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How God saves us…

October 31, 2010

Scripture: Luke 19:1-10; 1 Cor. 15:1-8

It was the last day of Vacation Bible School. The pastor was explaining God’s plan of salvation in picture form. He explained how sin had separated us from God, but that God sent Jesus to die on the cross so we could get back to God. Then he paused, and his voiced took on a solemn tone as he asked: “If you were to die tonight, do you know that you would go to heaven?”

The music began to play. He continued, “With every head bowed and every eye closed… Today, you can ask Jesus into your heart and know for sure that you are saved and going to heaven.  If you would like to do that, pray this prayer…” I raised my hand.  I prayed the prayer.  I was 11 years old.

Was that the day I was saved?

Or was it in 1983 at a Mennonite Youth Convention in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania when I responded to a call by Tony Campolo to follow Jesus radically. A call that among other things caused me to think about how the way I chose to spend $100 had something to do with being a disciple of Jesus.

Or was it when I was baptized at age 14 at Eden Mennonite Church in Inola, Oklahoma…

Or was it when as a junior in high school I would do my personal devotions at night…praying…feeling like there had to be more to God than what I was experiencing. Such a deep hunger for something more.

Or was it when I decided to into YES after a year of college at EMU…or any one of a thousand other points in time when I made decisions based on a commitment to follow Jesus rather than do my own thing?

And then I also want ask some other questions about God’s saving work—like how God saves not just individual souls, but the whole of creation. How does God save the world that he loves?

How does God save the Jews in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination and labor camp where a minimum of 960,000 were killed.

How does God save the people living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where atomic bombs were dropped as a strategy to expedite the end of WWII?

How does God save the lives of some 22.4 million adults and children living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa?

How does God save the displaced living in amidst cholera-infested tent cities in Haiti?

In the language of our gospel reading today: How does Jesus come to their house?

The Zacchaeus story is a story of salvation. We could examine the story in many ways, but this morning I am focusing on the question of how salvation comes to Zacchaeus house?

How does Jesus come to your house…to my house and what does it mean when we welcome Jesus to our house?

It is clear that Zacchaeus is seeking something. Even though he is rich, he is restless. He is looking for something that wealth has not provided. What is it? Meaning…love? He goes looking for Jesus. He climbs a tree.

Perhaps you can relate to this feeling that something is missing in your life. You have climbed many trees looking for that something. You come to the point you are even willing to go to church. You want to see Jesus.

Zacchaeus is a tax collector. To the bounded set thinking of the religious crowd—Zacchaeus was definitely out. Jesus does not have a bounded set vision of salvation. He invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house even though it won’t win him favor with the bounded set crowd.

Ever feel judged by others? What is it in your life that you are worried people would judge you for if they knew—especially religious people? The Good News in this story is that Jesus is willing to come to our house before we get all our stuff cleaned up.

Zacchaeus welcomes him. He brings him back to his home for a meal. As they are eating and talking, something begins to change for Zacchaeus. Perhaps it’s a hardness of heart that begins to soften. As Jesus sits with him something begins to melt. A cynicism toward the religious types who have judged his wealth—his participation in the oppressive tax system. Jesus doesn’t say much. Mostly he just listens.

When Jesus comes to your house, you feel like you see your life for what it is—the good and the bad. You feel that Jesus is not afraid of the bad stuff that has happened to you, the bad stuff you have done. You feel a freedom to be real, to tell your whole story to Jesus.

Even before you have thought through what you are saying you hear these words come out of your mouth: Look Jesus, half of my possessions, I will give to the poor; and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.

Then Jesus speaks salvation to Zacchaeus. Before he has died on the cross, before he has been raised from the dead, while Zacchaeus is yet a tax collector, Jesus says, “Today, salvation has come to your house.”

How does God save Zacchaeus and us? The answer to that question has to do with what we need to be saved from. Jesus comes to our actual houses—not some imaginary house…or some house in the by and by. But the real one where we eat and sleep. That is good news, because the stuff we need to be saved from is real.

Sin is particular in each of our stories—in the stories in our world. It is not some generic ontological condition. It is as specific as the headlines in tomorrow’s newspaper—which tells specific stories of teachers doing wrong things, suicide bombers, greed, lust, hatred.

When you are a young man sitting in a jail cell telling your life story to the pastor… When you have had no consistent adult males who loved you and showed you what responsibility and love look like… When your story is full of anger issues that lead you from one bad choice to another… When you want to do something positive with your life, but can’t seem to break the pattern of reckless behavior…how does salvation come to your house?

When you are an upper-middle class Caucasian teen who has everything you want materially. But you struggle with many insecurities. You feel tremendous pressures. You want so desperately to achieve…to be loved, to belong…to fit in with your peers…with the opposite sex. Your emotions are a roller coaster. When you are this young person, how does salvation come to your house?

As we sit with that question, I invite us to consider two ways that Christians tend to answer that question. It has to do with bounded set and centered set ways of thinking. This is important both as we think about our own response to the Gospel and as we envision Sunnyside Mennonite Church as a community where people are being saved and made into disciples of Jesus.

(this is the interactive part of the sermon…it’s not going to go as well if you don’t participate)

Remember that bounded set focuses on defining issues of belief or practice which determine whether one is in or out. Centered set focuses not on identifying or guarding boundaries by living toward/into a center.

Where do we see bounded set thinking in the story of Zacchaeus? (Reread verses 2 and 7)

What does a bounded set version of the Gospel look like?

What would a centered set vision of the Gospel look like?

1. Salvation as both particular moments of decision and a thousand decisions along the way (1 Cor. 15:1-2)

2. Salvation as both personal experience and communal story (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Paul, who has a dramatic personal experience situates his own story of how he met Jesus (last of all he appeared to me) within a communal story.

3.  We participate with God’s work of salvation.  (v. 10)

4.  Critical question is not are you saved, but are you moving toward Jesus, having him to your house, giving him access to every part of your life—are you a disciple? (Matt 19:16-22)

5. Jesus allows people to say “No”…”not yet”…to sit with challenging questions

Jesus has sometimes been described as a parachute. Salvation is having your parachute on so when the plane goes down you will be saved. There is an element of truth, but the metaphor limits Jesus’ work of salvation to when I die. The reality is that God’s work of salvation is far more comprehensive.

What if Jesus is more like medicine? What if everyone in the world is infected with this deadly disease for which the only cure is Jesus? If we don’t get the medicine, we will get sick and die. Jesus is not only the cure, but the way our immune systems become strong enough to fight off infection.

What’s more, Jesus is not only concerned about bringing the cure to individuals, but he also wants to change the systems and structures which make individuals susceptible to getting sick and dying.

Perhaps this is what it means for salvation to come to our house.

Alan Hirsch video on discipleship…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bev Beiler permalink
    November 1, 2010 7:17 pm

    Wish I could’ve been there on Sunday to hear your sermon. As I read over your sermon notes, it sounded quite interesting and gave me much to ponder.

    Thanks for mentioning hard questions (in your sermons) that do not have any easy answers. I value that. It’s easy for a pastor to say, “this is how you are to think” on any given subject. Thank you for not doing that. We need to have the opportunity to squirm a bit in our seats.

  2. just an apprentice permalink
    November 2, 2010 6:42 am

    Thanks Bev, you were missed! It was a good morning and the conversation is ongoing so I trust you will have opportunity to jump in. Safe travels.


  1. Then who can be saved? « just an apprentice

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