As a child in Michigan, I can remember heading to downtown Royal Oak and its department stores and on the way there was a Baptist Church with a brightly lit up cross that said Jesus saves. Growing up at an Episcopal Church I never quite thought about it, Jesus saves. It was kind of assumed, it is part of our liturgy, our hymns... So what does it mean Jesus saves?
There is an apocryphal story about Jesus and Satan. They were arguing about who is the better programmer until they came to an agreement to hold a contest, with God as the judge.
They sat themselves at their computers and began to type furiously, lines of code streaming up the screen, for several hours straight. Seconds before the end of the competition, a bolt of lightning struck, taking out the electricity. Moments later, the power was restored, and God announced that the contest is over. He asked Satan to show what he has come up with. Satan was visibly upset, and cried out, "I have nothing. I lost it all when the power went out." "Very well, then," said God, "let us see if Jesus fared any better." Jesus entered a command, and the screen came to life in vivid display, the voices of an angelic choir pour forth from the speakers. Satan was astonished. He stuttered, "B-b-but how? I lost everything, yet Jesus' program is intact. How did he do it?" God smiled all-knowingly, "Jesus saves."
Anyone who has ever had a computer knows that joke because the first time your computer crashes or the power goes out and you stare at the blank screen, having lost your hard work, you keep saying to yourself, I gotta save it…
But what about Jesus saves?
I remember Preacher Mike. Nearly everyday when I walked through the central campus at the Univ. of Michigan, there he was. Standing on one of the benches, shouting at the students walking by. His words might change from time to time. But his theme was the same. “You are all Sinners. You are going to hell. Accept Jesus as your Savior.” Naturally as you walked by you did not make eye contact, or else he would direct his speech to you. I remember one day seeing the Episcopal Chaplain I knew console a student who had a run-in with Preacher Mike. Taking in that scene of the chaplain talking with a student, and the preacher on a soap box yelling at those walking by, I have always thought she was doing the grace filled work that Jesus asked of us, and the preacher was not. It is in our loving one another that we can find that grace of God in our midst.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, I find that same loving understanding…
Consider For Paul: It was Jesus who confronted him on that road to Damascus and the HS becomes his guide for his ministry; setting him free from hatred to love others as Christ loved him…
In today’s reading:
-a slave-girl: spirit of divination, profit source!
-she knows Paul and his companions: proclaim a way of salvation!
-Paul moved by the Spirit, for her human right to be free, NO! because he is annoyed, he casts out her spirit…and she is set free, but The owners cannot exploit her anymore and they are angry. Paul & Silas are thrown into jail; beaten for such an act.
They never get to that place of prayer that they were headed too.
-so in jail, shackled and away from others they pray and sing songs to God; prisoners were listening of course it was midnight, how could they sleep? An earthquake strikes, the doors open, they are free
-the jailer is ready to do himself in, he would be blamed…but they are still there What must I do to be saved? The jailer asks. Believe in the Lord Jesus.
A simple and yet profound statement…
-Believe in Jesus.
-and the Holy Spirit moved that night; Paul & Silas are free; the jailer brings Paul & Silas to his home to take care of their wounds, to give them food and the jailer and his household are baptized and freed. Salvation comes to that household and the grace of God is present in the instructions into the faith, the baptism and the fellowship afterwards. It is about the loving relationship that is formed and grace happens and salvation is in it all.
Indeed, Jesus saves.
I think of the story in the 1940’s when asked if he was saved, Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple replied, 'I have been saved, I am being saved, I hope to be saved.' His understanding of salvation that the grace of God, began with Jesus death upon the cross, continues with us in our baptism and is the hope of our own new life at the end of our days. Salvation is a process not an event, Frederick Buechner writes. Indeed, salvation like grace is ongoing in our lives. We are saved by grace, as I preached last week, but it is up to us to respond to that grace, that gift.
The jailer responded to that grace in the actions that night at the jail and by what Paul and Silas did next.
As Episcopal Priest Samuel Shoemaker said, “Most people are brought to faith in Christ, not by argument for it, but by exposure to it.” Those who scream at us from their soap boxes will never bring anyone to know the saving grace of Jesus.
Following Paul & Silas’ example, it is what we do with our understanding that Jesus saves, for by following the example set for us by Jesus to love others, we know that it is by our relationships, our love, our sharing with others that they too can see the grace of God in their lives and know indeed that Jesus saves. And in Paul’s own words: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.