There was a man who had grown up all his life in a big city. He’d never really gone out into the country before. One day he brought a new car; A flash convertible sports car. He was so pleased with this that he decided he needed to go for a long drive. Away from the city and the traffic jams and crowded highways and find some wide open roads where he could really see what this new car of his could do.
So he drove out of town down the motorway and found some long country roads. He had never been out in the country before. Suddenly he was aware of the beauty and peace of the wide-open spaces the green fields and rolling hills. Even though the car was his new and latest toy he soon decided to stop the car and just soak in the peaceful atmosphere. He decided that he should get out and go for a walk in the fields . Not being a farm kid he thought nothing of climbing over a fence and strolling off into the grass. He got halfway across his second paddock when he spied a large animal coming over the rise of a hill.
Now the man was a city fella but he wasn’t stupid he recognised a bull when he saw one. He also recognised the stamping of the feet and the snorting and the charge as anything but a friendly gesture by a docile farm animal. So he took off as fast as he could for the fence. I guess it was just his luck that he was of equal distance from any fence and in the very middle of the paddock when he saw the bull. He ran and for a short while he thought that he was going to make it. But as he looked back in horror he saw that the bull was faster than he was. He turned and with the speed that blind terror and the adrenaline rush it provides he went even faster. But just as it seemed he might make the fence he felt the bulls breathe on his back and he knew it was helpless.
Now the man had never been what you would call religious but in the situation he thought that a little divine help might be in order. So he decided to pray. The only problem was he only knew one prayer, he had learned it when he was young. So he desperately prayed
“for what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful”
Ok so it’s a bad joke. We’ve been reflecting on Psalm 22 leading into Easter. It is a prayer written by David in a time of trouble in his life. David is in a predicament and he uses vivid wild animal imagery to describe thes. From the very first line you get the feeling that the worst suffering he is experiencing is the feeling of aloneness. That the God who has always seemed so close to him right from when he suckled at his mother breast seems to have left or is taking an ill timed holiday. It’s what people down through the ages have called the long dark night of the soul. David’s prayer has stood the test of time and each new generation are able to relate both to David’s situations and emotions and also the real gutsy hope with which the prayer concludes.
Also this prayer like all scripture has the breath print of God on it. It is seen by the gospel writers as prophetic, that it pointed to the suffering that Jesus Christ would go through on the cross, with such details as people gambling for his clothes. In fact Jesus himself chose to recite the opening line of this prayer with his dying breath “my God My God why have you forsaken me’. Not a cry of despair in his final hour of suffering but rather identifying with Psalm 22’s expression of the suffering of humanity and aloneness and its hope. That even in the cross God’s saving action would be the cause of people of all nations and peoples coming to know and worship God in Jesus Christ and the poor and needy receiving care and justice.
What I want to do today is to look at this prayer and explore an idea and word that we often hear in prayers and in religious talk and see what it has to say to us. The word Save. Save me O God. First idea you get even in this psalm is that people are looking for God’s intervention in the situation they are in at the moment. Kind of like the man in the bull paddock or David surrounded by his enemies as if they were vicious wild animals just inches away from ripping him to shreds. It’s just a natural human response to hard times and suffering. Hey make it stop. I need help to get out of it. We know from scripture that God can and does answer these kinds of prayer. David himself looks at the history of his people and sees that God has in the past heard their cries and saved them. They were in Captivity and slavery in Egypt and at the burning bush God tells Moses that he has neared the cries of his people and is sending Moses to lead his people out of Egypt.
But some people want to see God as a miracle drug, even better than what the pharmaceutical companies claim for their products: Instant relief from pain. Not only dealing with the symptoms but the problem as well or even as Karl Marx said of Christianity that it is an opiate for the masses. Some how God would just deaden the pain or give us a buzz and a high in the hard times so we wouldn’t have to deal with the real problems. God does save people in trouble in hard times but not like that.
Some people get the idea from this that God is just there for people who have a weakness or a need. If they are alright in life they don’t need God. Not even to thank for the fact that they are truly blessed.
As we reflect on Psalm 22 however you see that David doesn’t see God as a get out jail free card for the monopoly game of life. What he is looking for first and foremost is a restoration of relationship with God. In the midst of his troubles he is wanting to know again the closeness of God that gives him strength and enables him to persevere in the face of his troubles; that gives him the hope that despite the fact that situation looks hopeless that people will see that God is good and God is for his people and able to save.
Brian McLaren talks about people praying in two different ways in the hard times of life. Some pray out that is they want God to bail them out. Others pray in, they invite God into the situation with them to see what difference God can make. That is what David is doing; he invites God in…to strengthen him and work out God’s plans for good. With Jesus on the cross this may mean that it does not result in a physical saving but rather God’s higher good is achieved.
This is what we call being saved into not just from.
Through Jesus death and resurrection we could be saved into a relationship with God. “ For God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believed in him would not perish but have eternal life. A life and relationship that despite the hard times that we can and do face can only be described as abundant, full… Yes, Full of ups and downs not a blissful bouncing along the top but full of the presence and knowing of God.
Why do we call being invited into this relationship with God being saved? Because of ourselves we can never be good enough to intimately know God. Scripture tells us that God is Holy and a righteous Judge and cannot over look the wrong that we all do. Rather in a way that theologians and thinkers down through the last two thousand years have wrestled with to fully understand in Jesus life his death and resurrection what we have done wrong can be forgiven and we can by grace know God’s love.
The final reflection on this word saved from psalm 22 comes from the last section of the prayer. It’s as if David is aware again of God’s presence and can look beyond the situation and grasp again the big picture. At the beginning he looked back and was able to realise that God had been for his people in the past and now he is able to look forward and see that in God’s intervention the world would be blessed. It’s the same with Jesus death and resurrection as well. It means we are saved for…
In the well known gospel reading John 3:16-17 the emphasis for many years had been on the “whoever believes”. It’s been seen as a personal benefit, a scripture that deals with personal individual salvation. Maybe that reflects our western over obsession with the individual. We often miss God’s great love for the world. “ For God so loved the world.” We often miss the fact that we are invited and saved into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ so that we can be a blessing to the world that God loves. This prayer of David’s ends up being very Missional. Because of a restored relationship and God pouring out his goodness in this situation David sees that the poor will be fed and cared for. This relationship with God calls him out from his own life his own struggles, his own ‘I’m all right, I’ve got what I need, to see the needs and the needy round him. He sees that because of God’s goodness and saving acts that people from all nations and families will come to praise God and acknowledge him.
It’s this aspect of the Christian faith our relationship with God that makes me say that ‘Jesus isn’t the answer in my life as much as Jesus is the problem’. We have been invited into a relationship with the God who made the world and loves the world to be instruments of that love. Perhaps this is best illustrated by Gods call to Abraham. Abraham was invited into a special relationship with God and God would bless him with off spring and land/ God wanted him to have the joy of family and benefit from his labours and the good earth. God’s not a kill joy, he made it for us to enjoy. It’s one of the ways we can thank God is to enjoy the things that God has given us. However God also said that he would make Abraham a blessing to the nations. In Christ we are invited into a relationship of blessing with God to be a blessing in Christ.\
My youngest son Isaac is named after Isaac in the bible who was the son born to Sarah and Abraham in their old Age. His middle name is Aidan. He’s named after the Celtic monk Aidan who was sent from Iona on the Scottish coast to Northumbria and founded the community of Lindisfarne. Aidan almost single handed was responsible for the whole of Northumbria becoming Christians. There is a story told to illustrate Aidan’s character, which illustrates being saved for.
Aidan always walked everywhere he went. It gave him time to pray and meant that he was able to connect with the poor in the country who didn’t travel by horse back or carriage. The king of Northumbria really valued Aidan as a teacher and mentor. The king decided it wasn’t right for Aidan to walk so he gave Aidan a gift: A beautiful Arabian horse: A valuable gift, possibly the best horse in the kingdom. Aidan thanked the king. A short while after this he was out in the country. Maybe he was doing what our man in the opening joke was doing seeing just seeing what this horse could do on the open road. He was also drawn to an animal in the middle of the field. This one wasn’t pouring the ground or snorting rather it was lying on its side dead. And standing next to it was a poor farmer. Aidan stopped and the farmer told him how his family horse had died and there was no way they could afford another and there was no way they were going to be able to get their corps planted this year and so they would face starvation. You could almost hear the strains of Psalm 22 on this man’s lips, “My God My God why have you forsaken me”. So Aidan got off his horse and gave it to the farmer and continued to walk on his way. The king was angry with Aidan for giving away such an expensive horse and Aidan reminded the king that he had given Aidan a gift and that the man was in more need and equal in God’s sight he had passed on the blessing.
We may cry out to God in the midst of life’s hard times in our hours of need that God would save us. God does just that beyond simply extracting us he saves us into a relationship with him where he blesses us and calls us to be a blessing to all people everywhere that they may know the goodness of God.