The Fruit of Discipleship: Being Saved (We are Works-in-Process)
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Acts 2: 41-47
I’ve mentioned before this little experience that happened almost 35 years ago: I was just out of seminary serving my first congregation. I was on the way to a drugstore in my neighborhood one day when someone in the parking lot abruptly waved a tract in my face and asked me: “Are you saved?”
I paused for a moment and, drawing on the resources of my recent theological education, I said to him something I thought was very profound. I answered his question of whether I was saved by saying to him: “Constantly.”
He looked at me with an almost irritated expression on his face; then thrust the tract into my hand, and said: “I can tell by your answer you’re not,” and walked away.
Clearly we were talking past each other, but I will give the man this: Salvation is a primary concern of the Bible, especially the New Testament. The words “being saved” or “salvation” or some other form of the Greek verb sozo (pronounced sode'-zo) – “to save” – appear more than 100 times in the New Testament.
The reason my friend in the parking lot and I failed to connect is because we were using the word “saved” in different ways.
I suspect, for him, “being saved” meant being one of “us” rather than one of “them”…being “in” with God rather than “out”…having a reservation in heaven rather than being slated for hell.
Well, some of us believe we are all “us” and there is no “them.” Some of us believe no one is outside of God’s love and grace, and that we are all “in.” And some of us believe that God’s love is ultimately the most powerful and convincing force in existence and therefore that hell is empty. So “being saved” means something different for us…and I think for the New Testament.
What is the Bible talking about when it talks about being saved?
Fred Buechner[i] says being saved is similar to certain experiences we’ve all had: “Doing the work you’re best at doing and like to do best, hearing great music, having great fun, seeing something very beautiful, weeping at someone else’s tragedy.”
All these experiences are related to the experience of being saved, he says, because in all of them two things happen: “1) you lose yourself, 2) you find that you are more fully yourself than usual.”
“A closer analogy,” Buechner says, “is the experience of falling in love. When you love somebody, it is no longer yourself who is the center of your own universe. It is the one you love who is. You forget yourself. You give of yourself so that by all the rules of mathematical logic there should be less of yourself than there was to start with. Only by a curious paradox there is more. You feel that at least you really are yourself.”
Jesus put it like this: “Those who lose their lives for my sake find them.” (Matthew 10: 39)
Some Buddhists would say we lose our lesser self for the sake of our true self.
* * *
been talking for a number of Sundays about discipleship as it is described in
the second chapter of the Book of Acts. This is an emphasis of our
Being a disciple means that these five things are part of our lives – perhaps with different degrees of emphasis at any particular time.
Acts 2 congregations – our bishop says – focus their lives together on the five components of discipleship: education, koinonia, worship, mission, and evangelism.
Bishop Schol also emphasizes that disciples bear fruit. There are things that happen over time in the lives of people who practice Christian discipleship.
One of the fruits of discipleship is that we are “being saved.”
Something happens in the lives of disciples.
Here’s a question: Do we have a sense of how our lives have changed since last year, or two years ago, or five years ago, as the fruit of living our lives of discipleship?
How in the past year, or the past two years, have I lost myself, surrendered something of myself, or given myself away, in order to become more fully myself?
Americans tend to think of salvation as instantaneous, as I suspect my friend in the parking lot did. One moment you aren’t saved, then you pray a prayer, and the next moment you are saved. But I don’t think this is a particularly biblical understanding, and it is certainly not Methodist.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught that salvation is a life-long process. We are always our whole life longs in the process of being saved.
Being saved begins even before we are aware of it. Wesley called it preventing or prevenient grace. God begins saving us even before we are conscious of God. It is part of what we celebrate in baptism.
When we make a decision – half-hearted or otherwise – to live as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ, we consciously begin the process of opening our spirits to God’s presence and love. Wesley called this justifying grace.
Then, our entire life long, we seek to allow the love of God to form us and shape us so that we will more and more – with fits and starts and two steps back – become more fully our true selves. Wesley called this sanctifying grace.
How does this happen? By study, koinonia, worship, mission and evangelism. The life of discipleship.
It is a life-long process. And there is no retirement. At a stewardship gathering the other evening someone made a reference to some older members of Foundry who have retired from church leadership. I said, “What? There’s no retiring in the life of discipleship.” In some way we are always engaged in learning, koinonia (fellowship), worship, mission and evangelism.
And if you don’t report me to the Protestant theology police, I’ll tell you a secret. I halfway believe in something like the Catholic idea of purgatory, or perhaps something like the Hindu notion of reincarnation. So I myself suspect we don’t even stop being saved after we die.
Let me tell you what starts me worrying when it happens: when I start thinking about my peak spiritual and discipleship experiences and they are 5, 10 or even 15 years ago. Or when I find myself wanting to replicate today a discipleship experience I had 5, 10 or 15 years ago. Or I when I find myself wishing church was like it was 5, 10 or 15 years ago.
When that happens it means, I think, that I am getting stuck in my discipleship journey. It means, I think, that I am hanging onto my old lesser spiritual self, rather than losing myself for the sake of my truer, fuller self. I am stalled in the process of becoming more fully the “me” God created me to be.
And this is not only true about us as individuals. It is also true about us as a congregation. We are in the process of being saved as a congregation as well. As a congregation we are losing our self in order to become more fully our self if we are living out our Acts 2 discipleship. Three steps forward, two steps back, of course. Acts 2 congregations are continually losing their congregational identity for Jesus’ sake so that they might find it more fully.
Acts 2 congregations are continually giving up those parts of themselves as congregations that get in the way of receiving those outside their doors whom they are called to reach. In the process of giving up their congregational self for their sake of others, they paradoxically become more fully themselves.
this what has happened again and again here at
believe the love and grace of God is also present in our societal life and in
our national life. I believe
suspect we are at one of those times as a nation when many Americans are
scared we are losing our “greatness” as a nation, but I believe that what is
really happening is that we are being saved and on the other side of this
will be a truer, fuller
We are always in the process of being saved. It is a fruit of discipleship – a fruit of learning, koinonia (fellowship), worship, mission and evangelism.
a friend who used to be a pastor on the
When it was time to head home, he tells me he stopped at a fish store to buy some fish to take home to his wife for dinner.
In the fish store there was a shedding tank, where crabs shed their shells. When crabs grow larger than their shell can hold, they have to shed their shells and grow a larger one or they die.
My friend says he was standing there, waiting for them to clean the fish he was buying, watching a crab shed it shell, when he heard a voice inside his head say: “You’ve got to shed your shell or you will die.”
Jesus says: “Those who lose their lives for my sake find them.” We give up a lesser self to find a truer fuller self.
It is the Discipleship journey to die to self so that we might be born again and again…to lose our lives to find them.
[i] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (Harper and Row), pp. 83-85.