Sermon for 24 Pentecost, Year C
Based on Lk. 21:5-19
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Jesus our Saviour”
The world and human beings cannot live without a Saviour. Right from the beginning, people have turned to someone or something for their salvation; for their security and protection in this world; for hope in life now and in the future. Indeed, it is quite common for many people to be curious about their own future and the future of the world. This curiosity about the future is often closely linked to a belief in one or many Saviour-Messiah figure(s).
There are many who offer salvation to us in one form or another these days. As Reginald Bibby, Canadian sociologist pointed out in his book several years ago, Fragmented Gods: the Canadian religious context is an “a la carte” menu, wherein the consumer can “shop around” and pick or choose whatever he/she pleases, as if she/he were shopping for groceries in the Super-Store.
There are the cults, each with its own special message and exclusive truth. There are those who say the truth can be found only in ourselves and in actualizing our potential. There are those who preach a gospel of success, getting ahead, and materialism. There are those who say life is an absurdity, and it doesn’t matter what we do or believe, as long as we just enjoy the pleasure of the moment. 1
There are Messiah-like figures in almost every corner of the globe that lure people to them. They promise a bright future and salvation. It is most sobering to observe how such people believe they will inherit or, in most cases “earn” their bright future and salvation. Today, we see the evil, deceitful manner in which the Osama bin Ladens of this world operate to convince people that violence and terrorism are the only legitimate means to accomplish one’s ends. Moreover to theologize their violence and terrorism in such ways as to turn evil into good and good into evil, by insisting that their God is delighted and on their side whenever people from the western world are killed by fundamentalist, Muslim extremists. Such terrorists are promised privileged eternal rewards if they die while engaged in their jihads (“holy?” wars).
Almost every year, there is at least one—and sometimes several—“off the wall” crackpot(s) who predict the end of the world and the coming of a Saviour. These crackpots often convince many folks by their bizarre, grandiose analysis of world events. Some people become so convinced that they may even sell everything they own and flee to some safe place in the world where only a chosen few will be “saved.”
Human beings have not changed much over the span of some 2,000 years. Some people who were curious about their future questioned Jesus in the Jerusalem temple. Jesus refused to give them a specific answer. He gives them a warning instead: “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the one!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.” Jesus knew that people would be lured away and sorely tempted by false messiahs who promised a rosy future. On the surface, they would be extremely attractive, but beneath the surface they were extremely ugly and would lead people to death. In recent times the truth of this has been born out every very tragically for people who misplaced their trust in false messiahs like: Heaven’s Gate, Solar Temple, Rajneesh, Jim Jones, Rev. Moon, and so on. Most false Messiahs offer a security or certainty which, if carefully examined, are the exact opposite of what Jesus our Messiah offers.
Over against worldly security and certainty of the future, Jesus our Saviour offers us a cross and suffering; a storm-filled life filled with ambiguity that requires much faithfulness over the long haul—the reward of which may very well be martyrdom, but not martyrdom in the same sense as in present day Islamic fundamentalist extremist movements! Martyrdom in the sense of self-giving, unconditional love, which risks even life itself for the sake of spreading God’s all encompassing love to and for the world. Jesus warns any would-be disciples that they will be persecuted, imprisoned and prosecuted by the state—as human rights organisations like Amnesty International attest to daily around the globe; many of them Islamic nations, which deny religious freedom to Christians; in stark contrast to western nations giving complete religious freedom to Muslims in our nations. Jesus said: “You will be delivered up even by parents and family and kin and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
Jesus is telling his followers to place more faith in him than in the ability to predict the future. He is saying: “Trust me and trust God no matter what happens we are with you. Accept the unknown future as an adventure in faith.”
One person who accepted this adventure in faith was third century martyr, Cyprian. This is what he had to say concerning the Christian faith:
This is a cheerful world as I see it from my garden under the shadows of my vines. But if I were to ascend some high mountain and look out over the wide lands, you know very well what I should see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the sea, armies fighting, cities burning; in the amphitheatres (people) murdered to please applauding crowds; selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians—and I am one of them. 2
Cyprian, like countless other Christian martyrs knew full well that human beings and the world cannot live without a Saviour. He also believed that the only real security and protection in this world; the only hope in life now and in the future was through Jesus our Saviour, and his way of the cross. We, like Cyprian, are called and chosen to know and believe this truth. For, if ever the world needed saving, the time is certainly now. It seems that we humans, with all of our knowledge, wisdom and resources are destroying the world at an alarming pace. No human Saviour is able to change this situation. Only by trusting in Christ and following him in suffering and the way of the cross shall we be saved.
As George MacLeod of the Iona Community in Scotland once said, there is:
“Only One Way Left.” The cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of a church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a Cathedral between 2 candles, but on a cross between 2 thieves; on the town garbage heap; on a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew, and Latin, and in Greek (or shall we say in English, in Bantu and Afrikaans); at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where church people should be and church people should be about. 3
May God help us to place all our trust in Jesus as Saviour—that we may be granted the grace-filled resources to walk the way of the cross in this world. May our faithfulness to Christ be a sign of the saving work of Jesus in our world today and in the future.
1 Cited from: Emphasis, Nov. 1, 1983 (Lima, OH: C.S.S. Publishing Co., 1983), p. 20.
2 Cited from: James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988), p.488.