Salvation in Stories
Galatians 3: 23-29
Salvation in Stories
We’re concluding our sermon series today on seeing the lessons of God and the story of God in the midst of the stories we tell each other by looking at the various types of stories that we tell each other. And today we’re looking at what might well be the most famous story type of them all: the Cinderella story or the rags to riches story.
The story has a character beginning low off and low in class, often poor, often depicted as dirty or not quite having matching outfits, things like that. And something happens with this character and they are elevated suddenly, at least according to the plot; if it’s not sudden the plot moves very quickly through that time. And all of a sudden they are of high stature, they are high class, they have power, they have wealth; Cinderella gets her magic, fairy godmother or Aladdin gets the genie and they become Princess and Prince. Or you have a movie like The Blindside where someone takes up Michael Orr under her wing and all of a sudden he winds up on the Ole Miss football team.
Sometimes the story ends right there. But most times of the story continues on to have a moment where things begin to fall apart, where the person must come to recognize that there’s a little bit of a responsibility and a little bit of authority with this position, the people begin to look up to them now because of the new position. And they must either accept that and learn to live in that world or lose it. Most times they do ultimately come to accept what they have been given, they ultimately receive it, and they have a happy ending. This is a Cinderella story.
The Bible has a few Cinderella stories in it too. Most times it is someone who is from a low stature elevating to a position of royalty. So you probably know a few of them. We have King Saul and King David, both of whom begin as very low in the totem pole. Saul says that he is the smallest person, from the smallest family, from the smallest clan, from the smallest tribe in all Israel and who is he to become King? David is of such low stature as a shepherd in the backwater town of Bethlehem that his own father, when told by Samuel to bring all his sons because he would anoint one of them as king, his own father leaves him behind to bring the other boys before Samuel. If there’s any parallel to Cinderella story, it’s here: David doesn’t get to go to the ball. But they both become King. Of course the story of Esther is one too: this young girl who is brought in and ultimately becomes queen.
I believe the disciples’ stories are also meant to kind of parallel that. We are meant to see these fisherman who are barely making it, living paycheck to paycheck or catch to catch. They are brought in by Jesus and they become something so much greater. Yeah, they don’t get the financial prowess that Saul or David got, but they become disciples, they become apostles, they become bishops, they become leaders in this new movement; and in the book of Revelation we see them on thrones sitting right next to God worshiping.
And of course in some sense the entirety of the Bible is a version of a Cinderella story relating to humanity. We see this somewhat displayed in the Scripture that was read today. Paul states that our situation was one that was pretty bad: we were, if you will, in rags, spiritually speaking, because of how we were before Jesus came. It is shown here by the Law, which was said to have been necessary, was said to have been needed now because something else that happened that required a response from God. And that response was the Law, and the Law was a place keeper until Christ could come. But that Law was there, and the Law was to be a disciplinarian. Did you catch that word? A disciplinarian for us. You don’t need a disciplinarian if you’re good. We were in a low spot. We were, at least spiritually speaking, in rags and lowly because we had fallen. Each of us is there when we are brought into this world, for the kingdom has not come in fullness yet.
And this could be difficult to see because physically we’re not in rags. By virtue of living in this country, you are wealthy. You may be below the poverty line for this country, yet you are wealthy in worldly terms. You likely will be able to meet your needs: you’re going to be able to go to the grocery store and go to the water fountain in there and get some clean drinking water. You might be able to head to the food pantry over here, or to a local shelter, or maybe a church is giving a meal and you’re able to get food. This country is rich in comparison to so many places where there just is not anyoption for these things. And when you’re not physically in rags, when you’re wearing a nice suit, when you’re wearing your Sunday best, when you have a jacket, it can be difficult to realize where you are spiritually. But each of us begins in rags, each of us begins in sin, and we must get out from that position in some way. It can feel hopeless.
But Paul states that there is hope. Paul states that we are corrupt “until faith comes.” We’re told that when faith comes we no longer are in need of the disciplinarian, that we’re no longer corrupt, that we’re no longer in a state where sin controls us. We have been freed from this state and have become children of God again through our faith. But we must accept it.
Paul states that when we are brought into a new way of being we are clothed in a brand new robe, a new white robe. This reminds me of the story of the prodigal son. When the prodigal son returns he was greeted by his father. And his father says, “go and get my ring and my robe and put them on him.” And by placing the ring on his finger and by placing the robe on him, he is reinstating the prodigal son into the family. He is giving him back the status of son, giving him back the status of heir; even though he had gone and sinned, he is now restored to the family by virtue of having the robe placed upon him.
It is a very common metaphor, this idea of a plain white robe, a clean robe, a pure robe being placed on us. It is the image of salvation throughout early Christian literature, including the New Testament. It is so prevalent of an image that they may have actually put new white robes on people when they were baptized to help them understand what was happening. Their rags had become covered in a new robe. That was all God was going to see: Jesus’ robe on them. At this point in the narrative we have gone from being the ugly stepsister to being a princess at the ball.
And in this idea we have gone from being in need of a disciplinarian to being children and heirs of God, worthy of the riches of God. Paul basically states all you need to do is accept the robe and put it on. This is what God does: God offers the robe to us, we must to take it and put it on. And you put that robe on you by accepting that Jesus Christ will work in your life. You put a robe on you by accepting Christ and saying, “thank you God for saving me. Now work with me and make me new, make me clean, make me fresh.”
Of course there is one more part of the Cinderella story, and we’re not free from that either. That part of the Cinderella story is accepting the responsibility that comes with the new status. Part of that is not using our new status to look down upon other people. Paul states that because we’ve all been clothed in the same white robe no matter where we began, that there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer a slave or free, no longer male or female. And all of those were where one group had traditionally looked down upon another. Paul is saying is that now there equality in Christian circles, in the Kingdom.
Do we still live out this idea? By accepting this forgiveness you are stating that you will not look down upon another, do we do that though? In sequels to Cinderella stories, often they are about those who had been in their new position for a long time forgetting where they came from, and they have to be reminded of it. That’s the plot of the sequel. Don’t need a sequel in your life. Don’t forget where you were. Do not look down upon anyone else unless it is for the purpose of lifting them up.
How would your life be different if you truly lived that out? How would your life be different if you really believed that you were saved? If you had really accepted this new robe? How would your life look different if you really believe that you had been transformed? If you listed, as primary, equality? If you did not look at people first as rich or poor, as American or immigrant, as a Democrat or Republican, as male or female, as us or them, but rather that you looked at everyone as a child and heir of God, worthy of the riches of God and eternal life?
If your life would look any different if you live that first, then your life needs to look that way. I encourage you to you give yourself to God today. Would you pray with me? If you feel that you need to don this robe again, or maybe you need to just don it for another time, that you’ve done it before but you need a reminder, or maybe this is your first time; whatever it is would you pray: “God, my Savior, you have offered this path to me. Forgive me the times I have turned away. I give myself to you. Clothe me anew today. Make me fresh, clean, and a new person ready to live for you for the rest of my life, and into eternal life. In the name of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.