Life is difficult. Bad things happen to good people: children die, parents die, war, disease, and famine are rampant. To pretend that everything is ok is wrong. While it is true that God created a good and beautiful world, it is equally true that we have filled it with hatred, war, pollution, greed, and many other sins, and the effect of our sin is killing us.
However, our scripture readings today tell us that if we call to God, God will save us. What in the world does that mean? Sometimes we hear people say that we need to “get saved”. There are a lot of different opinions on the details of the matter, but what they usually mean is that we should all have a definite time and place where we have put our trust solely in God. That still doesn’t tell us what it means to “be saved”. The fact is, it is not easy to define, because it has meant many different things throughout history and throughout scripture – sometimes it means being rescued from enemies who wish us harm, sometimes it means being healed from sickness, sometimes it means protecting the crops from drought, sometimes it means preserving the peace of the nation. People who could do any of those things were called “savior”. In fact, it was one of the titles many people used for the Roman Emperor, since his rule often brought peace and prosperity to some people. Of course, we know that the only one who can bring us true peace and prosperity is God. As Christians, we can further that that claim by asserting that since Jesus is God, then Jesus is our savior. We trust Jesus to make us whole and healthy, to bring peace, and to bring us to God. We entrust our lives to Jesus.
Why then, do we still have sorrow in our world and in our lives? If we claim Jesus as our savior, why is there so little evidence that we are saved? Paul gives us a clue in his letter to Rome, a little further in the letter than the section we heard today, when he says that: “our salvation is now closer than when we first believed”. He seems to be telling us that, as with other cures, the effects are seen gradually over time. God has saved us, even though we don’t always see all of it all at once. Still, it is cold comfort to know that our salvation is working itself out when we need it now, unless we realize that we are not saved from our lives, but in our lives. Our first reading from Deuteronomy this morning reminds us of this. The Hebrews called upon God to save them from slavery, so God brought them out of Egypt and led them to their new home, but it was rough on the way. God did not keep them from every harm on the journey: instead, God went through the bad times with them.
We have the same assurance that although God does not take away all the trouble in our life, God goes through the trouble with us. If we truly believe that God lived a full human life as Jesus, we can go through life knowing that God loves us so much that God freely chose to experience every pain that we do, as well as every pleasure, from conception to birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and even death, so we can be assured that God is with us and understands everything we are going through. Even after his death, the resurrection proves to us that our humanity is so important to God that death is not the end of it.
But even if we believe that God knows our situation, it is up to us to admit that we need help; we need to admit to ourselves, to God, and to everyone else that we cannot save ourselves – only God can. That is a difficult thing to do, but it is our only hope. As we heard Paul say in our second reading this morning: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. It might be scary to bring ourselves to ask God for help when so many other things seem to offer more immediate relief, but the only way to experience this salvation is by faith – to trust God enough to give our entire lives into his care.
At first glance, the gospel story this morning might not seem to fit into this discussion at all, but it makes perfect sense if we see it as an example of how Jesus was steadfast in the midst of difficulty, for he knew that salvation would come. The story recounts how the devil encouraged Jesus to take matters out of God’s care, and into his own hands. The devil was tempting Jesus to seek salvation from his difficulties, instead of trusting God to be with him in his difficulties. Stories about the devil tend to amuse us now, because we don’t know what a devil is. A devil is someone who makes false or malicious statements. A devil is anyone who takes good things and turns them into something bad. In this story, the devil even quotes scripture and twists it around to try to hurt Jesus.
We need to be just as diligent as Jesus was against diabolical lies from anyone or anything, including lies that tell us that because we are in the midst of trouble, God must not be with us. In such instances, we are often our own devils, telling ourselves that since God has abandoned us, we must rely on anything other than God to help us. But like Jesus, we can confront these lies with the truth of God’s love for us, God’s acceptance of us, and the faith that God is with us and understands us, saving us not from our lives, but in our lives; not taking the troubles away, but rather transforming us and the world through those troubles, if we only allow God to do that. It is not easy to do all that, and God knows and understands that also, because it took Jesus forty days in the wilderness to overcome the devil’s lies, but like Jesus, we can do it too – we can let go of the desire to pretend that everything is ok, and call upon God as our only hope. We can let go of the false belief that we can save ourselves. We can live with the assurance that no matter what the situation, God loves us, God is with us, God knows us, and God understands, because God has been through it too. We can know that we are saved and redeemed: that no matter what happens to us or how we feel about ourselves, our lives are given infinite value and worth by God – the only and infinite source of value. AMEN