When were you saved? What was the time and what was the occasion? There are those who make a much bigger deal about this than we Lutherans do in fact, from the earliest days of the revival movement it was a requirement that there be a visible, discernible change in you because of your salvation, when you got saved, it was supposed to show.
People would fall over and shake; there would be the speaking in tongues or something as simple as a miserly man would make a great donation to the poor or something. There was an occasion to mark the time when the love of God came to you and saved you.
We still hand out certificates and candles at the baptisms we perform here, for people to mark the day but most of us admit that we are not marking when God first loved us, but rather when we first commemorated that love through sacrament.
There is no way to commemorate the first time God loved you. God does not live in the same time you do, from beginning to end there will be God and from beginning to end, God loved you.
But we love the celebrations, the anniversaries, the parties and the snacks, O great googly moogly we love the snacks.
So it should come as no surprise that people have made a big deal about the day they were saved, the time the hour, the minute, the whole schmear. It must be admitted, however, and this is a little embarrassing considering the tenor of the previous paragraphs, that I can remember the day and the hour and most of the rest when I first felt God’s love in me, when I first acknowledged it and knew that it was there.
I can almost point to the pew where I was sitting if pressed.
But here’s the thing. God didn’t start loving me when I could be bothered to notice. God didn’t begin to pay attention to me just because I started to pay attention to God.
But that is what we really celebrate. Not God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God. This is one of the things I object to in believer baptism, the notion that God doesn’t come to us without an invitation, that the only thing in the universe that can keep God’s love away is, us.
Still, we cling to the dates and the times and the signs and the wonders, the changes in us that we think signals some big change in the universe. We don’t make too much of it in the Lutheran church, counting the days and such since we are mostly baptized as infants and haven’t’ got any strong memories of the occasion but also for another reason, an important other reason.
We know that God isn’t done with us; that we are “saved” and yet not yet perfect. We know for a fact that there are still occasions that cry out for the Lord to step in and rescue us from our stupid, our arrogant, and our prideful selves. We have felt God’s hand upon us in trying times and we have prayed that God stay with us, abide with us as we make the journey of the faithful.
After my sermon a couple of weeks ago on God not answering the prayers we ask in vain, like for parking and a short line at the bank someone texted me that they had prayed for parking and gotten it and I got a chuckle out of that. It is so easy to give God credit for the little things, the parking places or the safe travels and to overlook the larger issues, the bigger things that God is doing in our lives every day: saving, killing and making alive again, re-creating us again and again in God’s own image, made visible at last to us in the face of Jesus Christ.
The day you were “saved” was yesterday, and tomorrow and every day in which the blessing of your baptism is a real and palpable thing for you. Each and every day that you live in the covenant made at your baptism; each day that you make each and every time you approach the rail with your hand and heart open you are saved, embraced by God and be-made.
Wait, it just happened again. And again. And again.
But today is easier, I suppose. Our minds are tuned to the things that are above and not on the things that are of earthly manufacture. This morning we celebrate the salvation that came in Christ. Ephesians formulates it nicely.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
We go from the litany of things that God has given to us in the past, the blessings and the gifts and the salvation wrought in Christ in our human past and then declares that this is a present reality for us. We are redeemed, saved, whatever your word for it.
And it is happening again.
Oh, yes, God’s magnificent grace in creating all that is did not cease suddenly. If that were the case then the work might as well have ceased just after the beginning, after all that came into being had come into being through Christ. This is not some deist fantasy where God spins the top at the beginning of creation and then sits back on the celestial Barcalounger to see how things turn out.
Okay, so there might not be columns of smoke by day and pillars of fire by night but how many of us can say our decision making process has not been changed, or our approach to love, or our approach to the on-ramp on the freeway of the way we think about what we buy and what we need and how our decisions affect other people?
That is not because of what God did in our lives, it is because of what Christ is doing in our lives through the witness of the Holy Spirit; guiding us in all truth, reminding us of what has happened so that we might take part in what is happening.
When John says that Jesus dwelt among us what the word in Greek is tabernacled or more precisely, pitched a tent. There are plenty of other words that might have been used there but the one that John picked implies that this was not a mansion of stone, but the dwelling of a God that was on the move; on the move with us, abiding with us, dwelling among us and continuing to save, to build up, to create new life where there once was only the terrifying spectre of death.
It is in you, in your heart that that tent is pitched to this very day, in the heart of those created in God’s own image dwells the Son of God who is the very face of God’s love made visible in our world. Each time you approach the font the water cries out in joy that you have come home. Each time you approach the rail the chorus of angels sings you a welcome and bids you go in Christ’s name.
Today. Here. In this place.
So what are you going to do with that?
What are you going to do with the continuing presence, the creative, saving presence of God pitching a tent within your heart? Sit back and see how the whole thing turns out? Then you better build your mansion of stone, mark the day, remember the anniversary but know full well that the salvation found in Christ is not going to stay locked up in that mansion with you. Your anniversary may be marked in the book of life but the tent is packed already and is ready to move.
This is not the world that God would have here. This is not the politics that god would have here. This is not the world hunger situation that God would have here. This is not the world that God would have here.
It may work pretty well for us but if it doesn’t work for everyone then this is not the world that God would have here and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven we say and have said over and over again since our youth. That tabernacle is built to move, to do and to build up the kingdom of God the way that God would have us build it here, in a world so lacking in godliness.
I have heard some pastors change the words of John in this morning’s readings, and indeed some liturgies change them so that verse twelve might as well read “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave ability to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” As if it were some kind of opportunity instead of what it is written, which is the noun exousia, the power to choose, the authority to rule.
Sure, I would have preferred a stronger word for power but the Bible comes at me as it is and finds me as I am and works its way with me. Exousia is, however, a purely human word, it is a word that implies human power and not God’s power, we are not given God’s power but we are given power nonetheless in John’s words this morning.
The power to become the children of God.
Rebellious, stubborn, childish children.
Buy just as we as parents do not abandon our kids the second they transgress, but stay with them until they learn what they need to know, and grow into what they can become, God abides. God abides with us and nurtures us with the witness of the Gospel that God’s love for you was true before you were born, before the stars were born, in the beginning.
With the Word, with God.
With you, in this place, with the Body of Christ.
You know what happens when you leave a tent in one place too long? The bottom gets moldy. People who camp for a long time will often lift up the tent after four days or so to let the ground and the tent stabilize.
If we are to avoid the trauma of a moldy bottom, in a theological sense we have to admit that the Lord has pitched a tent with us and not built a monument to a particular moment in time when we were saved or baptized or retired or whatever. Tents are meant to be moved, to be in motion, to be dynamic and so the home of the Lord is dynamic and the home of the Lord is not a tent or a tabernacle or some other relic of a bygone past.
The home of the Lord is you. Your arms are the arms of the lord, showing God’s love in every handshake and embrace. Your lips have the power to speak out the word of the Lord. Your feet are the feet of the Lord, carrying the good news to places yet unexplored. You are the tent.
In the beginning, yes, but not just then; since then the presence of the Lord has been with you, the love of God has been yours, and since God decided to dwell with you God as made a habit of convicting you, and saving you; of teaching you and guiding you; of making you whole in the name of the one through whom all things were made, Jesus the Christ.
The psalmist knew, all of the verbs in this morning’s psalm are in the present tense, God sends, God gives. God does all of these things because there is a dynamism, an energy, the power to become the children of God that is the power of the faithful, to give God’s word away freely and to use that power to build a better tomorrow until the day when we are all gathered again from the farthest points of the earth.