Friday, 27 April 2012

What does it mean to be saved?

Peter Lockhart

“There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

What does it mean to be saved?

And more specifically, what was Peter on about, filled with the Holy Spirit, when he made this claim?

Salvation means different things to different people. Talking to people these days it can mean:

1. Being healed from some distress or pain in this life now.
2. Getting to go to heaven.
3. Getting to avoid hell! (which are of course two different things)
4. Knowing God and his Son Jesus
5. Being drawn into God’s life
6. Serving God
7. Being accepted back into the community we long for
8. And various combinations of the above.

What determines how any of us talk about salvation is usually determined by what we have been taught and or what is happening in our lives, that is to say the particular moment we find ourselves in.

If we are facing illness salvation will be healing, if we are facing death salvation may involve a hope in heaven or a fear of hell, if we are immersed in war or conflict salvation will mean homecoming and peace, if we are lost and alone salvation will mean being found and restored to community.

This week the media has once again challenged us to think deeply on the meaning of salvation and its implications for we who are Christians. We may have remembered the horror and sorrow of war on ANZAC Day; we may have considered the questions of the future of this planet as we listened to Bob Brown on Q&A or on the ABC special about Climate Change; we have been challenged by the mystery of the disappearance of a friend; we have heard of the potential loss of jobs and livelihoods.

These are just to mention a few of the stories of our lives and the world around us, for each of us is confronted by the brokenness in our own lives and of the world. These personal challenges alongside the global disarray which are the backdrop to our lives can sap our souls. What does it mean to speak of salvation?

When we listen to Peter speaking in the book of Acts there is a danger that we hear that salvation is only meant for an exclusive group and too often people that think in this way also think that their group is the one group that will be saved.

On his blog D. Mark Davis writes that he thinks of this particular verse as the most misused piece of scripture in the Bible. I actually suspect there are a few contenders for this title, but his point his clear. He writes, “This verse seems to bring out the worst of Christian triumphalism and intolerance. It has been used to deny the legitimacy of any other form of faith or religious insight, even those religions which would have been unknown to Peter when he made this claim.”

The issues raised by Davis about what salvation means are explored a little more fully by Rob Bell in his controversial book “Love Wins”.

The problems for us who are reading the story away from its context miss its subtlety and its background. We miss significance of the confrontation between the temple authorities and this pair of rag tag itinerant so called prophets. We quick possibly slip out of the specifics of the healing of the paralysed man as a witness to Jesus’ authority and into making generalisations. We forget too that we have lived for almost 1600 years with the authority of Christendom a amnesia that has come upon us quickly as we find ourselves as Christians no longer in the centre.

So what does Peter mean when he declares, “There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

In thinking about this one thing which we should consider carefully is that the word saved can also be translated as healed. If we look at the scriptures and the language which is used the word translated as salvation often simply, and somewhat at times miraculously, meant healed. In ancient times healing and restoration to community were very much at the heart of salvation.

Salvation was the healing of those who were sick, the breaking of drought with rain and a good harvest, the defeat of an enemy.

So given the context, maybe Peter was saying, “There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be healed.”

The healing of the paralysed man would have restored him to the community. It would have given him the opportunity to function again, alongside others, to live an abundant life. In the act of healing though there was also witness to Jesus as the author of that healing and as the one in whose name God longs for salvation for all peoples.

Reading the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia we hear about what God was up to in Jesus:

Jesus himself, in his life and death, made the response of humility, obedience and trust which God had long sought in vain. In raising him to live and reign, God confirmed and completed the witness which Jesus bore to God on earth, reasserted claim over the whole of creation, pardoned sinners, and made in Jesus a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love.

God’s completed work in and through Jesus is the reconciliation of God with the whole creation and the beginning of a new order of righteousness and love.

If we connect the work of church with Jesus’ life and the vision of salvation as healing it is little wonder that the church has done so much in history to seek to heal others.

At the beginning of his book “Atheist delusions” David Bentley Hart briefly outlines the care of Christians for lepers and the sick through the ages. We remember the beginnings of hospitals of we know them.

Salvation is about healing and not just physical. Quoting once again from the Basis of Union:

The Church's call is ... to be a fellowship of reconciliation.

The reconciliation of God is the peace established between God and humanity but the benefits which flow are the breaking in of abundant life now. Not simply when people are healed of illness, but when peace is restored, when the sick are fed, when the prisoners are visited, when the lost are found.

The healings and reconciliation done in Jesus name are signs, signs of the promise of God’s healing in Jesus, for the whole creation.

The Church lives between the time of Christ's death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring; the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come.

When salvation occurs anywhere it can be used as sign of God’s promise of salvation: salvation which is tangibly experienced as we wait for the fullness of the coming of the new creation. It is a coming that may occur beyond our own death but in the resurrection of Jesus we find hope that we will be included in this promised future.

These glimpses of this future are celebrated and deepened in our gathered worship when we come to worship our risen and ascended Lord, when we hear the Word preached and taste of the eternal feast in the bread and the wine.

Our worship gives us hope not because we like the style of music, or because we find we have some psycho-spiritual needs met but because here we remember and name Jesus as the one who is the source of healing and hope for all peoples. There is no other name under which people are healed, or saved, and in our naming of that the whole earth can find hope again.

Salvation is the promise and province of God. This week as I have struggled personally through a difficult week I have been reminded by the scriptures that God’s will for salvation is not just something out there and our longing for salvation is not about dying and getting to go to heaven. Salvation is about being healed of the pains of this life and living in the fullness of life.

This is what we long for. It is what we hope for. Whilst there may be some limitations of our experience of the fullness of God’s grace as we face the mystery of suffering in our own lives and the world around us, we can and do see that God does break in to give us hope even amidst the most terrible of situations and gives us the reassurances of a future when all of the suffering of this age will pass.

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