March 11, 2018 — 4 Lent B
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
Are you saved?
I’m not sure if you’ve ever been asked that question. But it’s a question I encountered a lot growing up. In fact, it was the guiding question of my early life. And it’s a question I have asked others, especially when I was in high school and early college.
I’d usually carry my bible around with me, and I’d have some tracts in my pocket. And if you don’t know what a tract is, it’s a small little pamphlet or card that basically tells someone they are a sinner and will to go to hell if they don’t confess their sins and say a prayer asking Jesus to save them so that they can go to heaven. At least, that’s what my tracts said.
I’ve said it before, but you probably wouldn’t have liked me during that stage of my spiritual development. Sometimes, I’d say hello to a complete stranger, get a little small talk going, and then just go in for the kill. “Hey, if you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?
And I had all kinds of tracts. They all had the same basic flow. There was some kind of attention grabbing aspect of the tract, then there would be a list of questions about the ten commandments. One tract I passed out was a card that had a red square on the front. The card stated that if you were a good person, you could press your thumb to the card and the red square would turn green. But the card was just regular card stock and the color couldn’t change. Another tract was yellow and said that only good people could rip it, but it was made out of a special paper that had a thin sheet of plastic in it that was un-rippable.
So after the tracts got someone’s attention, it would ask, “have you ever lied before? If you have, then you are a liar and are separated from God.” It would go through all ten commandments, call you a thief, adulterer, idolater, etc, and then tell you that you were going to hell. But the good news was that if you confessed your sins and believed in Jesus, you would go to heaven when you died.
Are you saved?
When I used to ask that question, I had a very narrow and small idea of what salvation was. To be saved meant that someone would go to heaven after they died. And this is what a large portion of Christians in America, especially our sisters and brothers here in the Bible belt, believe when they talk about salvation. It’s all about a destination after someone dies.
Just the other day, someone at the gym who is a Christian was telling me we Christians basically agree about the same important things, like how we are sinners and will go to hell if we don’t ask Jesus to let us into heaven. I didn’t have a chance to respond, but I was thinking that I don’t believe that anymore. Now I see salvation as a relationship with God while we live, rather than a destination after we die. Salvation is more than a destination, it is a process of growing into relationship with God.
Today’s Gospel reading from John contains the most well-known Bible verse in history: John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
And our Epistle reading for today from Ephesians contains the signature verse of the Protestant Reformation: Ephesians 2:8-9.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Both of these verses are all about God’s saving work, what we refer to as salvation. That leads me to a question this morning. What does it mean to be saved? I don’t have any tracts to pass out this morning, but I if I were to come up and shake your hand and ask, “Are you saved?” What would you say?
Later on in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that salvation is to know God. In John 17, Jesus says this: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Here we see that salvation isn’t a destination, salvation is to grow in our relationship with God through Jesus.
In the collect for today, we prayed: “Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him…”
We prayed that we would receive Jesus that he might live in us and we in him. This relationship is what John calls abiding. It’s a major theme in his Gospel and his three letters where he uses the word “abide” 63 times. He keeps telling us to open ourselves up to Jesus living in us, and us in him. To abide in our relationship with God. To grow in our union with Jesus because that is salvation.
Salvation isn’t fire insurance for after we die, it’s an invitation into the healing union of knowing God, the God who is love. The God who is completely good and completely trustworthy. The God who gives everything he has for you and me so we’d know we are God’s beloved children.
It’s knowing this God that heals the brokenness in ourselves and our world. We begin to trust that God is good, and that we have everything we need because Jesus will never leave or forsake us. It is to trust that God will provide for my needs. It is to learn how to forgive. It is to experience God’s love for me and this world and then share it with others. This is salvation, it’s knowing God and being changed in the process.
God loves you and me and this world. No exceptions. And this great love caused the Father to give his Son so that we might live and be brought into the healing relationship of knowing, trusting, and loving God. And yes, this relationship will continue on past our earthly lives, but to only think about a place where we will end up is to miss salvation, which is to learn to trust and grow into union with God through Jesus.
Are you saved?
The question isn’t about some place you go after you die. It’s about the quality of your life, of your relationship with God. Are you ordering your life in such a way to help you grow in your relationship with God? Where do you need to reshape your life and priorities to make that possible?
I heard a bishop in the Eastern Orthodox church share this story. He was in the subway, when a man came up to him and asked, “Are you saved?” The bishop thought for a moment and said, “I have been saved. I am being saved. And I will be saved.”
The man was thinking of salvation in terms of a destination, some place you go to after you die. But the bishop knew better and had a much deeper and expansive understanding of what it means to be saved. It’s a process of growing in our union with God.
We have come to know God’s saving work through God’s love shown to us in a Son given for us. We were saved in our baptism when we were brought into union with Christ. We are being saved when we open ourselves to the means of grace in our lives that strengthen this union. And we will be saved because this loving union with God is so strong that not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We have been saved. We are being saved. And we will be saved.
Thanks be to God.