Being Saved

Good morning, Friends!

For the last few Sundays, we’ve been looking at what happened during the days and
weeks after Easter. This morning we’re going to look at another story.

It’s hard for us to realize just how quickly things were moving back then. When Jesus
was around, he was a magnetic teacher, who spoke to tens of thousands of people.
Part of what had the authorities so worried before Easter was that huge crowds were
following Jesus. The crowds were expecting Jesus to take power.

Then, when Jesus was arrested, the crowds all melted away. At the very end, nobody
stood by him. Even Peter, who had promised to be loyal, Peter denied that he even
knew Jesus. All of Jesus’ friends disappeared like smoke. He was executed, and buried.

Then, on Easter morning, a group of women went to the tomb, and they found that it
was empty. Then a couple of the disciples met Jesus on the road. Then a small group of
them met Jesus in an upper room.

At the time of Pentecost, a few weeks later, only about 120 people were believers.
That’s about as many people as we get here sometimes, on a good Sunday.

Then Peter started preaching in public, telling what he had seen, and suddenly it was up
to three thousand. Some of these were probably people who had followed Jesus before,
who were now being re-gathered. But a lot of people were hearing Jesus’ message for
the first time.

What Peter said – and you can go back and look at Acts chapter 2 if you want to read
about it for yourselves – was that this was the time that God had promised. It was all
starting to happen, right now.

The Holy Spirit was no longer the exclusive property of prophets and mystics. The Spirit
was being felt by ordinary people, of all ages. And Peter said that this was tied to what
had happened at Easter – that Jesus was alive, that God’s love was stronger than
death.

And when people heard it, they said, “What should we do?”

And Peter said, “Turn around. Turn your whole lives around. The promise is for you, and
for your children, and for all who are far away, for everyone who the Lord our God calls
to.” That’s the point that we’re up to in today’s reading. What was going on, and what
were they all doing? Let’s listen to the story together.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

– Acts 2:42-47

If we were doing a Wednesday night Bible study about this passage, I guarantee that
we would spend the whole hour talking about the verse where it says, “All the believers
were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to
give to anyone who had need.”

That’s the part which makes us most uncomfortable, especially if we’ve worked
hard and we’re well off. Some people would say that sharing everything would be
wonderful. Some people would say it sounds like communism, or like a welfare state.
Why would anybody work, if everything they needed was given to them?

People would argue for hours about whether it really happened, or if it was just idealism.
We would find a hundred reasons why it should no longer apply.

I think that the REAL point is that for Easter Christians, sharing mattered. They didn’t
just see themselves as individuals. They were trying to be a community.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” was at the heart of their new way of life. The most
important effect of the presence of the living Christ wasn’t spiritual ecstasy. It was
community.

“Every day,” it says, “they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke
bread in their homes and they ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God
and enjoying the favor of all the people.”

That is a portrait of the new, living body of Christ. It didn’t look anything like a revival
meeting, with an evangelist asking people to shut their eyes and raise their hands to
make a decision for Christ, and then file down front to shake hands. It didn’t look like a
gazillion-watt praise band, blowing people’s eardrums away.

Their communion services looked like carry-in meals. Or maybe their carry-in meals
were where they experienced communion. They felt the presence of Christ in the
person sitting next to them, and across from them, and down the table from them. It was
a scandal if anyone went home hungry, or if anyone in the community didn’t have
enough to eat for the rest of the week.

Faith was not a private matter. It was something which people wrestled with, and helped
each other with.

Let me read you another description of life in the early church. This comes from the
letter of James in the New Testament.

“Are any among you suffering? Then pray together. Are any filled w ith joy? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church, and have them pray over them, and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. . . Anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. . .If any one among you wanders away from the truth, bring them back.” (James 5:13-16, 19)

That is a portrait of the early Church. Faith is something in every heart, and each person
shared the faith discoveries that he or she made day by day. It was not a privatized
collection of isolated individuals who were gathered for personal salvation and secret self-improvement. It was people of faith discovering the life of Christ as a community.

I think that there are some profound questions that this story raises for what we do here
every week. I think that we’re just a little different from the experience of the Easter
community. And I think we need to be challenged about whether we really are who we
want to be.

Everything we do affects our life together. The quality of our worship. The value we
place on fellowship. The time we’re willing to spend in small groups and in homes, for
times of friendship and prayer. The value we place on listening to each other.

Whether we think it’s important or not to be a part of decisions that affect the life of the
whole church. What we give, how much of that is used on ourselves, and how much of
our church budget is given to help other people.

These are not individual decisions. Individual faith, and our individual relationship to
God, are important. But they’re only half the picture. The gospel is a social gospel, and
not just a private revelation.

I believe that God calls us to use our intellect, our love, our creativity, and our strength
in every way we can, to use every resource that we have, to call people back, to set
people free, to lift people up, to show people a new and better way.

God calls us together to change the world. God calls us to make peace and restore
justice together. None of us stands alone. It’s something we do side by side.

Even if all we do is stand with someone, or pray with someone, or suffer with someone,
we’re doing something important. Because Christ is in us all. And sometimes, we are
the living face of Christ for someone else.

Wow. Is that important, or what?

This morning’s scripture has one of my favorite lines in the whole Bible. It says, “And the
Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I love that, because it says they were growing. Growth is OK. We should be praying for
growth.

We talked about that, last week. I said that I want every meeting for worship, every
Sunday School class, every Bible study, every fellowship meal, every social gathering,
every committee, every business meeting, every newsletter, every pastoral visit, every
time two or three people from Springfield meet together, needs to include a prayer that
God will bless us, that God will lead us, that God will help us grow.

And last week, I said that If we’re at any kind of a gathering, and we haven’t prayed, I
want to hear somebody speak up and say, “Hey, we didn’t pray to grow yet. We have to
do that, before we leave!”

Growth is something natural, and we should expect it. If there’s one thing that stands
out about the early Church, it was a growing church!

But there’s something else in today’s Scripture that’s really important, which we can
easily miss. It’s almost hidden, and a lot of people don’t understand it, but I think it
captures the essence of what a Christian community should be about.

Did you notice that it doesn’t talk about people who ARE saved? It talks about people
who are BEING saved.

It’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s a way we walk together. It’s a way to live. I’m not sure if
we’re there yet, but we’re working on it. We are being saved, together. God’s not done
with us yet.

For many people, salvation is an individual matter. It’s totally personal. It’s focused on
one person making an important decision. In many Christian circles, that emphasis on
personal decision and personal salvation is what it’s all about.

I don’t want to say that’s self-ish. But it is focused on the self. The focus is on me, me,
me – my sins, my relationship to Christ, my decision, my response.

And that’s not 100% wrong. Jesus said to take the log out of our own eye first, before
telling other people what to do. But if the focus is just on the individual, it makes faith a
very private thing. It makes my own private religious experiences, and whatever private
revelation I may have, the center of the whole picture.

Personal salvation focuses on the individual, on the vertical relationship between God
and each isolated believer, and it de-emphasizes the horizontal relationship, between
one person and another, which is just as important to religious faith and practice.

Do you remember the time when somebody came and asked Jesus what the most
important commandment was? And Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with
all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

But then Jesus said, “There’s a second commandment, which is just like it: you shall
love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

Most of the time, when we talk about salvation, we’re thinking about Commandment #1.
And that’s important. But many Christians focus completely on our individual
relationship to God, on the vertical dimension.

But Jesus says that Commandment #2 is just as important. The horizontal relationship
to the people around us, the social dimension, is totally tied to the life of faith as well.
Do you see what I’m saying? One direction to take – and it’s taken by many Christians,
and by many churches – is for salvation to be an individual matter, and to make the
Good News a private word.

Another choice – the one I want us to see this morning – is to see salvation as
something which involves a whole faith community. The gospel is a social gospel. It’s
good news which God offers to whole groups of people.

If you to go back and look at today’s reading, it says that “Everyone was filled with awe
at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” Amazing things were
happening, everywhere they looked.

Some of those things may have been physical miracles. But most of them were
probably changes in relationships.

Enemies were being reconciled. Outcast people were being warmly accepted. People
from wildly different racial and ethnic backgrounds were discovering that God talked
with both of them. People who spoke different languages were welcomed as ministers
of Christ.

People who lived by violence were laying down their swords. People who had never
spoken up before in their entire lives were filled with exciting things to say.
And there’s something else going on in today’s reading. And it’s at the heart of how we
understand ourselves.

Did you notice that it doesn’t talk about the church as a group of people who
ARE saved? It talks about people who are BEING saved. Can you see the difference?
For a lot of people, salvation means that you respond to an invitation, you say a short
little prayer, maybe you shake the preacher’s hand, and you’re done. You’re saved.

I’m not saying that moment of conversion isn’t important. But turning around is only the
first step on a lifelong journey. We spend the rest of our lives trying to live our salvation.
That’s what being saved means.

That’s the difference between a church filled with people who are smug and
self-righteous, who divide the world into “us” and “them.” That’s a church full of people
who feel that they ARE saved.

But a church filled with people who are BEING saved is different. They’re humble. They
know they’re on a journey. They know Christ, and love Christ, but they’re aware of their
mistakes. They make them all the time. They know that they are weak, but God is
strong.

A church filled with people who ARE saved has closed doors, and closed minds.
There’s the good people inside, and the bad people outside. W e don’t want any of those
bad people in here, and we know who they are.

A church filled with people who are BEING saved is a lot more open. There are people
who try, and fall down. There are people who are less than perfect. There are people
who are in the process of changing and growing, and sometimes we all have setbacks.
But I’ll tell you, I’d a lot rather belong to a church of people who say they’re BEING
saved, than belong to a church full of people who say they ARE saved.

Give me a church of people who BEING saved – who are on a journey, rather than a
bunch of people who say that they’ve arrived and have nothing more to change.
Give me a bunch of people who are accepting, who don’t judge each other, because
they know they’ve got their own problems, and who love each other anyway. I’ll take
that church any day of the week.

And give me a group of people who are committed to living together, rather than being
isolated from each other. We share, we eat together, we take turns, we need each
others’ special gifts. We listen to newest person and the youngest member. We
encourage each person to be a minister.

We’re rejoice when any person takes a step of faith. And we say, “Please help me,
when it’s my turn, won’t you?” We’re not perfect. Maybe we never will be. But we’re
trying to walk with God together.

Jesus reached out to me, and saved me, when I was in a dark place many years ago. It
was his doing, not mine, and it was a turning point of my whole life.

But I am still BEING saved. I have to live my faith, one day at a time. This community is
a place where it happens for me. You all are helping to save me, and we are helping to
save each other, by living our faith together.

Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Brown

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