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29th March 2020

Safety Through Salvation in dark places

Passage: Isaiah 12;1-5


Helmets are still a common sight, aren’t they? Any person who is going into a dangerous situation is obliged to wear one: construction workers, rock climbers, motorcyclists, police and fire officers, soldiers on the front line.
None of these people are told to keep themselves safe by not going into the dangerous places; they are told to keep safe by wearing a protective helmet.

In the days of St Paul, the Roman soldier’s helmet was a symbol both of protection and of military victory. Those who wore the helmets were the ones in charge. (If you are a fan of Asterix and Obelix, you may remember how Obelix started a competition with the warriors of his tribe, to see how many Roman Helmets they could each collect from the soldiers they had beaten up…. Obelix always won)

So, we know all about helmets. Paul says that our helmet in the armour of God is “salvation.” What do we know about salvation? It sounds very much a religious word but actually we still use it from time to time in conversation. We will say that something or somebody has been our “salvation.” We have been saved from a miserable, pointless, disappointing life by meeting a great partner, having a small child, changing to a different job, moving to a new place, learning a different skill, getting the better of drugs, alcohol, over-eating and we say “this has been my salvation.” Life may have been-and often will continue to be- tricky and hazardous for us but we have found “our salvation” which will protect us from being overwhelmed.

In the Bible, the term “salvation” is used in many different ways. It can mean physical deliverance from enemies, exile, famine, disease. Or it can mean spiritual deliverance from the anger and despair eating us up inside and of course, from that alienation between God and humanity. In our reading from the book of Isaiah (he was a religious leader during very harsh and challenging times for his nation) salvation is both personal (about me) and communal (about all of us); it is physical restoration to better times for Isaiah’s nation and it is spiritual restoration as his people renew their faith in God and their joy in living.
Isaiah tells his people more than once that yes, they are going through very dark and dangerous times. He uses metaphors like “deep waters” and “burning fires.” But salvation is still there for them. Like a protective helmet, it will keep them from being destroyed. And this promise is not one that Isaiah is saying in the hopes of making himself sounding good and gaining support through blustering rhetoric. This is a promise which is at the very heart of his faith in God. God will save because that is what God does. And God believes that both we and the world are worth saving.

In the course of his life Isaiah had seen a lot and thought a lot. In his book, you will see that salvation becomes linked inextricably with “righteousness.” (Now there is an old-fashioned word).
But Isaiah, looking back, could see that most of the dark place that his people were now in had been created largely by themselves. Not on purpose but they had become very irresponsible in the way they looked after their country; they had become unjust in their dealings with the poor and vulnerable; they had turned a blind eye to corruption in business and Government; and their religion no longer meant to them a fraction of what it once had. They were an open target for enemy invasion and for the emotional and spiritual despair that would come with it. And there was no point in being “saved” from the dark places if they were simply going to create them all over again.
So in chapter 59, Isaiah speaks of God putting on the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation Himself. He could not find any evidence of just and right behaviour in his people, so, if he were to save them, he would also have to set their lives on the right tracks again. And he gives them a promise “My Spirit who is on you and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from you.”

Righteousness and salvation do go hand in hand. We know, don’t we, that when the human population of this world finally gets out of the darkness of the Corona virus, a great many things are going to need to change. Or the world will simply launch straight into another crisis.
But have you ever tried to be a truly righteous person on your own? I have and it never works. But what Isaiah is telling is us that we are not left to “do righteousness” on our own. The power of God is with us and in us. God will save because that is what God does. And God saves by getting involved in our lives, by bringing us safely through dark places and enabling us then to walk into light rather than back into darkness again.
Salvation is just like the Roman soldier’s helmet- it is there to protect us when we are in danger and it is there to enable us to move out into the world, knowing that in the power of God we have got and will again get the better of the darkness. As St Paul said, “we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.”

Him who loves us: for Paul it is Jesus Christ who is our salvation; Jesus Christ the Son of God, God himself literally coming to live our life, to get involved in our space, to walk through the very darkest places of betrayal, fear, pain and death so that he could be our salvation. Because he conquered sin and death, he can save us, not just now in this particular dark place but over and over again through life, through death and beyond death. Jesus Christ gives us the right and the power to be children of God, saved from despair and destruction.

Remember the children’s story of the bear hunt, written by Michael Rosen? We find in life that there are a lot of dark and difficult places to travel. And you cannot go under them. You cannot go over them. You cannot go around them. The only way is to go through them.
But we have the helmet of salvation-God’s saving grace- for our protection and when this dark time is over, it is in wearing that helmet that we shall be ready to be people of light for the world.
God bless and keep you all. Amen.