Monday, April 9, 2012

Salvation Means More than Going To Heaven


Easter Day – April 8, 2012

Salvation Means More Than Going To Heaven

John 20:1-18

Marcus Borg’s chapter on Salvation in his new book “Speaking Christian” begins with these words, “Because salvation in common usage is closely associated with going to heaven, we need to clear up a major misunderstanding at the outset. Salvation in the Bible is seldom about an afterlife. (p 39)

Continuing with this thought he says, The first biblical framework shaping the meaning of salvation is the story of the exodus from Egypt... the leadership of Moses liberates (the Jews) from their political, economic, and religious enslavement to Pharaoh…This story is the ancient Israelites’ primal narrative, the most important story they knew and foundational to their understanding of God and life with God.” (p 40)

In the Exodus story salvation and being saved refer to liberation from economic bondage; liberation from political bondage; and liberation from religious bondage. The Israelites had been saved from Pharaoh’s Egypt and Egypt was not to be re-created in Israel.

Borg identifies the second major framework shaping the biblical meaning of salvation as the Jewish experience of exile in the sixth century B.C. The exile, which occurred between 597 and 538 B. C., began when the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and forced many of the survivors – the most elite of the survivors - into exile in Babylon.

The exile is the historical context for the second part of the book of Isaiah.

Listen to Isaiah’s powerful words of God’s salvation:

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.” (Is 43:1-4)

Rescue from peril is also the primary meaning of salvation in the psalms. Salvation appears in the psalms more often than in any book in the Bible, including the New Testament.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?” (27:1)

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” (51:12)

I thank you for you have answered me and have become my salvation.” (118:21)

“Save all the oppressed of the earth.” (76:9)

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation.” (65:5)

Borg concludes his discussion on salvation with the observation that, “What all of these meanings of salvation in the Old Testament have in common is salvation as ‘deliverance,’ ‘rescue.’ To be saved is to be delivered – to be rescued from that which ails us…to be saved is to enter into a new kind of life – a life covenanted with God is the central theme of both the Old and the New Testaments. Salvation is about deliverance and transformation.”

The New Testament is also filled with references to salvation that have nothing to do with going to heaven:

-         From blindness to seeing again - In John’s Gospel Jesus is “the light of the world.”

-         From death to life – In Matthew when Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead,” the implication is that we can be alive and yet dead. This Gospel also includes the good news that there is a way of leaving the land of the dead behind.

-         From infirmity to well-being – More stories are told about Jesus as a healer than about any other figure in antiquity. This is salvation in healing the wounds of existence; as well-being; as wholeness.

-         From fear to trust – In one passage Jesus counsels his followers not to worry, not to be anxious, but instead to trust in God. (Lk 12:22-31)

Throughout the Bible salvation concerns individuals; it is personal. Yet, at the same time, it is also consistently corporate. It includes how we live together in communities, societies, and nations. Salvation in both the Old and the New Testaments is about the kind of life we live in the here and now and in the kind of world that we live in – in the here and now.

Borg concludes his chapter on Salvation with these thoughts:

…whenever Christianity emphasizes the afterlife as the reason for being Christian the result is invariably a distortion of Christianity. It becomes a religion of requirements and rewards. The message is, ‘Be a Christian now for the sake of heaven later.’ It focuses our attention on the next life rather than on this world…The answer pointed to in this chapter is that salvation is the twofold transformation of ourselves and the world. Moreover, I think most people yearn for this. We yearn for the transformation of our lives – for a fuller connection to what is; from liberation from all sorts of bondage; for sight; for wholeness; for the healing of the wounds of existence. And most of us yearn for a world that is a better place…Salvation concerns these two transformations – self and world – this is what Christianity at its best is about.” (p 54)

Today, Easter Sunday, is the ultimate day of salvation. It is the day on which Mary who went to the tomb to pay homage to Jesus, found the tomb empty. It is the day on which Mary, who after moments of terror and inconsolable loss, saw Jesus standing beside her and heard him say to her, “Mary.”

Today is the day that Jesus spoke of in the Gospel of Matthew when he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!" (Mt. 20:17-19)]

Today is the day we stand together and say, “Alleluia, Christ is risen; The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”

Christ’s apostles understood the resurrection as heralding a new era; but,  forming a theology of the resurrection fell to the Apostle Paul who had never even seen Jesus.

Fundamental to Pauline theology was the connection between Christ's Resurrection and salvation. Paul understood the resurrection of Jesus – the lifting of Jesus to the Kingdom of Heaven - as the cause of and basis for the hope that all Christians would share a similar experience. In 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 he wrote, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”

Paul never imagined Jesus’ resurrection alone and by itself - a single event, involving Jesus only. Paul understood the resurrection of Jesus as the start of a general resurrection – the final act of cosmic justification transforming our world from an unjust society to a just society – an opportunity to transform ourselves and the world.

In Ephesians, Paul writes, "Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children---this was his pleasure and purpose."  (Ephesians 1:3-5)

Paul goes on, "God saved you through faith as an act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God." (Eph 2:8) Jesus Christ – his life, his death and his resurrection – our gift from God.

John Dominic Crossan in discussing the resurrection in his book “Excavating Jesus,” writes: “If Christian faith has been in vain, that is has not acted to transform itself and this world toward the justice of God, and if Christian proclamation has been in vain, that is, has not insisted that such is the church’s vocation, then Christ was not raised. Christianity could certainly still claim that Jesus was exalted and had ascended to the right hand of God. But, resurrection presumes the start of a cosmic transformation, not just the promise of it, not just the hope of it, not just talk about it, and not just theology about it.”

As we go forward on this Easter morning, witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, let us remember that our salvation is more than just going to heaven; it is a here and now event.

Let us remember that salvation means making just an unjust world. 

Let us remember that, “…salvation is the twofold transformation of ourselves and the world.  – this is what Christianity at its best is about.

Let us remember that, “…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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16) 

“Alleluia, Christ is risen; The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”

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