Jesus our Life Preserver

March 8, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

2nd Sunday in Lent
John 3:1-17; Psalm 121

Listen here:


Sermon Transcript

“Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

I have to admit that this savior language that we hear is hard for me at times. To think of Jesus as my savior always gives me pause, perhaps because it brings to mind some problematic images. One that readily jumps to mind is the tearful unconvincing confession of televangelists who have said, “I am a sinner and I must be saved!”

This savior language can also create a Christian posture of self-loathing, which is problematic. This, moving through the world with a sense of unworthiness that can come, and that only through Jesus can we be saved and become worthy. Or maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I need to be saved. Certainly not by a sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. That seems a bit dramatic, and perhaps it seems dramatic because we don’t have a cultural context for sacrifice.

Certainly in Jesus’ time, there was very much a cultural context for sacrifice. Sacrifice was how one restored their relationship with God. They brought to the temple an unblemished lamb or some other livestock of their own first fruits, and it was literally sacrificed on the alter. It was the means by which one restored their relationship with God.

And in John’s gospel, Jesus crucifixion is being put in context. This saving language is making Jesus the sacrifice that replaces all those other sacrifices.

In the lesson we heard today, the writer of John’s gospel has Jesus recalling Moses, his acts in the desert. Just as a reminder, Moses had delivered the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and as we often hear, the Israelites are grumbling about it. They said,

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we did test this and miserable food. Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people and they bit the people so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, we have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us. So Moses prayed for the people and the Lord said to Moses, make a poisonous serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live. So Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it upon a pole and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”

The author of John’s gospel is explaining the crucifixion to be like that serpent on the pole that Moses lifted up to be the salvific act when those who were snake-bit looked at it. Now we are told that just as Moses was lifted up, lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

In John’s gospel, the moment of glorification happens in the lifting up onto the cross and in our willingness to look at it. And it’s in our willingness and ability to see that saving act, that the glory of God is fulfilled.

The problem is most of us don’t think we’ve been snake-bit.

During Lent we take time to reflect on our actions. We say the confession at the beginning of the service right up front. It’s a time for us to consider those things in our life that maybe do equate to being bit by the serpent.

We confess that we have sinned in thought and in word and indeed by what we have done, but also by what we have left undone, and by not loving God with our whole heart and perhaps not loving our neighbor as ourselves.

And so in that confession, we ask for the sake of Jesus Christ, who was lifted up, to save us.

In today’s Psalm, we heard the words,

“I lift up my eyes to the hills from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil and it is God who shall keep you safe.”

Very comforting words. Somehow God keeping me safe is much easier for me to hold onto than being saved, yet both words come from the same root.

Perhaps an easier image than savior is a life preserver. Jesus as our life preserver.

What might that look like?

When we wake up each morning and we put on the life preserver that is Jesus, nice and snug, sometimes a little bit uncomfortable. It’s not always easy to get around. It certainly doesn’t keep us from falling in the water. Does it? But it keeps us safe and certainly buoyant as we navigate our way back to the boat. And the good news is there are others who have been in the water before and they can help us back in. And there are some who, if we forget our life preserver, have the capacity to toss us one and to pull us to safety.

So this idea of God through Christ being our life preserver isn’t one that protects us from all things, but it’s something that can sustain us through those times of difficulty and give us security even when we’re safely in the boat.

We are saved by receiving and sharing God’s love within our lives and within the lives of others. And that is comforting indeed. Amen.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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