What’s Salvation? What’s God’s Dream?
Luke 4:18-30 (The Message Translation)
October 15, 2023 (Have liturgist Butch play the role of Theophilus-bolded)
What’s God’s dream?
Those are the two questions I’d like us to ponder today.
This is my final message in a series entitled: The Deconstruction and Reconstruction of our Faith. We’ve been looking at how we view the Bible, our different images of God, and our understandings of Jesus including his death on a cross. I’ve been sharing my story of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction, but you too have been sharing your stories and beliefs.
For those who have not been with us during this series let me review an analogy I’ve been using. It involves three stages and the use of boxes.
The first stage is Construction. It’s what we are originally taught. It’s a time to stack up the boxes.
The second stage is Deconstruction. It involves doubting what we were originally taught. It means knocking down our carefully constructed boxes.
The question we’re pondering during this series is this: After doubt and deconstruction, should you return to your original construction or should you move on to some new construction? In other words, do you go back to the way you were originally taught or believed, or do you move on to a new way of looking at it.
I’m suggesting the latter. The third stage is Reconstruction. The boxes come back together, but they are constructed differently than when you started. In other words, you come to believe something else, something that better fits who you are and how you view the world.
Today, we’re exploring the answer to the two questions: “What is salvation?” And “What is God’s Dream?”
Let me start out with what I was taught as a youth in the conservative Church of the Nazarene denomination.
They taught that salvation and God’s dream are all about making sure I get to heaven after this life is over. It’s all about what happens after I die.
This focus is built on some assumptions they make. This is what I learned. I was born a terrible sinner who deserves to spend eternity in hell. Jesus died on a cross as a substitute so that I can avoid hell and get to heaven. But it only applies to me if I get “saved” by asking forgiveness and believing Jesus died for me. If I do that, then I have my ticket for heaven. That’s what salvation is all about. That’s what God’s dream is all about. It’s all about getting me to heaven.
This is my story of Original Construction. Was anyone else taught this story?
Nod your head if you were taught this story.
Let me move on to Deconstruction. Over the years, I’ve come to find problems with this way of understanding salvation and God’s dream.
First, as I mentioned in an earlier message, I don’t believe that I was born a terrible sinner or that a loving God would send anyone to a hell of eternal punishment after this life is over. That’s an over-emphasis on unnecessary guilt, shame and fear.
Second, it makes our relationship with God all about requirements and rewards and a contract. I see our relationship with God based on love and connection.
Third, the emphasis is on self-preservation instead of caring about other people or God. It’s about doing what we need to do to get our ticket to heaven for ourselves. It just seems selfish.
Fourth, it divides people between the “saved” and the “unsaved”. It creates this “In” group that we are a part of and excludes the “Out” group of the “unsaved who are going to hell”.
Fifth, it focuses our attention solely on what happens after we die, instead of the challenges and opportunities facing us in this world. It’s about a pie in the sky instead of concern for our neighbor in this life.
What do you think? Do you find any difficulties with salvation and God’s dream being all about “getting saved so you can go to heaven”? At the end of the message, I’ll give you an opportunity to share some of your thoughts on this.
Let’s hear from the gospel writer Luke. I’ve created this imaginary conversation that Luke might have had with his friend and colleague Theophilus. Butch will be Theophilus and I’ll be Luke.
Luke starts out by saying, “Theophilus, I’m writing down the story of Jesus’ life.”
“Luke, haven’t others’ told the story already?”
“I know, but I think they’ve missed or downplayed certain aspects of Jesus’ life. I’ve experienced Jesus Christ personally. I’ve also experienced Jesus Christ’s presence in our little community we call church. The Jesus Christ I’ve come to know is different than the one I read about in the other Jesus books.”
“So Luke, what’s missing? Who do you think Jesus Christ is?”
“I believe Jesus Christ boldly and honestly shares God’s dream for the world.”
“Which is what?”
“God’s dream for the world has four aspects: Inclusion, Transformation, Healing and Reversal.”
“You mean, Luke, it’s not about love?”
“No, it is about love. Inclusion means love for all people, not just for some. Transformation means that love changes people and the world. Healing means that love brings wholeness and health to everyone. Reversal means that love is especially concerned for those who are the bottom of society’s ladder.”
“So, you want to present Jesus bringing this inclusion, transformation, healing and reversal?”
“Yes, that’s it. I want to let the readers know early on that this is my image of Jesus Christ. What Old Testament Scriptures would you suggest I use?”
“What about that passage in Isaiah when the prophet says, “God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the message of Good News to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act.’”
“I like that Theophilus, especially that last sentence. Do you know what that reminds me of “This is God’s year to act.” ?”
“It reminds me of that passage in the Mosaic book of Leviticus that talks about the Year of Jubilee. It’s when all the lands and monies are returned to everyone. And all the slaves are freed. It’s the year when everything becomes once again just like God intended – with freedom and justice for all.”
“Luke, why don’t you put this Scripture from Isaiah in the mouth of Jesus and place the story at the beginning of his ministry. Then you can conclude with Jesus saying something like ‘This is the Year of Jubilee.’”
“But Theophilus, you know that if Jesus actually said something like this, the Roman and Jewish leaders would have gone crazy and tried to kill Jesus right then and there.
Who knows, Theophilus, maybe they did at some point. We know that in the end, Jesus’ message of inclusion, transformation, healing and reversal got him in so much trouble that he was crucified.”
“Luke, why don’t you have Jesus read this Isaiah scripture when he’s back in his hometown of Nazareth for the first time after starting his ministry. Then have the folks in that community try to kill him for his radical words of inclusion, transformation, healing and reversal.”
“Thanks for the advice Theophilus. I’ll get writing and send you my book when it’s completed. I’m really hoping it will help our church people become more passionate about God’s dream of inclusion, transformation, healing and reversal.”
That was the gospel writer Luke and the person he wrote the gospel to: Theophilus.
Mike Tupper’s reconstruction of salvation and God’s dream goes along the lines that Luke was just talking about.
I believe salvation and God’s dream are all about this world, not the afterlife. I don’t believe it’s about getting saved and going to heaven. Instead, I believe salvation and God’s dream are about inclusion of all people, especially those who have been forced out to the margins by society. It’s about the transformation of our lives from self-serving to loving and the transformation of our world to one of peace and justice and respect for the environment. It’s about healing and wholeness for all of us who struggle with any type of sickness or health challenge. It’s about the reversal of fortunes for those who find themselves at the bottom of society, the poor and oppressed.
A word that is often used in Scripture and by the church to describe this salvation and God’s dream is the kingdom of God. It’s about God’s way reigning supreme in our world today. As the Lord’s prayer says, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s all about God’s dream being realized here and now in this world.
I personally have started to use the word, “Kindom” rather than Kingdom. I like this word for a few reasons. Kingdom seems to refer to a male King. I don’t believe that God is solely male. I like the word kindom becomes it leads me to think about the kin or siblings we share together with in God’s world. It points to community and inclusion of all people. But I know that kingdom is the more traditional word most people still use.
This is what I have come to believe that salvation and God’s dream is all about. It’s about how love gets expressed and is experienced through inclusion, transformation, healing and reversal. It’s about God’s kindom on earth.
What do you think?
How do you talk about salvation?
How do you describe God’s dream?