the straight trees into lumber and toothpicks and paper. And the crooked tree is still there, growing stronger and stranger every day.” Thomas Alan Waits is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor
If there is any one thing which we humans crave it is that we would be recognized for our individuality, even as we do everything we can to dress like, act like, be like everyone else around us. We want to rise above the crowd, to be recognized by others, to be more than just a number. And it seems as if there is something within the realm of creation itself which addresses the same issue. Each individual personality is different, even in the same family! Snowflakes are reported to be completely unique to one another, in spite of the trillions of them which fall in any one snowstorm. (I have to wonder concerning who has done the comparative study on that one). And the FBI informs us that no matter how hard we try to disguise ourselves, they can identify us by our fingerprints, which are each set unique to the individual. When it comes to my personality, my looks, my fingerprints; I am a unique individual
Jesus of Nazareth was also a unique individual. Like you and me, his chromosomal make-up was such that the color of his eyes and hair, his build, even his fingerprints, were unique to him. No one else was like him.
Yet, when we speak of the uniqueness of Jesus the Christ, is that what we mean? Are we talking about his eyes, or his hair? Of course not. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ does not lie in the fact that he was an historical individual who lived once in Palestine. If that were so his uniqueness would be no more outstanding than yours or mine. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ is not even found in the way he lived his life, or in his gruesome death on a cross. A great many people were crucified in ages past.
When we confess the uniqueness of Jesus, we do not mean merely that he was a concrete individual human being, which he was. We mean that he is the concrete embodiment of universal meaning. The issue of Jesus’ uniqueness finally has to do with the resurrection. What is most importantly unique to Jesus Christ is that he was raised to be the living presence of God in every new age. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” says Acts.
But there can be a “down” side to uniqueness. I can begin to think that my troubles are my own, unique troubles, that I am alone in my ponderings of the world and life and the condition of things. We can lament our condition of uniqueness by turning it to loneliness, seclusion and emptiness. Many of our returning veterans deal with such pain; feeling that they are alone in their thoughts and dreams and remembrances of war and unable to share them with family or even counselors.
But into that reverie come the words of the psalmist who assures us that there is one who knows our uniqueness and plumbs the depths of our souls, the living presence of God. The psalmist puts it this way:
Lord you have searched me out and known me;\
You know my sitting down and rising up ;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places
And are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O lord, know it altogether.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
But just as quickly as the writer recognizes God’s special love and care, the psalmsist is aware also of the heavy burden that accompanies it. God’s caring concern becomes the very crux of the writer’s problems. God’s unflagging attention is an unbearable oppression. Instead of rejoicing in humanities unique place, the psalmist cries out under the burden of it all and shouts against God’s plan:
Where can I go then from your spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
Turn around God and give me a little privacy!
It’s a little like having primary care for an active two year old. No matter where you go, they search you out. They know when you sit down and cause you to rise up to find out what they are doing. They trace your journey from kitchen to laundry, from bedroom to living room – even to the bathroom. They know when you leave and scream until you come back.
What parent or care provider hasn’t cried the cry of the psalmist: “where can I go them, where can I flee from your presence?”
It’s not that we don’t want the attention. It is a precious gift to be so sought after, to be the object of such affection. It is a precious gift to know that you are so important to another that the other would want to keep you in sight all the time.
But we need our space, we need our private time, we need our freedom! The presence of God can become too much. Yet the promise of the risen Lord Jesus Christ brings with it just such an omni – presence. The risen Lord isn’t with you only when you think about it, or when you ask for it, or when you pray about it. The risen Lord is with you even when you don’t remember it, or when you don’t want such presence, or when you need such presence but don’t think about Jesus as the answer.
The Psalmist continues: “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night. But darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.”
Certainly there is something warm and reassuring about such presence as that, a reassurance that makes up for the apparent loss of privacy first realized. Jesus becomes the eternal “night light”, the one who is there to mark the way in the midst of the darkness of life.
But if we stop at that point, we have missed the point. Sure, we have made Jesus into our personal Lord and Savior. We have found reassurance in our faith in the risen Christ. But is that the total extent of the implications of such a presence as this? Again, I don’t think so.
The psalmist says “when I climb up to heaven, you are there.” That makes sense. But then adds “If I make the grave my bed, you are there also.” That is even more revealing. Jesus is there, even in death. Jesus is there, even in the grave. Jesus is there, even in the darkness of my mind’s secret thoughts and desires. Jesus is there, even in other lands and other civilizations. Jesus is there, among the republicans AND the Democrats and the Independents, in the seats of governments around the world. Where God is, there is Jesus and God is everywhere.
The identity of Jesus cannot be limited to the particular descriptions of the past. That is what all of the texts are telling us this morning. From Peter and the people with him that day, Jesus was the healer of a sick man, the one who was rejected but now is the beginning, the cornerstone, of a new age. For the disciples in Luke he is not a ghost but rather real and resurrected flesh and blood, a man eating broiled fish, a teacher of scripture.
The uniqueness of the resurrected Christ is found in the universal hope which Christ brings to the world. It is a hope that the Lord of the church will finally rule as the Lord of the world, inclusive of its governments, its individuals, even its religions.
― Madeleine L'Engle wrote: “I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.”
There are not multiple ways of salvation. As Christians we understand that “There is salvation in no one else” except Jesus the Christ. But before we decide where Christ isn’t, we must recall where scripture tells us Christ is, and then take hope in the presence of God in a new age and in every place; perhaps even in the place we are now. Amen