The story of salvation
January 10, 2015
I want to tell you a story. It starts with emptiness, nothingness. Then into the nothingness God creates time and space matter and energy, waves and particles, endlessly colliding and combining. God creates the possibility of possibility. This is the beginning. Life evolves. Death, birth, woman man. God loves this world he has created. Human beings choose to put themselves at the centre of the world and edge God out. Bad consequences follow: hurt, hate, greed exploitation. Brokenness. God still loves his wayward children. He won’t leave them in this broken place, this loveless, godless place. Like a good shepherd. God will seek out his wayward children. Will find them and gently, tenderly, lead them home. Home to the green pastures of God’s presence, to harmony and joy. But how will God do that?
God starts small. He starts with one man. Then with a family, a tribe, a people. He says, you will be my people and I will be your God. All the world will be blessed by you. God shares his name with his people: I am who I am, I shall be who I shall be. This God is life, presence, future, everything. God shares his nature with his people by leading them out of slavery: he is the One who loves justice and abhors oppression. God guides his people by giving them commandments to show them how to live. He feeds them in the wilderness. God struggles with his people and his people struggle with God. The people have a name now: Israel, the ones who struggle with God.
God gives his struggling people a land, a home, he teaches them how to worship. He gives them rulers, kings: a people becomes as nation. Israel struggles to lives as God’s people. It’s one step forwards, two steps back. They’re assailed by enemies, they forget to be faithful. God sends prophets to chide and challenge his people, to call them back to the way of justice and love, but still they ignore, still they turn away. Their great city is sacked, their temple torn apart. God’s struggling people are led into exile, far from home. By the rivers of Babylon they sit down and weep. How can they sing the Lord’s song in this foreign land?
God doesn’t abandon his wayward children. They return from exile, they rebuild the temple. They wait. For now the time is coming. A voice cries in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord”. Something is afoot: a new twist in the story of God’s love for his beloved world.
Into the darkness there comes a sound, a cry, a birth. A family at risk, refugees fleeing from violence, simple peasant people, who raise a child, a boy, a man. The man goes to his cousin to be washed in the river and a voice from heaven is heard. This is my Son, my beloved.
Jesus starts small. He calls two fisherman, a tax collector, twelve friends in all, invites them to come on a journey with him, tells them that God’s reign, god’s rule is close at hand. He shows them what God is like by healing the sick and driving out demons; by eating with outcasts and feeding the hungry. By forgiving sins. Opposition gathers, the powers close in, Jesus prepares to walk the way of suffering. God still longs to seek out his wayward children and will not shirk from the flogging, the nails, the slow death on a roman cross. This love will go to the depths of hell for us. Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.
And then darkness. Silence.
Three days later there are strange sightings, confusion, terror even, and then a risen presence: “Peace be with you. “It’s impossible, it can’t be , and yet, yes, it is, Jesus, alive in the life of God.
Six weeks later God’s Holy Spirit tears through the upper room like a wind, like a bushfire: Jesus is risen, Jesus is Lord, God in Jesus seeking out his wayward children, unkillable, irrespressible. Across Jerusalem, across the sea, across the known world. This movement of God’s spirit cannot be stopped. Everywhere people are baptised, come to know Jesus, break the bread, pray the prayers, tell the stories. They tell the story of the passionate God who comes to us in Jesus to heal and forgive and set the world right with God. What began small has become very big. What began with one people Israel now reaches to every child, every woman, every man. To Africa and the Americas, to Europe, to Sheffield, to Crosspool, to us. It’s promise of forgiveness and a new start to all who turn to God in Jesus. It’s an invitation from God that says: come with me, be part of my family, share my bread, my laughter, my life. And know that I am with you, I am with you until the very end of time.
Frances Eccleston, January 2015