Many times various people and groups of people have asked me if I am saved. They speak to me as though they have something that has been withheld from me, either deliberately or by accident.
Saved, but saved for what or from what?
The answer they would give, is to be saved to the safety of God’s kingdom.
Most who ask the question have in mind that the entry is limited to a specific number. However this raises more questions than it answers. What number and to what age does the number refer. Is it to this generation, this moment or to all generations in history?
Then we have to enquire if those who have never heard the name of Christ; still a majority of the peoples of the earth, are included?
The more questions we ask the more stupid the proposition appears … the Mormons have become obsessed by the numbers and are now cataloguing people’s names from every record book they can lay their hands on. If you are looking for your ancestors it is a great resource, if not, it is a something of a sick joke.
Ever since Jesus walked the earth and called people to prepare themselves, and get ready for the new kingdom that God will bring, there have been those people more interested in the statistics than in the actual preparation. It is as though, by knowing the names and the number of students who go to university each year, and pass their examinations, we will ourselves be awarded a degree of excellence that will fit us for life now or in the future and assure us of an income on which we can live life to the full.
Theories have been banded about for centuries that we are somehow destined to do what we do. That our choices are limited because God has pre-ordained what we should do.
The bible talks about Jeremiah in this way … that he was predestined for great things. If we take the story at its face value, it looks as though we have pre-destination taken to its ultimate limit, and God did not give Jeremiah a let-out clause in his contract of life.
We have considered, before how our family and our education and our personal experience push us along certain paths. If it leads us to ministry like Jeremiah, then can we say it is God who has done it?
What if it leads to a life of crime and killing?
Is God involved in that as well?
So where does our own choice come into this or are we saying that in some instances the possibility of choice has been removed and we have been reduced to a robotic life-style?
Take Saul … or Paul … as he preferred to be called in the gentile world and not without good reason. In English, Saul might be translated as poncey gait … like an American curate who went to England and, at a meeting of the youth clubs of the town called specially to meet him, announced “Just call me Randy” and wondered why everyone laughed.
Well Paul exercised choice. First he chose to fight Christianity or The Way or Nazarenism as it was probably first known to him. As Saul, he had supported the Temple authorities — that was his conscious choice no doubt supported by his upbringing and education … after all the Temple authorities were the effective government of his day and all the people of influence and power were behind them.
It was a perfectly reasonable choice for him to make. However, he found, in the people he pursued, a new resistance and resilience. He was unused to the thinking patterns of Stephen and his group, and, if this story is true, they were almost certainly Essenes, and probably Essene priests at that. They had theology that Saul opposed. Stephen’s speech before his stoning is taken word for word from an Essene document found at Qumran in the Dead Sea scrolls.
Now, Paul was a religious man, and he was someone who sought recognition. Like many he wanted to be on the winning side. I believe these Essene people who confronted him made him think in a way he had not encountered before. We know that Jesus was either an Essene, or something pretty close, as was John the Baptizer.
Damascus we know also was probably an Essene stronghold, and here was Paul on his way to root them out in that city. But on the way, he had a change of heart, a mental breakdown, a life changing experience. Who knows what it was exactly. Even Paul himself describes it differently each time he tells the story.
Acts tells the story from the religious experience perspective. The question that requires answering is: Who is God?
The answer that comes back is Jesus, whom you are persecuting! The writer is saying that those who attack the church attack the Lord himself.
I once had a teacher who said to me, “The one who has the answer is the one who knows all the questions.” At the time, I thought he meant he had the list of questions to ask the class and all the answers were written out for him. At the tender age of ten, I did not realize that, if we are ever to know the answer to anything, we must have the knowledge that covers the subject, and we can gain that only when we can pose all the questions.
Paul, in order to persecute those he believes are wrong … dangerously wrong .. begins to learn what they believe. He does this in order to be a better prosecutor but ends up being convinced by their understanding of the truth. His spiritual journey takes a hammering as he relearns what he thought he knew already.
Many people set out on a spiritual or psychological or educational road they think is familiar, comforting even, and where the destination is also known, but somewhere along the way they encounter a new revelation that turns everything on its head.
No matter how we arrived at the point on the road to which we now find ourselves, either by help of tradition and family, or by years of careful study, or perhaps we are driven by ambition or some other necessity … but when, eventually, the truth confronts us in a new and challenging way, and we are stimulated to a recognition of Christ’s presence to make us stop because we are blinded by the light of the revelation … then we will not need to ask the question “Who are you Lord?” because we will already have the answer.
sermon by The Very Reverend Roger Dawson,
Bishop of St. Mary’s Anglican Catholic Cathedral, Caracas