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Salvation as Freedom For

Sermon from March 26, 2023

The Rev. Megan Collins

We’ll be talking about salvation again this morning. The thing we hear the most about when we talk about salvation are the things we are freed from when we are saved. Salvation means you are freed from the hold sin has on your life. You’ll still mess up, but you are forgiven. You are given a second (and 100th) chance to try again. You are freed from the power of death. You will still die someday but God will give you eternal life. It’s easy for us to stop there in our understanding of salvation, partly because it takes an awfully long time to just get to that point.

Really accepting salvation is hard for some of us. It’s not always easy to internalize that we have this sin in our life, and that we aren’t really capable of getting it together on our own. If we are honest, we can all see that we are a mess, but we would like to believe that deep down, if we really wanted to, we could do better on our own. The teaching that only God can free us from the hold sin has on our life runs counter to everything we want to believe about ourselves.

The eternal life part is an easier sell for us. Why wouldn’t we want to live forever (well maybe not here, but in a perfect version of here and in a body that doesn’t require so much Advil). But still, to think about that part we have to look head on at our own mortality and admit that one day we will die. That’s not easy for most of us either. Accepting what our salvation frees us from through Jesus takes time.

I don’t know your personal salvation story. Maybe you had a glass break moment where all of this suddenly made sense to you and you got down on your knees and asked God to take the reins of your life.

Maybe you grew up in the church so it wasn’t necessarily an all at once realization but a series of moments. Every so often God broke through the noise in your life and made this all real to you. Suddenly the long mornings of sitting on an uncomfortable pew next to your parents made a little more sense.

Maybe you ended up here this morning because you came with someone else or you have some questions and your story is still in process.

Getting to that understanding of salvation, that we are freed from the hold sin and death have in our lives, can take time and a lot of mental unpacking of all the things we thought we knew. We cross the finish line and phew, we made it. Check salvation off the list.

But what our salvation frees us from is only half of the story. In a lot of ways, at that point the work of salvation is only getting started. Salvation frees us from the powers of sin and death by the work of God in our lives. But today we’ll talk about the second act of salvation, what salvation has freed us for.

Some of us here are reading through the Bible in a year. That means we are in the Old Testament, and have been reading a lot about the Israelites. I love the Israelites. Because they are a total mess, all the time. That’s a lot easier for me to relate to than someone who has it all together. I feel like these are my people. Early on God does this huge and amazing miracle in freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. They walk out of bondage on dry land with the water rising up in a wall on either side of them, then God brings the water crashing back down on their enemies. In that moment, they are free from everything that held them captive.

But then they aren’t really sure what to do. So they complain, a lot. They fall back into bad behaviors. Sometimes they forget God entirely. Every time they are unsupervised, it’s total chaos. At one point they even ask to go back to Egypt where they were held as slaves. Because at least there they had cucumbers. (That’s true, they actually said that. Check out Numbers 11). The Israelites’ memories for what God has already done was impossibly short, just like ours. They needed constant reminders of who God is, just like we do. The freedom from slavery part felt great. But now what?

That is you and I. God can free you from sin and death.

What are you freed for?

What’s next?

If we don’t know what we were freed for, we do what the Israelites did. We fall back into our old behaviors. We forget who God is. We complain, a lot. We focus only on what we want and can’t see what we should be doing. But there’s a second part to salvation that answers this question, what we are freed for. This is where it stops being all about us. The first part is really all for you. You are free from sin, free from the hold of death. But the second part of salvation is freeing you for obedience to God. You are freed for your ministry with other people, and for your calling.

Here’s the hard truth: This may mean doing things sometimes you won’t want to do, or things that make you a little uncomfortable. It might even require some serious sacrifice.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian in the 1930s. He is well known for his opposition to the Nazi regime because of his faith, an opposition that ultimately led to his death. He wrote this:

"Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life. It’s simply impossible to be a disciple without being willing to suffer and even die for the sake of Jesus Christ."

Discipleship is the second act of salvation, and it asks something of us. For some, like Bonhoeffer, it asks everything. But let’s start with something much smaller than taking on the Nazis. Let’s talk about you, and your ministry here in Maitland. One thing your second act of salvation is asking of you is this:

Tell people about God.

I know. It feels weird.

Some of you would rather take on Nazis than tell your friends about your faith.

I get it. I really do.

Sometimes we don’t want to talk about our faith because it feels awkward. Now there are a few people are really natural at this. Larry Selig, one of the pastors who served here, has an amazing gift for sharing the gospel in just about anywhere he goes. There is another member here in the church who I won’t embarrass by using his name, but who I know has what he calls a "marketplace ministry" where he uses his work as an opportunity to share his faith, and it’s powerful.

But for a lot of rest of us, it’s . . . hard. It’s hard to share our faith. It’s hard to even invite people to church. It’s hard for Dave and I to do this and we have a very natural segway, all the time.

What’s one of the first questions you ask someone when you meet them who is of working age?

What do you do?

I can tell you, with our answer to that question, there is always a reaction, and it’s almost never neutral. Sometimes it’s interest because it’s a unusual job, or sometimes we hear someone's life story or talk about theology. Sometimes it just stops the conversation in its tracks as they uncomfortably try and casually back away. Sometimes it’s borderline disgust. But regardless of the reaction, Dave and I have a natural transition to talking about faith with people. When they know you’re a pastor, it’s an easy opening to talk about God. But even for us, sometimes we are tempted to skirt the conversation. So that you believe me, I’m going to take a risk with you and share a true story about Dave and I. It does not make us look good, but it will assure you that if you and I are in the same boat on this. Ready? True story time.

Dave and I went out to dinner at a restaurant one night a few years ago. It was crowded so we ended up sitting at the bar to eat. A friendly man sat down next to us, and turned to Dave and started chatting. Then he asked the question, "What do you do?"

I hesitated. Because you know, sometimes you just want to eat dinner.

Then Dave responded “I’m an accountant.”

The man looked at me and asks "What about you?" Dave says “She’s a doctor.”

I'm not proud of this. But I am proud of how quickly he thought on his feet. Because then the man asked “What kind of doctor?” and Dave doesn’t miss a beat. “She’s an Opthamologist.”

Ophthalmologist. That’s impressive. Just specific enough to be believable, but with zero chance he would ask me to diagnose a weird rash on his back.

It’s not always easy to talk about our faith.

It’s easier to stop at letting our own salvation be about us. To let it be the good news for us but also, a secret. I get it. But the story of your salvation does not end in a moment between you and God. That’s only the beginning.

You are freed from sin and death.

You are freed for other people.

You are freed specifically for helping them explore their faith too.

In the gospel of Matthew chapter 5:13- 14 Jesus says this:

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

In other words, you don’t get to keep your faith a secret, because other people need to hear what God has done for you. Look at the last verse again.

Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works. A lot of the people in your life really know you. They know if you are doing good works that there is something different going on there. And then they lean in, they pay attention, they ask questions. Which is exactly what God wants them to do. Because then . . .

". . . they may see you good words and give glory to your Father in heaven."

When they see what God is doing in your life, they’ll want to know more about it. That opens the door for faith. When they see that you are free from the things they feel weighing them down, they’ll want to be free too.

I want you to stop right now, for a moment, and think about someone in your life who might need that kind of encouragement from you. Maybe it’s someone you're close to, someone in your family, or a friend. You know they are looking for something in their life but you’ve just been hesitant to engage with them. Some of you might be thinking “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a church.” Maybe not yet. Befriend the person who checks out your groceries. Get to know your neighbors better. There are a lot of people out there looking for faith. 74% of people in a recent large scale survey led by Barna said they want to grow spiritually. You, by being here, have something to offer them: a church.

Here’s something critical that we miss when these verses from Matthew are translated from the original language into English. The “you” in these texts is plural.

You all, church, are the salt of the earth.

You all, church, are the light of the world.

For our southern friends: ya'll are the salt, ya'll are the light. This isn’t just something we do on our own. This is something we have to do together.

God has called this congregation to be a light to its community, here in Maitland.

We could think that there are plenty of other churches so it doesn’t have to be us reaching out. But this church is unique, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s unique because of you. There are people only you know who need to be invited to church. There is a person in your life who needs you to be the one to point them to a place where they can explore their faith. Other churches will reach other people, but only you can invite that person to come here.

Second, this church, and some others like us, have a unique perspective that our community needs to hear. There are other voices out there that claim the same faith we do, but that talk a lot more about hate. The values being connected with Christians right now are often things like exclusion, hierarchy and power. This that’s not the Jesus we know from the Bible. Our passage for today about salt and light falls right on the heels of the beatitudes where Jesus says blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers. This is the light we have to share. But the other voices are very loud. People who have never been to a church are starting to believe that these other voices represent all of us. The only way to reach them is to take the risk, for us to be the light God is calling us to be. We can no longer be silent.

This can be hard. It’s a lot more comfortable under the bushel basket, right? It’s dark, it’s warm, no one can see you. But real ministry, the kind that lives out the salvation we have been given, does come at a cost. Reaching out might mean doing something differently than you want to. We, as a church, will have to change and adapt. We will be uncomfortable and make sacrifices. Each of us will have to set aside what we personally want for the good of the mission God has sent us on. We could choose instead to complain and ask God to send us back to Egypt where we were enslaved but at least things stayed the same. We had cucumbers there. Or we can go be a part of what God is doing, in the world.

What if we did that? What if we choose, as a church, to be sent?

Let’s decide together, today, to do whatever it takes to be the light on a hill, even if it makes us uncomfortable, even if it costs us something, even if we have to . . . change. Because any discomfort on our part will be drastically overshadowed by the work God can do if we are free for the ministry to others.

It starts with you. There is someone in your life that none of the rest of us know who needs to be in this place. But they won’t find it if you don’t invite them. You weren’t just saved from sin. You were saved for them. This is the second part of salvation.

The first part of salvation seems to be about us. The second part is about others.

But really, it is all about God.

That is what we’ll be able to focus on these next two weeks as we move to Palm Sunday and through Holy Week and then Easter morning. For the next two weeks, we will remember, again, who Jesus is, and what this salvation has cost God.


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