Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ who is our light and our life. Amen.

Today we start a new sermon series. We’re calling it the Salvation Project. A little pretentious and grandiose? Perhaps, but salvation is one of those words in the Christian vocabulary that comes with a lot of baggage. It one of those words that we use all the time, but I’m not always sure we understand exactly what it means. Or perhaps more accurately, we limit what salvation can mean and look like.

Quick show of hands, how many of you, when you hear the word salvation think first about life after death, heaven and hell, pearly gates and those kinds of things? Absolutely. That’s how the church has talked about salvation most of the time. There are particular Christian traditions that are only concerned with getting you and your belief structure oriented the right way, so that you can be saved, for all eternity, and that’s salvation.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe there are cosmic consequences to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I believe that God has saved us from sin and death and that our lives belong to God forever. But I don’t think that is all that God has done.

Salvation is bigger than that. God is bigger than that. The Salvation project is about getting in tune with the ways in which God is at work in the world, seeing God and joining in that work of salvation.

I believe there are two dimensions to salvation. We are saved, or freed, or liberated from something, but we are also saved for something.

Between now and Easter, we’re going to be making our way through Luke’s gospel as we do so we’ll see that Luke has a unique interest in a more expansive picture of God’s salvation. For Luke, Jesus is ushering in a new world order and it’s starting now and we get to be a part of it.

That’s the Salvation Project. Each week we’ll be exploring stories in the gospel of Luke that draw us more deeply into God’s saving activity.

Today we get John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism.

I’ve always had a hard time with John. He has always felt a little too wild for me. I read about John and instantly call to mind an image of a street corner preacher, a little unwashed and rough around the edges holding a card board sign and a megaphone, shouting that the end is near.

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

The people who came out to see John naturally ask, well what do we do then? And then the tenor of John’s teaching take a pretty sharp turn. He moves from being a prophet of the apocalypse to offering pretty basic stuff.

Share. If you have two of something, give one to someone without. If you have extra food share. He tells the tax collectors. Be honest. Don’t cheat people. To the soldiers, don’t extort. It’s pretty simple stuff. Maybe even obvious stuff. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult.

It’s curious to note that John doesn’t tell the tax collectors to disassociate with Rome. He doesn’t tell them to stop collecting tax. He doesn’t tell the soldiers to lay down their weapons. He says to keep your jobs, just change how you do them.

David Lose said this,

“the crowds hear John speak of a role in the coming kingdom they can play.  It demands neither renunciation nor asceticism, neither pilgrimage nor sacrifice.  Rather, participating in God’s new kingdom is available to them where they are, requiring only the modicum of faith necessary to perceive the sacred in the ordinary.”[1]

Your life. What you do at work, at school, at home, that’s the arena in which God’s kingdom comes. Your life, and your partner’s, and your neighbor’s life is where God’s salvation is manifested, made visible.

Brothers and sisters in the tumultuous time in which we find ourselves living, this becomes all the more important. You are part of God’s saving work, you are a part of God’s salvation project.

When you were baptized, you were given a share in the fullness of God’s life and God’s work. God looks on you just as God looks on Jesus and says you are my beloved with you I am well pleased. You have been freed from, saved from, all those things that separate you from God, those things that tell you-you aren’t enough, that you don’t matter. You are a part of God’s great project to love and redeem the world.

After we received the news about Pastor Chris’ cancer diagnosis, many of you have asked how you could help, what you can do? Before Christmas, there was an email sent out from the church council that responded to these questions with an invitation to continue being the church that God has called us to be.

You were invited to,

Pray daily for Chris and this congregation, its staff, and leaders

  • Worship regularly. This is a time to gather together and to invite others too
  • Participate in the life of the congregation, in a small group, a Bible study, or one of the many other ways to be involved
  • Give generously of your time, talents and money to support the wonderful mission of Bethlehem
  • To strive to see your work as holy and God-given.

These elements of the membership covenant that many of you agreed to when you became members of this community. Essentially this is what the life of faith looks like, this is what the salvation project looks like. This is what the life of the baptized is about.

In a moment we are going to publicly recommit to this life that we share together because we need one another to do this. We need the support of this community to live God’s call on our lives. We need to remind one another that we are the beloved of God, and we’ve got work to do, a project to be a part of. Amen.