When you hear the word salvation, what images, rules, feeling, or thoughts come to mind for you? For me when I think of salvation I think of heaven and hell, reward and punishment. I think of rules and regulations and I think of the centuries where priests and religious leaders have laid out certain rules that would ensure salvation, saving of the soul from the torments of hell in the afterlife. Yet I have come to really question the validity of this view of God and the afterlife. It just seems way too restrictive and lacks the love and kindness which defines God and his relationship with humanity.
In December, my big brother came to Connecticut for my mother’s surprise birthday party. Many of you got the opportunity to meet him. While he was here, he was writing papers for some college courses he was enrolled in. One the courses was on religion and he needed some help locating something in the Bible. So as I busied myself decorating for Christmas, Erick said “Mandy where might I find the key to salvation in the Bible? Just a quick answer.”
I nearly laughed out loud when he said he wanted a quick answer and one definitive quote because there isn’t just one place in the Bible that speaks to salvation. The closest I have is our reading from John today but this reading needs to be taken in the context of it’s purpose and the time period it was written to truly understand what was being said about salvation here. Where I struggle is with the word salvation; what it really meant then and what it means today. Cynthia Bourgeault, a Christian author, Episcopalian priest, and teacher in the 21st century wrote, “There was no word for salvation in the language that Jesus spoke, Aramaic. To be saved was ‘to be made alive’”.
According to the Holman Bible Dictionary though the definition of salvation is “the acute act of snatching others from serious peril. Scripture, particularly the New Testament, extends this to include deliverance from the penalty and power of sin”. This is how we traditionally view salvation and those who are liberal in their beliefs might cringe a little with this hell and damnation definition and those who are more traditional or conservative might hear this definition and agree with the tenants behind it and find comfort. Yet the idea of salvation for Jesus in his time and place in history was very very different than what I just shared with you. Remember they didn’t have a word for this.
The word in Aramaic that Christ used for this was simply “to be made a live”. So what does it mean to be made alive? What comes to your minds; what emotions does this make you feel? There is no punishment inherent in this being made alive. There is no fear to be had with this. What Jesus preached was revolutionary for his time. The traditional sense of salvation for the Hebrew peoples can be seen in the reading from Nehemiah which was harsh punishment versus being snatched from the dangers that beset them. In this case, the dangers that arose from intermarriage with other cultures. In Christ’s teaching in John, there is no mourning, no tears, no ashes, or rending of clothing.
Instead Christ said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in me. I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. This isn’t judgmental, this isn’t a called for mourning or repentance as we typically associate with salvation. But it is inherently comforting. It is an invitation to faith and an invitation to the believer to seek life, to seek to be made alive by attempting to imitate Christ, to live life as Christ lived his for the well being of others, to reveal to the world the depth of love that God has for all that he has created.
So what does it look like when we have been made alive? What might you see in a person alive in Christ? We might see people caring for one another, inviting others to join in their journey towards discovering God alive in the world; we might see people reaching out to those in need and care for their plights. Our works matter in our discovery of God and the quest to be become alive. Faith matters but what we do with that faith matters in the development of ourselves as a people of faith. We might volunteer for habit for humanity; we might volunteer in the care of animals at the shelter; we might work in the food kitchen serving the needs of others. We might provide educational opportunities open to all peoples to find direction in their lives. We might help provide for those devastated by natural disasters like those living in Texas and Louisiana suffering under the effects of Hurricane Harvey.
So this morning, I ask you the question that many ask while tackling the scripture from the Gospel of John, “Have you been made alive by the word and message of Christ?” If so then find a way to make that new life count, go out and feed the hungry, provide emotional support, provide community, clothe the naked, and make the love of God first and foremost in your lives. This is the challenge of God that leads to life everlasting; this is what salvation is really about.
 Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom of Jesus.
 Holman Bible Dictionary, 122.
 John 14: 1 & 6, NRSV.
(Based on Nehemiah 9: 1-3, 19-21 and John 14: 1-14)