1 Peter 2:19-25
‘Are you saved? Have you been saved?’—the usual opening lines of the would-be Christian evangelist’s speech when accosting a supposed unbeliever. Sincerely held convictions and good intention usually lie behind these expressions of concern for our ‘spiritual’ well-being. But a ‘one-step’ profession of accepting Jesus as your Savior leading immediately to the state of ‘salvation’ is simplistic and can be dangerously ego-centered. Personally ‘achieving salvation’ is not a check-list item for being ‘admitted to heaven’ when we die.
Listen for a moment to words from an Anglican Communion evangelism document entitled ‘God’s Sovereignty and Our Salvation’: ‘Salvation is at the very heart of the Christian hope and the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the gift of reconciliation and transformation, given to humanity by God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Salvation as transformation and reconciliation, proceeding from the Triune God who is love and relationship: this understanding and promise signals an ongoing, dynamic, shared process. In this understanding, salvation, ‘being saved’, is a never-ending and ever-deepening relationship of believers with Christ, and with one another.
As the evangelism document goes on to stay, ‘The gift of salvation is understood first and foremost by Christians as given by God through the incarnation, cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ This is the salvation, the being saved, which is boldly proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel calls us to examine what it actually means ‘to be saved’; to embrace the fulness of this salvation and to understand its meaning and urgency for our mortal lives and how we shall live, in these present days.
The teachings of our Savior Jesus draw constantly on rich images of salvation in the ancient scriptures. Images which reflect the people of God’s lived experience of being saved abound: The Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon; as well as from famine, attacks from enemies and times of communal and individual suffering. Jesus teaching continues the theme of salvation as deliverance with a focus on liberation from sin, disease and death. Jesus refers frequently to salvation as healing, and as a movement from brokenness to wholeness. Jesus also taught the way of eternal salvation in his own person: in his coming among us, calling us to turn again to God; in healing the sick, providing for the hungry and lost and raising the dead Jesus taught the way of salvation above all by his faithful self-offering for our sake in his cross and resurrection.
Today in the Gospel according to John, Jesus cries out: ‘Whoever enters by me will be saved!’ In images drawn from the breeding and keeping of sheep, Jesus proclaims himself as the savior, the shepherd, the Good Shepherd. Jesus freely mixes together the imagery of being at once the shepherd and the gate of the common sheepfold. He is the one who comes in through the front gate—and not the enemy who sneaks in by climbing over the fence. He is the one who leads the sheep out to pasture for nourishment, and it is he who guarantees the safety of the sheep with his own life. He is the one whose voice the sheep know and can trust. ‘I am the gate’, Jesus declares. Only in the light of the cross and resurrection, can we truly understand what Jesus is saying: After my sheep are in the fold, I will lay my body across the opening. No sheep will step over me to stray, and no wolf can get in without getting past me first. ‘Those who enter by me will be saved.’
I experience here a challenge and an invitation from the Savior Shepherd. I am to follow him in the path of self-offering love and service after his example, whatever the cost. He is the shepherd and gate of the sheepfold who saves me from my wandering self-centered ways. This is the Shepherd who saves me even in the midst of my wrongs and bad choices. The crucified and risen One liberates me from the illusion that I am God—or at least that I am my own god. The eternal presence and action of the Good Shepherd is saving me. He is saving my life, all our lives, by transforming us in his own image and likeness that we may become the beloved of God’s fold, now and for ever.
We will never be abandoned by this Savior. The Good Shepherd has accomplished—and opened for us—the way of salvation. He who laid down his life for us has won and freely offers to us eternal deliverance from sin, disease and death. The grace, healing and protecting love which flow from Jesus’s self-offering still lead us—in and out—through every circumstance of life. By the Savior Shepherd’s power and love, we are being saved now. Salvation is a present reality—though not yet fulfilled in us. We need to be saved again each time each time we believe ourselves to have ‘arrived’ at salvation, either through illusions of our own success, superiority, knowledge—or even supposed goodness.
Our reading from Acts of the Apostles characterizes the community of salvation as one in which baptized disciples of Jesus ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ We are being saved today by following the first disciples in this way of Jesus: through radical sharing of resources one with another; by seeing our possessions as the gifts they are; in making provision for all in need; in giving thanks for all things as our praise and proclamation of the Savior Shepherd. ‘And day by day the Lord was added to their number those who were being saved.’
In the beloved community to which we have been called, the Savior dwells within us, each and all. He is ever with us as the gate, giving admission, offering welcome and protection in the fold, and gathering us into his one Body. The good Shepherd is ever in us, living and serving through us, guiding and correcting, caring and nurturing, challenging us to live abundantly by following in his way of self-offering love. Jesus our Redeemer Shepherd is ever present for us, as the daily Bread for which we pray, the true food and drink nourishing us as servants in God’s pastures, the pastures of justice, peace and ever-saving love. Amen.
Sermon for 4 Easter, Year A
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