SERMON Pentecost 15A 9/25/11
Driving down the interstate the other day, a car passed me with one of those magnetic bumper stickers that read, “Are you saved?” That certainly caught my attention especially the use of the word “Saved” in the past tense. Many of us have seen this question or something similar to it used in print before. Gospel tracts with this question on them may be found stuffed under our windshield wipers at the local market, or in our front doors at home. There is something intriguing about the question, “Are you Saved?” It implies that when it comes to salvation, the one making the inquiry has somehow already arrived, and they want to know if you have too. Over the centuries, one of the things theologians have wrestled with about salvation, is whether being in the state of God’s grace is something that happens in a particular moment, over a period of time, or maybe even both.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Paul is acknowledging that our relationship with God is an active, participative, journey, and it is one, which we never take alone; God journeys with us. I imagine Paul’s design for a bumper sticker rather than asking “Are you saved,” his version would probably ask, “Are you BEING saved?” Salvation is a past, present, and future transitory excursion, by which we grow in a deeper love and commitment to Christ.
Love at first sight is something many of us have experienced in our lives. For some of us, we might have taken one look at our first love and proclaimed on the spot, “you’re the one,” but even then, the relationship had not yet reached its completion. Rather, many of us came to know our heart’s desire gradually and the love grew as we learned more about each other, as we did things together, and as we spent time together. The growth of a deeper love for another person might begin in a solitary moment, but the relationship becomes more profound, more mysterious, and more fulfilling only with time and effort. Our love and commitment to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may begin in a moment, but it too must grow over time. The invitation from the Spirit is an ongoing, past, present, and future work going on in us, a work to which we are called to respond. Living in the Spirit is not a “one size fits all” proposition either. We have available to us a variety of Christian spiritual practices and disciplines that can form us and draws us closer to Our Lord.
Benedictine spirituality is very attractive to many folks because it is unpretentious and accessible. The Benedictine monks embrace a very simple practice in their cycle of daily prayer, work, and recreation. They embrace a deep awareness of God’s presence in all things. In prayer, the monks commit to intentional time with God in which they can become acutely aware of the Spirit’s presence. In the simplest of chores like washing dishes, folding linens, or even mopping floors, they even then, become acutely aware of the Spirit’s presence in the mundane. Awareness is central to the monk’s life as every moment is spent loving God every day, and in everything they do.
We who are working out our salvation, we who are growing in a deeper love of Christ, do not have to be monks to embrace the practice of awareness. The Spirit is always working on us, drawing us in this mysterious cycle of love, this rhythm of melody and harmony between God and us. When we begin to recognize, to become aware of the Spirit’s tugging on us, inviting us, and bidding us, our spiritual journey is well on its way. So, we become aware of the Spirit, but then, what comes next? The answer is, “we simply respond.”
Imaging what the relationship with our first love would be like, if only one party put in all the effort. What if he or she left little love letters for the other, he or she spontaneously embraced the other when they least expected it, and the one party whispered their love in the ear for the other, yet despite all that, the other party never responded to simple acts of devotion. It sounds like a one-sided relationship and it is unlikely that love would blossom into a life-long commitment. The Spirit is actively working in us, bidding us, leaving love letters of her work in the pages scripture, embracing us when we least expect it, and whispering grace and mercy and joy into our ears.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us about two sons who were invited to share the work of their father’s vineyard. One acknowledged the invitation, but did not go. The other son refused to go, but later recanted and went and worked. This is not a parable about how sons and daughters need to obey to win their father’s approval. The point here is that both children were invited to share in the father’s work and their father’s abundance, and each responded to the invitation in different ways. We are called to respond to God’s love, with love. We are invited to respond with love, not out of fear or a motivation to win favor, but we respond because God first loved us.
Some folks get things a little mixed up when it comes to God’s grace. Some folks believe that if they work hard enough, pray often enough, attend church frequently enough, and do mission work without ceasing, they will win the prize of God’s grace. Some folks may not realize that they are in essence trying to win love, rather than accepting and responding to a love that comes without strings. Pure love is not something that can be coerced or forced through manipulation. God does not coerce or manipulate us, and we cannot manipulate or coerce God. Love is a choice and we have the choice to respond to God’s abundant Grace, or we can simply ignore it. Jesus says, “I promise you life everlasting.” The point is, if we ignore God’s never-ending invitation, we will miss the joy, peace, mercy, and fullness of a complete life in Christ, which we have been promised. When we respond to God’s grace, we begin to work out our own salvation. When we become aware of the Spirit’s tug on our lives, our hearts begin to align with God’s and we respond to grace with a life fully dedicated to God.
“Are you saved?” or “Are you being saved?” Past tense or present reality or both and. The wonderful mystery of growing in a deeper love and commitment to Christ is cultivated through our response: when we spend time with God, when with intention we strive to learn more about God’s work in creation, and when we through our time and talents work to share the Good News of the Kingdom with others.
In prayer, we mysteriously share with God our earnest desires, deepest concerns, and most sincere longings. Through reflective study of scripture, we embrace the narratives of others who have followed Christ before us. In scripture, we find reflections of our life story in the narratives of those who have gone before, and we become aware of how God was present in their lives. When we engage our talents and time, when we submit to God’s use of our spiritual gifts in the service of others, we are responding to the call to go into the vineyard and work for the Kingdom of God. We are telling the world of the Good News, the transforming grace of God’s love in our lives, and we are sharing in the ministry of love, mercy, reconciliation and grace. The invitation to a life of discipleship is always before us and the most important question we need to ask ourselves is “Am I growing in a deeper love and commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ?” “Are you BEING saved?”