Les Mis 4: Transformation

Growing up as the son of a pharmacist has clearly shaped me.
That is the reason (at least according to my claims) that I am so accident prone.
It helps explain why I am likely to fall off chairs while lopping tree branches,
or cut into my finger while sharpening knives
or bend my teeth at right angles while sitting on a swing.

What’s the connection? –
there is something soothing in the care that comes with good pharmaceutical ointment.

We used to have a bottle of medicine that my dad had made up in the dispensary,
that was used for cuts, scrapes, burns – a range of things.
It was labelled “salve”
There was something deeply soothing about having dad’s salve applied.

I know you are all very interested in my random trips down memory lane –
but this one actually has a point
Not surprisingly, “Salve” and “salvation” are from the same base, and go to the same idea.
“Salvation” is about being healed.

Salvation heals us, it changes us, it transforms us.
It makes us whole.   It restores us for living.
Living a full life.  Living the sort of life that is woven into our purpose.

‘What do I have to do for salvation?’ Jesus is asked on several occasions.
And his answer to one is “give all your possessions to the poor
His answer to another is to tell the story of the good Samaritan –
show compassion on those whom you least align yourself with
And in the gospel of John, we get the story of Nicodemus – where we are told
that with a new form of birth we can experience the life of the age to come.

As we are born into who God knows we are,
we experience the way that life is meant to be.

What might this ‘salvation’ look like in a person?
It might look like a person who will not hold a grudge and seek revenge
no matter how badly wronged he has been,
A person who knows that holding on to a sense of having been wronged,
and allowing that to take over how you live, is ultimately soul destroying.
A healed person forgives the one who has wronged them badly
A healed, or transformed person knows the power of the idea of forgiving 70 times 7

What might this ‘salvation’ look like in a person?
It might look like a person has moved from a sense of anger against the world
to a life that shows compassion and care
The care for a vulnerable woman,   and her child, and her child’s partner
The sort of care that you invest your whole life in
A healed, or transformed person knows the deep transforming power
of caring for those who are most at risk

What might this ‘salvation’ look like in a person?
It might look like a person who will place themselves at risk
so that someone who has been innocently accused doesn’t suffer
It looks like integrity – personal honesty coming before personal preservation
A healed, or transformed person knows that self protection isn’t the purpose of living

Maybe that’s one of the reasons that people warm to Jean Valjean.
He is someone who has been transformed –
or maybe more accurately who is being transformed.
And he is someone who knows that it isn’t easy.
he has to reach deep down to agonise about who he is,
and what identity he wants to carry with him.

He chooses to have the identity of compassion, of forgiveness, of care and of integrity.
He doesn’t ask “How will I get to heaven” or “How can God forgive me
He knows that the core question is deeper than that – much more important than that
Who am I?   How will I live as who I truly am.

I like the fact – in fact I love it – that more and more people of faith
are considering that what happens after death on earth is less and less important.
Life after death is not what lies at the heart of Christianity.
More and more we are realising that life before death on earth is central to our faith.
As John’s gospel puts it – “life from the age to come”.
It is bringing that life to here and now.
“Your kingdom come on earth.”

That is the transformation, the salvation, that lies at the heart of the faith of Jesus.
The movement from a narcissistic pre occupation with ourselves
to an awareness, a presence and a compassion for others –  thats transformation

And what’s more, I think this sort of transformation is both life giving,
and it happens to be rather attractive.

You’re probably aware that I am not someone who places a lot of value
in trying to get people to join up to us, or the UCA, or to Christianity
simply because we need to get people to join up
or we need the people to get our programs going, or balance our budget
or because they are in risk of damnation if they don’t.
Personally, I cant find that sort of motivation coming from the life of Jesus.

But I do think that a transformation to compassion and grace and care and integrity          is phenomenally attractive.

Andrew Dutney the UCA President is currently in China (along with Lin Hatfield Dodds)
He has commented that he had a conversation
with a Chinese church leader about Evangelism.
Andrew commented that the Chinese leader
said that the primary form of evangelism in China
is personal witness –
in particular, the witness of a transformed life and of loving the neighbour

She said, “Chinese people are pragmatic”.
They aren’t drawn to Christ by doctrine or intellectual argument
but by seeing a transformation in a neighbour’s life.

“Why are you different ?” They might ask.
“I’ve become a Christian”.
“What’s that?”
“Come and see.”

I think that – at least when we are at our best –
that is what people see in the care that is offered
from here and by people who are connected here.
I think that that is why people come and ask to be part of what is happening.
They see, I hope, a community of people who are constantly being transformed,       constantly being healed, constantly trying to discover and share more compassion

There is salvation that is happening each and every day for each and every person here.
Jean Valjean is a symbol to us.
I hope we are happy to keep asking “Who am I”
and to be brave enough to think about what we would answer

This entry was posted in Sermons and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.