A Pastoral Message for the People of St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC,
by The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, Senior Minister, on September 25, 2022
Scriptures: Luke 15:1-13 and John 3:16-21
A young father met me for lunch with an important question. After some general conversation, he said, “In your sermon last Sunday, you said salvation is a lifelong process. I was taught that I am saved because I believe Jesus died for my sins on the cross. I was saved and baptized when I was a boy. Nobody ever told me that salvation is a lifelong process. What does that mean?”
I explained the suffix, ‘tion,’ means process. As communication is the ongoing process of communicating and education is the process of educating, ‘salvation’ is the ongoing process of saving. Some people say, “I was saved when I was young,” as if their salvation was completed on that day. It’s like ‘being saved’ is a box to check or a commodity to possess.
Then I told him that the salvation Jesus brings is bigger than his death on a cross. He looked at me as if I had three eyes. I informed him that during Jesus’ lifetime, more than 2,000 men were crucified for rebellion in Galilee; more than 800 on one day. Salvation didn’t come because Jesus died on a cross. Jesus died on a cross because he was committed to the God of salvation. Salvation is a gift from the God who is greater than any death on any cross. Jesus’ death on the cross would have never been reported if he had not been raised from the grave. The eye- witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection experienced SALVATION AS THE BEGINNING OF A NEW WAY OF LIFE SHOWING GOD TO BE MORE POWERFUL THAN SIN AND DEATH.
Many people focus on what they are saved FROM, but never on what they are saved TO or saved FOR. I explained to my young friend that just as he was saved FROM following the way of sin, he was saved TO be a growing disciple of Jesus FOR service in the mission of God.
Salvation is a process that begins in our lives when we accept God’s grace, confess our sin, repent from the way of self-centeredness, receive God’s forgiveness and commit to follow God’s path revealed in The Way of Jesus. Salvation continues for a lifetime, as we take up our cross daily and follow Jesus as his disciples – obedient learners of his teachings.
He then asked, “Is salvation just another word for discipleship?” I explained, “Salvation and discipleship are like you enjoying a birthday gift. Salvation is God’s gift to you and discipleship is your acceptance, enjoyment and use of the gift. You do not just unwrap gifts and say, ‘Ok, I have that now;’ put it in your closet and never use it.” He smiled and said, “I have some ties that I have never worn.”
I asked him, “Would you say you think about God or you relate with God?” He said, “Well, I pray, if that’s what you mean.” “Okay,” I said; “has your prayer life changed over the years?” “Sure,” he reported. I asked him to give me an example. He said that he had carried guilt for several years about what he had not done in relation to a couple of friends. He had become aware that he failed to care for them or listen to them when they were going through some difficult times. He started asking God to help him do better. I inquired why he thought he asked for God’s help. He said, “I’ve always been taught that God expects me to become a better person. After I prayed, think I started doing better.” I told him that was salvation; God continuing to work in his life. Salvation is like breathing. You begin breathing with your first inhale, but you must keep inhaling and exhaling to be alive. Salvation is a lifelong process of spiritual growth.
He then asked, “So why do we put so much emphasis on salvation as if it is only about saving the lost?” I told him about a news story I had read. “An eight-year-old boy went sleepwalking one night and wandered away from the family campsite in the mountains. A few inches of snow fell covering footprints. As the parents realized he was missing, they started searching. After a couple of hours, the dad started back toward the campsite to check in with the others and tripped over what he thought was a log. But it was not a log; it was his son. The boy rose and pulled back his blanket. Then he threw his arms around his father saying, “Daddy, I found you.”
Please notice, the boy was in the campground BEFORE he wandered off. The sheep, in Jesus’ story, was in the flock BEFORE becoming lost. The coin was on the table with the other coins BEFORE it was lost. When we are not in right relationship with God, we are lost – even if that happens AFTER we have been baptized. In Jesus Christ, God has entered this world to show humanity the way of salvation. Jesus shows us the way to NOT be lost.
Beloved, God’s salvation begins in you when you embrace the God has come to find you.
Like the boy lost in the snow, like the sheep that wandered off from the flock, like the coin that dropped off the table, like the son who left home, we greet the God who saves us.
Salvation continues in us as we stay in close relationship with God. Although we are in the family of God, we can still lose our way from a close relationship with God. Every time we wander off a bit, God searches for us. And every positive response causes divine celebration.
Of course, some people never admit they are lost. They squander their lives, bringing misery to God, themselves and others. Some remain infantile in their discipleship, refusing to mature in the way of Jesus. It is always sad to see people choose to be lost from meaningful communion.
That next Sunday, after our conversation, our worship included bread and the cup. In that service, I mentioned that this meal around The Lord’s Table nourishes God’s salvation in us.
These symbols point to God’s continuous work within us to save from us from a life of sin.
I referenced Jesus’ words carved into The Lord’s Table, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
I suggested that Jesus knew we are forgetful. So, he reminded us to remember. I also pointed out the message of John 3:16-17; how God sent Jesus into this world to save – never to condemn. And I mentioned that we are called FROM a life of sin TO a life of discipleship learning the way of Jesus FOR service in the mission of God. I emphasized that we are to go into the world to continue Jesus’ ministry of salvation without condemnation.
After worship, on his way out, that young father said to me, “Today was the first time I ate the bread and drank the cup to nurture God’s salvation in my life. But it won’t be the last.”
Beloved, Jesus came to save you FROM being lost.
Jesus came to save you so you could have a close relationship with God.
Jesus came to save you TO be a disciple; TO learn salvation as Jesus’ way of relating with God.
Jesus came to save you FOR servant ministry in God’s mission of compassion.
And Jesus knew you might need a reminder. So, Jesus took bread and a cup saying,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
Amen & AMEN. May it always be so!