We are all looking for salvation though most of us define salvation in vastly different ways. We might think of it as acceptance or judgment, a release from suffering or an easy life. Whatever our basic understanding of salvation is, it determines what motivates our behaviors and influences our decision making.
If we think of salvation as a desire for acceptance, I wonder who we want to be accepted by? Certainly not Jesus—we think its him but when we get right down to it, he asks us to do things that are way too difficult and unpopular with our friends and family not to mention society in general. To search for a salvation of acceptance, we prostitute our beliefs and merge our personality with others, refusing to confront anything that might disturb our sense of peace or single us out. In our desire to be accepted by friends and family and even strangers, we compromise who we are to gain that acceptance and lose a bit of ourselves. Soon we find that we are walking paths we never intended, dissatisfied and desiring something more, something different. That really doesn’t feel like salvation.
If salvation is judgment, are we willing to accept the truth of our short comings or are we simply looking for an “attaboy” of a job well done? Is our desire for judgment predicated on God’s ignoring our failures and rewarding only our successes? Or does our desire for judgment stem from some darker place where we need to be better than another because our own failings and fears are too much to bear? Defining salvation as a form of judgment induces people to strive for perfection and instills a need to always be right—no matter how harmful that might be to the relationships around us. Salvation as judgment can lead to co-dependency when it drives us to help others as a means to an end instead of being an end in and of itself because we believe that only in saving another might we save ourselves.
Salvation as a release from suffering or a desire for an easy life is a misguided attempt to live in a fantasy world of rainbows and unicorns ignoring the fact that a life well lived is not defined or determined by ease but in the ways we manifest courage and tenacity in overcoming the challenges of our suffering. To understand salvation as a release from suffering drives people to advocate for those who are marginalized or mistreated. Or it may lead us to believe that the more knowledge we gain, the less challenged our lives and the lives of others might be. Or maybe we are simply driven to avoid suffering by jumping from one thing to the next so that we never take the time to really sit with that which grieves us. Instead of denying suffering, salvation calls us to be with suffering though not threatened or imprisoned by it.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter to “Come!” and Peter replies, “Lord, save me!” Sure, Peter is walking on water and starting to sink, there is a fierce sea and mighty wind against him, he has had a rough night and thought he had seen a ghost. And, as you may remember, all of this is happening in the early morning after Jesus fed five thousand plus women and children with a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish. Whatever kind of salvation Peter is asking for in this moment—it is wrapped in the knowledge that it is only Jesus who can save him.
The irony should not be lost on us that Peter or Cephas means “rock”. Rocks don’t float—they sink. Yet, this rock jumped out of a boat in the middle of a tempest to walk on water simply at the single word command of his master. Utter obedience or utter foolishness? Probably a little of both. Of course, it was Peter’s idea to jump out of the boat in the first place. Peter is pretty boisterous and impetuous. It is very much in character with his personality to leap first and look later. And this seems to be exactly one of those moments—he jumps out of the boat and then realizes what he has gotten himself into. And in that moment, the meaning of salvation becomes perfectly clear for Peter. Its not about acceptance or judgment or freedom from suffering—its about Jesus. Peter cries, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus reaches out his hand. Jesus doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t say to Peter you got yourself into this mess now get yourself out. He doesn’t pause for a moment so that Peter wonders if Jesus will act. Jesus’s actions are not instinctual or reactive, they are the response to our human condition of doubt and fear; they are salvation grounded in love.
Jesus will always save us; in fact, he already has on a hill in Calvary. It won’t matter if our actions are impetuous or ignorant or even measured and calculated—when we cry out save us, Jesus will immediately reach out his hand and catch us. Salvation is not being accepted by others or even by God—our creation as God’s beloved children already assumes that acceptance. Salvation is not judgment as to what we do well or when we have behaved poorly—God’s judgment is to love us even more. Salvation is not freedom from suffering or an easy life—God himself embraced suffering on a cross in order to “one” himself with us as fully man and fully God. The cross does not mean an end to man’s suffering, it is a symbol of hope that suffering is not the end. And though acceptance and judgment and overcoming suffering can be good things, they are not salvation. Salvation is not something we can ever accomplish for ourselves; it is that moment in which we fully embrace whatever little faith we have and cry out for Jesus. Amen.
Pentecost 10A: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Episcopal Church of the Ascension – Montgomery, AL
Sunday, August 9, 2020
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer