Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Forgiving Spirit


Text: Matthew 18:21-35

Focus: Forgiveness

Function: to help us see what forgiveness is all about

21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him, 25and, as he could not pay, the lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The Lectionary provides a schedule of bible passages for the preacher to follow so that he/she does not get in a rut and preach the same old passage every week. Today’s lesson is from the lectionary and it is on forgiveness.

I suppose the salient phrase from this morning’s passage is “you should have mercy as I have had mercy on you.”

Peter starts out, I believe, thinking he is being bold in stating that we should forgive up to seven times. And Jesus’ answer to that is hyperbole, “77 times”

I believe it is a metaphor for “don’t even count.”

The scriptures say, Love believes all things, bears all things and endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7

I believe it means that when a person is walking in God’s love for others, there is a contentment in the peace that the promise of eternal life brings that we can continue to forgive because God forgave us.

I notice something about Jesus’ teaching. It is never about “believing the right thing.” No. It is always about “doing the right thing.”

And when Jesus gives the parable about the Kingdom of heaven being all about forgiveness, he again uses hyperbole. 10,000 talents would be billions of dollars. At the time, it would have amounted to a king’s ransom. An amount almost impossible to pay. And the master forgives the debt. He has mercy on the one who cries out for it. He, listens to the cry of the desperate and is a righteous, or just king, because he extends mercy.

Meanwhile, the parable focuses on what the parable calls “wickedness:” the man’s refusal to give the same mercy he was given and is condemned by the master for his refusal.

Jesus gives a warning about them forgiving completely, or “from the heart.”

Forgiveness isn’t easy, because we have been wronged and our sense of person-hood has been violated.

Do the people we forgive deserve it? Probably not.

What if they have not repented, or changed the behavior that offends, or offended us? How do we forgive when the presence of some people reminds us of the pain that they have caused in our lives?

These are all difficult but legitimate questions. All of them are subject first to a matter of faith. The point of the parable is that the master has given us mercy and we have to respond by giving mercy toward others.

The mercy given is actually the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. The Psalms say that it is impossible to purchase.

We received mercy, we give mercy.

In other words, forgive and accept people. That doesn’t mean we don’t set up boundaries to protect ourselves from the bad behavior of others. But Jesus teaches us to forgive from the heart.

The highlight of our Kairos weekend, which is coming up in November and I’m gonna need some cookies, the highlight, is the forgiveness ceremony.

And every time I do the weekend, God reveals to me more people and circumstances where I get to forgive and God then experience God’s healing, salvation.

Forgiveness heals us.

It is a way for us to let go of past pain.

Forgiveness from the heart does not mean we justify bad behavior, but it means that we release it to God who is a loving, fair and merciful judge. I rest in that thought.

So, he says forgive. It sets us free.

I have been wanting to share this next story with you for years and today the Holy Spirit is finally letting me.

It comes after our conversation last Sunday about the query in our denomination allowing each church to decide for themselves on the issue of how to care for people who have different gender identities, and a phone conversation with Jodie this week.

I’ll set the stage:

I once pastored a larger, multi-staffed church. And we had a lot of people who came for I suspect various reasons.

One guy was a “Christmas, Easter” attender. And he was welcome. In some ways, I got to know him because his wife was a devout attender and she ensured that we had contact together.

I try not to judge, but the fellow was sort of vulgar. Really, not judgment. He was a Vietnam Vet and those guys have a lot to process. But it was difficult to see the fruit of “love, Joy, Peace” and etc in his life. I wondered if he had ever made the choice to trust Jesus and join the family of God.

And then, sadly, Vietnam got him and we walked together through the very long process of his dying from bladder cancer caused by agent orange poisoning. He name is now enshrined before the wall in D.C.

This is the story of the slow salvation of this man through the process of forgiveness.

When he was first diagnosed, he finally opened the door to have the discussion with me about life, death and the afterlife and what faith in Jesus actually means.

And praise God, I got to lead him past his baptism into the power of the Spirit as he learned to forgive from the heart. And he had a hard time learning that lesson because of his relationship with his son.

He loved his son and had great memories of childhood times with sports, fishing and father son bonding. He was a good father, not perfect, but motivated by love and that is all we really can ask of parent.

The problem, he told me, was that he couldn’t stand to be around his son.

Of course, I was shocked because he predicated that statement about not wanting to see him with the fact that he loved him and missed him terribly.

I didn’t understand at first just what was going on inside of him until he told me that he could not forgive him for the choices he was making in his life.

My parishioner believed what I no longer believe, but confess I did at the time. He believed that his son had chosen to rebel against God and shack up with a male partner.

This put me in a quandary. I wasn’t there to minister to, or try to save the son. I never met him, and God had placed before me a man who was wrecked by unforgiveness and it was clear to him that it was a barrier between him and God.

So, instead of my worrying about whether or not the son was in rebellion with God, I needed to focus on what the father needed for his own restoration and reconciliation with God.

And that turned out to be reconciliation with his son.

And just like Christ did from the cross toward the very ones who murdered him, he forgave them even though they did not change their behavior.

Regardless of who or what this man’s son was, he needed to forgive him. So he did.

And the son came to visit his dying father and they reconciled. Thank God, that the reconciliation happened long before the man died and they were able to make up for a few years of lost time.

And I got to know the son and his partner through the process. He has a beautiful soul.

And watching God love the son through the love of the father became a metaphor for me to accept people I previously denied. I witnessed God accept the son.

It really changed my parishioner. Remember how I mentioned that he did not seem to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit? Well, no longer. He was truly born again by the Spirit of God to love unconditionally. His heart melted and became soft and kinder.

Now remember, the salient phrase of the text is that we should give the same mercy we have been given. Regardless of whether or not we think someone deserves it

I watched that man get saved through the forgiveness of his gay son. At the time, that really messed with my theology.

The thing is, God led me to forgive the son as well.

I saw the Spirit of God move when this man accepted and forgave his son. He didn’t place the condition of change on his son.

I got to be a part of God healing a family, and I thank God for that. The man learned to forgive. But at the same time, I’m not sure who learned the lesson that day, was it him or was it me?

So, I see the Spirit of God moving in the same direction. It began the journey in me that let me to accept people with different gender identities.

It is biblical to forgive people their transgressions. Jesus breathed on us the Holy Spirit and told us to forgive the sins of others. That is what I did with the son.

It was a different theological understanding than what I was raised with. But. It is biblical to forgive the sins of others.

And by now, you know me. I preach the scriptures and Jesus as the Word of God. I try not to compromise for convenience. And I know that within the church, it is easier and more popular to say things like “gays are wrong” and point the finger and blame them for our problems. But that is contrary to scripture.

And I am trying to stay true to what the Scriptures actually mean when God says to love and forgive others.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Our Debt To God

Text: Romans 13:8-14

Focus: Love and holiness

Function: to help people see how love is the fulfillment of holiness

8Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is already the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone; the day is near. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us walk decently as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in illicit sex and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

I talked two weeks ago about the difference between religion and faith. Or, the emphasis was on the idea that religious practices, like going to church, praying, tithing, and etc. are merely the practices of those who trust in Jesus to restore them, but not the things that save them.

I know that is confusing. But the idea comes from Jesus’ words to Nicodemus when Jesus told him that in order to join the kingdom of God, he needed to be born from above. In other words, in my opinion and doctrine, he needed to be filled with the Spirit of Christ and transformed into a person whose nature is no longer one of selfishness, but one of care and love for others.

We don’t want to “count on” our religious performances to save us, we want to be saved by loving others the way Jesus loved them through the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us.

So, in order to understand today’s text a little bit better, I am going to talk about religion.

James 1:27 talks then, about what he calls pure religion. In other words, acts of faith, instead of acts of piety to save us.

The verse says that pure religion, undefiled before God is to take care of widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

It correlates to this morning’s text. Paul wrote Romans and most of the letters that we read in the New Testament. James is credited with this one. Paul and James disagreed sharply about religious practices. James wanted Gentile Christians to adhere to Jewish law and be circumcised and Paul absolutely refused to allow a religions practice to substitute for sincere actions of faith and love for others.

Although they disagreed about the weight of the OT law, they did agree on these two defining characteristics of what Christian living looks like. And that is to care for the least of these, as Jesus said it, and to keep oneself pure. The purity aspect does not really come from the teachings of Jesus, but seem to me to be in relationship to the culture and its values.

So, although they agree on the essentials, they have a difference of opinion about the weight of acts of piety compared to acts of a transformed heart.

Paul opens up by saying that in essence “don’t complicate your lives by living under all the rules, instead just remember to love one another (as Jesus commanded) and it can be demonstrated by the way that our actions toward others do no harm to them.

Don’t hurt others is his way of saying that we are called to take care of the least of these.

The salient statement is that the entire law is summed up in the concept to love others as much as we love ourselves.

Loving others fulfills our religions duties. 1 John 4:16 we read that those who abide in love are abiding in God.

Abiding in God” is a synonym for holiness. When we abide in love toward others, we are indeed being holy.

When we abide in bitterness, resentment, jealousy, spite, hatred and quarreling, we are not abiding in love.

I have days when I don’t feel like I am abiding in love. Sometimes it is medical and sometimes it is psychological. And in those days, I do not feel the sense of peace and joy that one might expect would come from living a life connected to God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am not trying to sell Christianity as some sort of feel good experience as if it is a commodity. But the scriptures do promise through the Holy Spirit to give us peace and joy.

I believe it comes through living by faith and resting in the hopes that we have in Christ. It isn’t a perfect life, but the promise is that God who created us will be with us to strengthen, encourage, enable, heal and transform us.

That doesn’t mean we have to abstain from acts of piety. No. A holy faith that follows Jesus by loving others, rejoices in the practices that confirm our faith.

For example, I can think of the importance and meaning of the bread and cup communion. It is an act of piety, a religious act, but it is symbolic and it leads us to remember not only the actions of faith that we represent in our own love for others, but it symbolizes the love of Jesus expressed toward us.

Jesus implored us to do this act of devotion in remembrance of him.

Communion reminds me to live sacrificially as Jesus did for me in order that I might obtain a greater heavenly reward. It happens when we abide in love.

Here is an odd thing. Religious people are considered to be people of a purity culture. They are not necessarily related to people of a giving culture. Except maybe the Salvation Army.

James and Paul answer the question for us: What is holiness?

The word “Holy” sounds ominous, but it actually means, separate, or different.

Holy people are different than the world around them.

Again, that is why the plain sects wear plain dress, they want to come out from among worldly values to be separated from those values toward the values that Christ taught us.

Jesus didn’t really talk much about the purity that Paul mentions in the second part of our text and James mentions in the last of verse 1:27.

Although Jesus doesn’t talk about it, both Paul and James feel it is important.

There is another incident of moral purity addressed in the NT when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5 addresses a situation where a man is sleeping with either his mother or his step mother and the church doesn’t see a problem with it.

The church didn’t see a problem with it.

I don’t think it was because they were blinded by their own immorality, but because it really wasn’t an issue that Jesus ever discussed.

Paul is concerned with the way it looks to the world around them. He says, the pagans don’t allow that kind of relationship and it makes us look bad.

It is funny because Jesus wasn’t concerned by the way his associations made him look, In fact, it was a major criticism as they called him a drunkard and a glutton because he had a good time at times with people and because he was a friend of the people that the religions community distanced themselves from.

Paul was concerned with the way it made them look but Jesus wasn’t. No contradiction here, I believe. Jesus was opposing those who merely practiced piety and did not care for the least of these.

So, to close, let us use the introduction to the passage: Owe nothing but love.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

What Profit?


Text: Matthew 16:21-28

Focus: following Jesus

Function: to help people see how loving others is sacrificial

21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

This is a passage about our commitment to Christ. There is a very powerful verse in the text this morning with a clear warning and it is difficult to hear. Jesus said that if we want to follow Him, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross then follow him.

I have always believed that the phrase “Take up your cross” was a metaphor for living a sacrificial life for Jesus.

In the most basic form, following Christ is refusing selfishness, for selfishness is at the heart of most sin -according to my theology professor.

I don’t want to preach against selfishness, but I want to unwrap just what does it mean to live sacrificially in this day and age?

Because, Spiritually and eternally, there is little profit in hoarding earthly wealth.

So let us unwrap the passage a little bit. When Jesus said, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me, is Jesus calling us to a life of poverty?

I remember that Jesus also said, “I came that you might have abundant life.” And “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Those verses are a big contrast to taking up a cross.

And, without contradiction, both concepts come from the mouth of the Lord.

How do we have an abundant and yet sacrificial, or selfless life?

Growing up, I was taught that since Jesus died on the cross to keep me out of hell, in order to escape hell, I had to live a life of sacrificial poverty. In the service of God, we lived below the poverty level and survived by the local food pantry.

My dad was called by God to serve where he served and it paid poorly. But, we had an abundant life.

Our life was filled with the purpose of serving God and we felt it in our Spirits and in our bones. We had a close family with a lot of love, support and nurture.

And being poor, we were happy.

And you know this, money does not buy happiness. It may give us a feeling of security, it may even give us a sense of accomplishment if we have amassed enough to be comfortable. But, happiness is a choice that we make inside of ourselves and Jesus promised us that kind of abundant life.

For my dad, it started with the choice to “follow Jesus.” That is what this passage is calling us to and the context of it is in the fact that Jesus himself is going to suffer and die.

Peter can’t understand it, but God is the God of the resurrection.

I always wrestled with the idea that many Christians were called to witness to their faith by surrendering their own lives instead of following the system that the world had built up that didn’t care for the least of these.

The New Testament called it “The New Way.”

Jesus said that if we are called to be martyrs like them, that we should rejoice, because heaven is real and our reward in heaven is great for demonstrating that we believe in God’s reward over earthly reward through the way we lived our lives as a blessing to others.

My dad wasn’t a martyr, but he was willing to be. It was his faith that said, I believe in God’s just reward and I will live my life for that reward instead of for what I can gain here on earth.

We are not all called to be Martyrs, but we are called to be willing, and that is difficult. But Jesus, in this passage demonstrates his faith in the reality of heaven and eternal reward. When he rebukes Peter, he reminds him that Peter is not thinking in terms of an heavenly reward.

I suppose that those who have made the choice to follow Jesus are those who are part of the kingdom.

And just as I was raised with the sense that we were on a mission for the Lord in our family’s life and that sense of mission gave purpose and meaning to my life, I realize now that this is what the Kingdom of God is all about for all of us. We endured the poverty because we knew that we were being a blessing to others.

There are several places in scripture where God calls His people to be a blessing to the people around them.

When the Jews were deported into Babylon, God told them to invest in the new city they were going to and make it prosper because God’s people are there to bring a blessing and God’s loving refreshment to a thirsty world.

When God blessed Abram and changed his name to Abraham, God said that he would bless him in order that he would be a blessing to the world around him.

In the Church we have the clergy, me, and the laity, non clergy. I am not sure I like the distinction because we are all ministers of God’s grace and mercy.

But the word Laity means “The called out ones.”

We signify that the people in the church as being different than the people who are not in the Church, the body of Christ. We signify them by calling them “the called out ones.”

We are called out by God. Called out of selfish living and given to the world at large, by God to be a blessing to the world.

We live for others because, like Jesus, we have made the commitment to live our lives for the good of those around us and not for selfish reasons.

And that is what it means to me to take up my cross and follow Jesus.

And, going back to my introduction, I don’t believe God wants to scare us with the threat of hell in order to accomplish God’s purpose.

We are called to embrace faith and the hope of eternal reward, living for heaven over earth and the reward that is to come instead of the what he says in the passage; “gaining the whole world and losing our soul.”

We are so distracted by advertising in our culture that we believe that we “deserve it all” as long and if we can’t afford it, charge it!.

Advertising is designed to make us unhappy with what we already have and want more.

And we know that more things do not make us happy. What makes us happy is people, love, peace, joy, the fruit of the Holy Spirit as she brings us into community with family and friends.

So, the question that Jesus poses is what does it profit you if you are rich and have no eternal reward?

It’s like Jesus is asking: Do we believe in eternity?

And will we live selflessly in love for others by the power of His Spirit inside of us?

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Religion or Faith?

Text: Matthew 15:10-20

Focus: faith

Function: the difference between religion and faith.

10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

I just gotta say, I love that line from verse 17 in the King James version where it says, “Into the drought.

Over the last couple of years, with all of the political division and what that means to associate with Christianity you might have heard the phrase something like: “I don’t follow the Christian religion, I follow Christ.” or “I believe in spirituality instead of religion.” Or probably the most prominent one, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it is a relationship.”

I can preach a sermon unpacking those statements, and we will consider the thought behind them in the sermon, but today I want to look at what I call, along the same lines as the phrases, the difference between religion and faith.

I hope at the end we see that our eternal reward is bound up in loving others instead of merely doing ritual with hearts that are still bitter and unloving.

We use the word religion to translate the word in the Greek NT that is probably best translated as piety.

The Puritans, who fled England for the New World were Pietists. And that was made obvious by their dress and all the rules that they had when they practiced their religion.

The Early Brethren were also influenced by the Pietists when they adopted the simple dress. Although it was more than that, the idea behind the simple dress was a symbolic action from the command to “come out from among them and be separate.” 2 Corinthians 6:17. It is called the uniform of the Christian and among the plain circles it is also a description of who is truly in and who is truly out of the kingdom.

And that is where religion takes over from faith.

Just as Jesus said how we eat doesnt make us any more or any less a part of the kingdom, so also does what we wear.

Remember last week’s sermon and the scripture that says that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved?” Romans 10:13.

We learned that salvation is trust, or rest, in Jesus and the work that Jesus did for us on the cross.

Salvation is by faith in Jesus and that kind of faith is best expressed in the way that we love the other.

If we want to practice religion, then we learn more and more to love and forgive, even our enemies. That is how we live our our Christian faith, in love.

And the problem with making up rules and a code or standard of dress so that we can use to easily identify who is in and who is out is that it leads us to pride and it can also have the affect of keeping us from loving others.

The Pharisees had these rules and were now excluding Jesus’ disciples who were great men of faith.

So why did Jesus say these things in this passage? We read in the verses right before that the Religious leaders were criticizing Jesus’ discipes because of the way they ate their food.

The discipes didn’t perform the ceremonial ritual of hand washing when they ate.

If you read the OT law, you read how that was important. There was a pool for washing that the Priests used right before their official duties. And out of those commands came a rule that everyone must perform this certain ritual before they ate in order to properly follow the Jewish religion.

Jesus came to set us free from the law and its commands and that freedom was already happening with the disciples. Since they were already in a right relationship with God through their trust in Jesus, they were clean and didn’t need to ceremonially wash. They were free from the bondage of the law and apparently celebrated it to the point that the religious people were offended.

We might relate it to the way we pray before a meal. Jesus gave thanks for the bread and brake it right before he fed the crowds and right before the last supper and communion.

So we give thanks for the meal and part of our religion. It is a tradition and is important to us.

But that doesn’t mean that people who do not pray before a meal are not believers, some of them apply the command of Jesus to pray in secret instead of public to include praying before meals. Matthew 6:6

When we pray before a meal in public, it is a public witness and our tip should reflect the generosity of living by faith that Jesus demands.

That doesn’t mean don’t pray before a meal, it simply means if you do, be generous, they are counting on it to survive.

I don’t want to harp on that subject here. But I bring it up as a practical way to help us see that we can merely practice religion to help us feel good about ourselves, or we can truly love our neighbor and fulfill the law of Christ as we live our lives.

Jesus wants the latter, where we live by faith. This “living by love” practice instead of ritual takes faith in many ways.

For example.

It takes faith to be generous. We then have to trust that if we give to the poor or the less fortunate, God will indeed, as God promised us, pay us back because we lent the money to God that we gave to the poor. Proverbs 19:17

It takes faith to forgive people who have harmed us. It takes faith to rest in the provision of God’s mercy and judgment on our behalf. We let God judge, the problem is, God loves the one we are angry with. You see, it takes faith to practice following Jesus.

It takes faith to not get caught up in the political rhetoric and divisiveness and rest in the fact that God is indeed in control, even of elections.

Religion can be mere ritual if it isn’t coupled with a life lived by faith.

The Pharisees were relying on external acts of worship in order to please God. Those acts of worship can be big and glorious, even thrilling, but God is asking for people who will trust the Christ in the way they live.

What we are doing here, depending on each other for community, encouragement and support works for me. I feel and sense the Holy Spirit whenever we gather.

My God is the God of whose mercy triumphs over his judgment. So, I am generous with grace and I see the tent of God’s people as being big enough to eventually include everyone. When people ask me what I believe, I tell them, I believe we should love one another because everyone who abides on Love abides in God. 1 John 4:16

And when we abide in love, we are practicing true religion.

Sunday, August 13, 2023



Text: Romans 10:5-15

Focus: salvation

Function: to see how God’s salvation is a rescue from the evil of the world.

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say?

The word is near you,
    in your mouth and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim), 9because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart, leading to righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, leading to salvation. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

When people have come to me with the desire to be baptized, or to make a formal confession of their faith because of a life changing event, I have often referred them to this verse when we pray a prayer of confession together.

The prayer has always been along the lines of verse 9 where he says if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart, you will be saved. The prayer is something like: “Lord Jesus, I believe that you died and rose again to free me from my selfish ways and I ask you to forgive my sins and heal me.

Now I want to be clear, the passage says that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. In one way or another, people who sincerely pray are expressing their rest and trust in God and are included among the saved.

So, don’t write down my formula and pray it as if it is magik. God is looking for people who trust God, that is what salvation is.

I don’t like to distinguish between the saved and the unsaved because I am not sure that there are any who are unsaved. I believe that every knee shall willingly bow and willingly confess to the glory of God that Jesus is Lord.

But the bible refers to those who are in the Church as those who have placed their faith, or their trust in Jesus. Those are the people that I believe we can call the saved.

They rest in Jesus and in Jesus’ saving power.

Now this is significantly placed in the book of Romans. My Romans professor called chapters 9-11 the answer to “The Jewish Question” since Romans the epistle is considered by some to be the framework for the doctrine of the Gentile Church. Remember, we are the gentiles.

And Paul writes those words, Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved to remind the Jewish people that Gentiles can call upon the name of the Lord and be saved as well.

It is important for me to remind you that the word translated righteousness is best translated as just. Jesus died and rose again, I believe, so that he could send his Spirit into us and we will respond to the evil in this world with the love with which he fills our hearts.

I don’t want to consider myself among “the saved” as if I am better than others, but among the just because God has called me to serve and love the other.

And in this passage again, Paul is reminding the Jewish reader that Gentiles, people who were formerly cursed by God are now included in the family of God.

I find that God keeps opening up the circle of who has the power of the Spirit to be just and decent people.

So, again, let us examine the idea here behind the word “saved.”

We are saved and that leads us to think of what we are saved from.

I used to believe in a God that paid retribution in a place like hell and salvation was deliverance from the flames of hell fire.

But that isn’t correct doctrine or theology or a correct understanding of what it means to be saved.

To be saved is to be rescued. To be healed. To be restored to God and to wholeness. The plan of God for us is to heal and restore us.

Saved. Healed. Rescued from the evil of this world by Jesus, these are the terms that salvation implies.

I spoke earlier of a TV commentator who appalled me at his ignorance after the Pope was interviewed on public TV during a visit to the United States several years ago.

The Pope was extolling the virtues of Matthew 25 where Jesus says “I was naked and you clothed me, hungry and you fed me, sick and in prison and you visited me when we did it to the least of all people, we did it to him.

And the Pope reminded the audience that the ones who clothed, fed and visited the marginalized were given the reward of heaven.

And again, I used to think that salvation meant merely that we weren’t going to hell anymore.

The Pope also reminded the crowd that those who didn’t do those works lost their eternal reward.

He told them what Jesus said a just, or righteous person would act like.

That is important because I used to misuse this Romans passage into thinking that our actions didn’t count for anything since if we take this passage by itself without the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25 that tells us that we must actually do the works of justice toward the poor and marginalized if we want an eternal reward then our actions are covered by what we believe.

Belief without actions is not belief.

Jesus gave us the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. It tells us what to do and it is three chapters long. Eventually the church came up with the Apostles creed which is reduced to a few paragraphs and it tells us what to believe.

And this passage tells us that if we believe the right thing, we are saved.

But remember, when Jesus and the scriptures are talking about salvation, they are not talking about rescue from Hell but rescue from the evil in this world.

Jesus said that he had overcome the world and then John said that we too, will overcome the world by faith in him.

Jesus has rescued us from the evil in this world.

I see the death and resurrection as a potent example of this.

Evil says that we must pay back evil for evil. Jesus said we must forgive and let God be the judge. God will judge, in God’s love.

And God will judge the world in the mercy that God has for all of his children, every one of us.

In the example of Jesus, we are delivered from retribution in justice to love and forgive others.

I believe that God places God’s hope in the power of Love to eventually overcome the evil in this world with the good. That, I believe, is part of the mission Jesus has given to us when he blessed us as peacemakers.