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A Sermon by The Rev. Stuart Schadt

HAVE YOU BEEN SAVED?

Not the usual language you hear in the Episcopal Church is it? We don’t talk about salvation much. However I don’t think there is a theological issue or a religious practice that does more to define the different branches of Christianity than how we speak of Salvation.

A few years ago on Christmas Eve at our 5:30 worship we had our ususal great crowd, the church and parish hall were packed to overflowing. It was a wonderful evening with lots of children and great music and ‘I of course delivered one of my great sermons.’ At least I thought so. Well after the service a young couple stopped me, they were here with their parents, they wanted to know why I had not preached Christ crucified? I understood they were basically asking why I had not preached a salvation altar call type of message. I said, no it was Christmas and I preached the incarnation, the birth of Christ. They went on to say I had this great crowd and I had passed on the opportunity to save these people. I said  these people are saved they are here to celebrate that salvation and to strengthen their faith. The young couple went away sadly disappointed in me. We have very different understandings of Salvation.

 You may not have heard of him but Rob Bell was an evangelical preacher of good standing, a pastor of a mega-church. I am not sure what the definition of a mega church is but I think it is a church with congregational worship of a 1000 or more. There are not many episcopal mega churches. Rob Bell was in good standing with the evangelical community untill a few months ago when his new book Love Wins was published. In that book he challenges the very basics of the evangelical salvation formula claiming that tying salvation to a ‘specific moment in our lives when we have reached the age of reason and recited with sincere conviction the correct formula of commitment.’ Is neither biblical nor true.

 I think he might be ready to become an Episcopalian. In truth I think what he may have done is read scripture with new eyes, fresh eyes what will I find. We all read through set lenses set point of views. And when we for some reason set them aside and view the world with new eyes we see new things. In the same way I think we would do well to re-examine our vision of baptism. Many people act as though they believe the act of being baptized is sufficient unto itself. While it may be sufficient for salvation I believe we are meant to live into that baptism to learn and live as followers of Christ.

So let’s go look at scripture and see what we might find out about our salvation. Well when we do that we find several amazing things about salvation.

  1. There are between ten and twelve authors of the books of the New Testament. However it is clear throughout the New Testament that there is certainty that Jesus’s death on the cross established a new relationship between God and humanity and that relationship is called salvation.  
  2. There is less agreement on how that salvation is accomplished. The ways it is expressed can be gathered  under four headings
  3. The Cross as sacrifice- Representative s. Participatory S. Substitutionary S.
  4. The cross as victory – over sin, over death, over Satan, over evil
  5. The cross as a forgiveness Jesus on the cross satisfies the demands of God and makes forgiveness possible.
  6. The cross as a moral example – Christ’s willingness to die on the cross for us is a testimony to God’s love for us.
 

There are also words like ransom and adoption used to speak of the nature of the saving act and I am not sure where those words fall under the four headings above. I remember somewhere reading that the New Testament had 21 distinctly different ways of explaining how through the cross of Christ we are saved.

 

  1. And it is unclear when our salvation is accomplished. If we just look at only St. Paul’ understanding of Salvation we find that
  2. We will be saved.
 

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Romans 5.10:

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.


  1. We were saved

Romans 8.24:

For in* hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen?

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  1. We are being saved

1 Corinthians 1.18:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

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1 Corinthians 15.2:

through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

I believe very much that in the death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ on the cross we have been saved. I believe that when I was three months old and my parents took me to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in LaMarque Texas and had me baptized they made clear their intention to help me live into the experience of my salvation. And I believe every day since then as I have committed and recommitted myself to God by word and action I have participated in the process of being saved. Let’s just look at our worship. In many ways we have two altar calls in our worship almost every Sunday. The Nicene Creed and the Eucharist. Together we affirm “We believe….” And then at communion we come forward to be united with one another and God in Christ through the bread and wine of communion.

 I hope you are familiar with the tensions of the debate between the New Testament writings of Paul and those of James. Paul speaks of salvation by grace alone. The unmerited love of God. James writes of the importance of works saying there is no evidence of faith without works. Some say they really agree some say they don’t. I believe we are meant to live into our salvation by studying the teachings of Jesus and acting in the ways of Christ.

 There is a metaphor that I have used before but that I really like. A man comes into the concert hall one day. There just happen to be a number of people standing around the concert grand that day. This man introduces himself as the greatest pianist of the day. He says he has studied every work ever written for the piano and can practically rewrite them all from memory. And he has composed numerous pieces himself. Not only that he has disassembled and reassembled numerous pianos and even built his own from scratch. Well the people marvel at this and invite him to sit down and play. He says I am sorry I can’t I have never played a piano. It is not in knowing that we become it is in doing that we become.

 Now what about Salvation and Judgment. I don’t expect to be able to get away with talking about salvation without also talking about judgment.

 The Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John mention fire 28 times. 7 of those are fires to cook or keep you warm. 5 of them are good fires like “the one who comes after me will baptize you with water and the holy spirit”

 So that leaves sixteen to be somewhat destructive fires. It is worth noting that 11 of those remaining 16 are all in the Gospel of Matthew. I note that because it tells us that there may be something in particular about Matthew’s theology that leads him to mention fire so many times.

 But let me suggest we set aside our popular image of hell that is created by Dante’s inferno in the middle ages and look differently at these fires. A few weeks ago at the Wednesday noon Eucharist we read from the prophet Zechariah

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Zechariah 13.9:

And I will put this third into the fire,
   refine them as one refines silver,
   and test them as gold is tested.
They will call on my name,
   and I will answer them.

I will say, ‘They are my people’;
   and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’

I wonder if we understood fire not through the lens of Dante’s inferno but thought first of the purifying fire of metallurgy. Or if we thought of the use of fire in agriculture where until very recent times an annual burning of the fields was a standard process of preparation. (This practice is largely discouraged now because it was a major source of pollution and because sometimes you accidentally burned your neighbor’s field also.)

Thinking of fire differently might help us understand being cast into the fire as a message of being recycled or further refined?

I think we are all judged and I think we are all lacking. I think we are being judged ion the now and we ought to be open to hearing our need to do better. And I think we will stand in the presence of God’s

I believe we all will experience the judgment of God. If I understand that there will be a day when I stand before God then I know that standing there confronted by the perfection and the fullness of God’s righteousness I will be self-convicted of my failures, short comings and brokenness. And only by the mercy of God do I have any hope.

So if someone asks and they probably won’t have you been saved tell them

I have been saved in Christ’s death on the cross.

And by the mercy of God I will be saved.

 But most importantly this day through the teaching of Jesus and my commitment to follow in his ways I am striving to live into my salvation in this life.