If Only…

It seems to me that there’s a natural human instinct to look at our lives, to see all the ways in which it doesn’t make us fulfilled, and to say, “If only…”

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Baptism of Our Lord C
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI.

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-22

This may be the most ridiculous introduction to a sermon you’ve seen in a while, but bear with me, I promise, there’s a reason for it.

“Minion Dave With Banana” by pchow98 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This is Dave. Who knows what Dave is? Yep, that’s right, Dave is a minion, a little yellow man from the movies Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, and most recently, the movie Minions.

Minions are funny little creatures that are adorably cute and innocent on one hand, and on the other, willing to commit all sorts of evil acts for their master. They speak in a cute little language, they love apples and especially bananas, they are fascinated by everything around them; but they are also willing to build weapons of mass destruction or whatever else their master needs in his or her plans for utter world dominations.

And this is one of the things that make the Minions, well, Minions. While they are wide-eyed and innocent, they are naturally drawn to the service of the most evil being they can find. It’s part of their DNA—if they don’t have an evil master, they go out and find a new one. According to the movie Minions, over their history, the minions have served evil amoebas, T-Rexes, brutal cavemen, Egyptian Pharaohs, Dracula, Napoleon Bonaparte, and a vicious snow beast. If they can’t find a new master, they become depressed, sluggish, and altogether unhappy with their lot in life. They need to be in the service of an evil master for their lives to have any meaning.

It’s sort of a silly idea, this idea that all the Minions need to be happy in life is someone to serve, someone to save them from a life devoid of evil plans and world domination. But, I argue that there’s something intrinsically human about their desire to find the one person in the world that will be their savior.

It seems to me that there’s a natural human instinct to look at our lives, to see all the ways in which it doesn’t make us fulfilled, and to say, “If only…” Often times, this longing, this “If only…” takes the shape of another human being.

The story of Jesus Christ’s baptism in the Gospel according to Luke is similar to the stories in the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River, heaven opens up, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of or like a dove, and a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But there’s an interesting tidbit at the very beginning of the story that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered them” blah blah blah. That’s the part that strikes me. The people heard John’s preaching, saw what he was doing, and wondered, “Is the he the one come to save us?”

The history of the Israelite people is not a clean, happy history. The events of the Gospel according to Luke take place in the early 30’s—not the 1930’s, the 30’s 30’s. At the time, the kingdom of Judah was not a kingdom at all, but a territory under military occupation of the Roman Empire. And before that, they were under the rule of the Greeks, and before that the Persians, and before that the Babylonians, and before that—before that, they were their own kingdom, ruled by their own king. It had been 600 years since Judah had been independent, free to rule themselves and worship their God as they determined. For 600 years, they had been looking forward to their salvation. They were waiting for God’s chosen and anointed, the Messiah, the Christ, which is what those two words mean.

So great was their desire to see this Messiah come, that the people started to see the Messiah everywhere. Many people over the years popped up claiming to be the Messiah. Sometimes, their message was convincing enough that they gathered a following of people who absolutely believed that God had finally sent the chosen Savior. Eventually, the person would be proven to not be the Messiah, the following would disperse, but it wasn’t long before a new “Messiah” would rise to take their place and gather a following of their own.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that when people heard John preach, they thought, “Maybe… maybe this time… maybe this is really it… maybe he’s really the one.” They’d been living under military occupation and expected God to act to rescue them. They were desperate for God to rescue them. All they needed was the right person. If only they could find the Messiah.

Of course, we know that this time, finally, they weren’t far off—one person removed. We know that God’s anointed finally did come in the person of Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus Christ wasn’t exactly the Messiah they were looking for (they expected someone who would liberate them from the Romans), but was exactly the person they needed, God incarnate come to ransom the people of God from bondage to sin and death, God come to redeem the entirety of creation. We know that through Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God ushered in a new age, a new way of living, a new relationship between God and human beings that was built on grace, forgiveness, and peace. We know that through Jesus’s presence, God sent the Holy Spirit into the world to continue the creating, redeeming, and sanctifying work of God that continues even in us to this day. We know all this.

We know all this, but do we really know it? We have the promises of God that we hear again every Sunday to remind us of God’s work and presence. We proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah that saved the entire world from sin and death. Yet we still constantly wonder, “If only…” and wait for our savior to come.

Sometimes it’s something that’s not really important. Ask any Cleveland Browns or Chicago Cubs fan how their teams could be saved, and you’ll lots of “If only we had these coaches,” or “If only we had these players, then we’d be able to make the playoffs or even win the championship.” But life is far deeper than sports, and the “If only…”s only continue from there.

“If only I had a better job—then, my life would be better.”

“If only I could find that perfect partner, then my life would have some meaning.”

“If only I had a better car, then I’d be more popular.”

“If only we had a few more stores, then people would flock to our town and revive our economy.”

“If only we had better elected leaders, then we could fix our government.”

“If only we went back to doing things in the church exactly the way we did them 60 years ago, then the people would come back, we’d have lots of money and volunteers, and only they could we finally start doing ministry.”

For some reason, we continue to look for that salvation that is just out of reach, if only there was some way to get there. Sometimes, we even go to extreme, dangerous lengths to get what we think is salvation.

“If only we could get those Muslims out of this country, then this country could be great again.”

“If only we could storm a federal building and stage an armed takeover, then we could have our demands met.”

“If only we could bomb ISIS into oblivion, then the world would be safe again.”

“If only we could get rid of the Palestinians, then the Middle East would be stable.”

I took a class in college called “Religion and Violence”, where we examined some of the most dangerous religious cults that existed in the 20th century. One common strand that ran through all of the groups was the general sense among their members that the oppression under which they lived or thought they lived could be thrown off if only they followed this person, or committed these horrible acts.

Our desire for a savior can drive us anywhere from annoyance to despair and yes, even to committing unthinkable acts, all in the name of reaching that great “If only…”

So what are our “If only…”s? Where do we see in our own lives this golden calf, this one thing that will solve all of our problems? Where do we look for salvation, and why?

It’s easy to forget that no matter what else happens in life that we are already saved. And I don’t mean that in some shallow, esoteric, “You get to go to heaven after you die” way—that’s not salvation. What I mean is that we know that we are ransomed, bought back, brought out of bondage to the evil in our world that tries to enslave. We know that Jesus Christ fundamentally changed the way in which God and the world related to one another. We know.

We know that when we were baptized, just like Jesus Christ, God called us daughters and sons, beloved, well-pleased with us. We know that in those waters, when we received the Holy Spirit, we were given new life apart from the power that death has over us. We know that we received grace upon grace, that the God who created us, who formed us, who gathers us from all corners of the world, promised to keep and maintain us through thick and thin.

We are already saved. There is no, “If only…” any longer. The Christ has come, and his Spirit remains with us to this day, continuing to renew and recharge. We are free from the need of a new savior. We are free to be. We are free to live. There is nothing that can take that away from us.

Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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