Sermon by Rev. Don Erickson, delivered 7/25/21
In a chest in our guest bedroom, there are a couple huge 3-ringed folders, one blue, one green. Inside those folders are precious items. Not sure how many of these items there are, more than 100 for sure. What are these items? Letters. Good, old-fashioned letters, mostly love letters, written between 1991 and 1994 by these two people you may know – Holly and Don.
Feeling a bit nostalgic lately, I was going through those letters. One letter, written by me before we were an official item, speaks of discontent with the Christianity I was handed as a child. This Christianity I was handed will be the subject of another sermon or set of sermons coming soon.
Here is what I wrote in January of 1993:
Christianity, Christ, as Savior. It is something we sing about. We invoke Jesus as savior in prayer. Scripture points to it. But have you ever asked an important question – Saved from what? Or for what?
To answer those questions, I think it might help to understand the Greek word that is often translated saved. The Greek word is sozo.
The word sozo occurs some 108 times in the New Testament.
Here is one famous example: in Ephesians 2:8, we see the word: “For by grace you have been sozo – saved – through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Here is another example of sozo being used. We alluded to this story last week. After a woman touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed from internal hemoragging, Jesus said this: “Daughter, your faith has sozo – made you well or healed– ; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
One last example – at the end of Mark 10, there is a story of Jesus healing a blind man. The King James version ends the story with these words: “Go thy way; thy faith hath sozo – made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.” As it does with various healing stories in the gospels, the 1611 King James version translates sozo as “to be made whole.”
So, sozo can be translated saved or made well or made whole or healed. Here are a couple other words we could use for sozo – delivered or liberated. These “non-saved” translations of the Greek word are telling because they help us to answer our question, saved from what?
Take the translation “healed.” Well, healed from what or for what? The answer is easy. We are healed from ailments and the ultimate end to unhealed ailments – death.
Jesus saves us or heals us from the spiritual ailment of being disconnected from God and from its ultimate consequence, death. In Jesus our savior, we know the healing for our spiritual ailment, namely sin, and hence we know life eternal.
Made whole by Christ dwelling within us, we are delivered from the finale called death.
Still, we can’t get away from discussing another H word that sounds like heal but is kind of its opposite – hell. Christ saves us from hell, as the saying goes. This is true indirectly. But what is hell?
First of all, let me say here, nowhere in the Bible is sozo associated directly with a literal place called hell, as in being saved directly from that place below us, hell. We are saved from sin and the end of sin – death. That is what the Bible says.
Still, what about hell? Here is my thinking – at its most essential, hell amounts to a person being wholly separated from the love of God.
Some see it as a place, a place of suffering. Now, I see hell not as a place but as a conditional state. Hell means being spiritually separated from God’s love. And being separated from God’s love means suffering – psychologically, emotionally, spiritually.
Maybe you were here Friday to watch the movie Soul. One of the themes is the “lost soul.” A soul being lost, separated from God, that is a living hell.
Christ saves us from this separation and from this suffering as a result. And I believe, eventually, all will be saved from this separation.
As a hospice chaplain I’d often lead a kind of ad hoc ritual at someone was in the final journey home. With family gathered at bedside, there was one scripture I’d read regularly. That scripture comes from Romans 8, verses 38-39.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ saves us and will save all of us by ending our separation from God’s love. Christ heals our God-separatedness. How? By loving the world so much that he was willing to die to connect us back to God.
Christ’s love fully revealed on earth and most powerfully on the cross connects us back to God’s love. Let me say that again, Christ’s love fully revealed on earth and most powerfully on the cross connects us back to God’s love. Christ ends our God-separatedness by connecting us to God’s love. Christ is our Connector. By saying Christ is ous savior we are saying Christ is our connector! Can I get an amen!?
What is the take away for us as we live our lives in our communities this week?
As Christ has connected us to God, let us connect to others in a way that helps them connect to God in the process. As Christ has bridged us back to God’s love, let us be a bridge that connects us all to one another and to God. Let us be living proof of God’s love, working for justice, embodying compassion, progressing forward, humbly connected to God. Let us promote in the ways we live, interact, and communicate the way of sozo – wellness, healing, wholeness, salvation, deliverance and liberation from separatedness, separatedness from God and from each other. And let us work to dismantle systems that uphold the opposite, the lack of wellness, healing, and wholeness. and a maintainng of the ways of separatedness.