My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

I was six years old when I said the “Sinner’s Prayer” and became what some people might call a Christian. I remember that it was on a Sunday night after we’d returned home from church. I’d just heard for what was probably the hundredth time that unless I asked Jesus “to come into my heart” that I was destined to burn for all eternity in a lake of fire. I always tried to imagine what a lake of fire looked like exactly. It was difficult, because the only experience I’d ever had with lakes was to swim in them. I couldn’t figure out how in the world I would ever be able to swim in a lake of fire without getting burned to a crisp. Someone had told me that it wasn’t actually me that would be burning, but my immortal soul---forever and ever.
This is just an aside, but isn’t that a wonderful thing to share with a kid? I wasn’t allowed to watch “Creature Feature,” a program that aired old 1930’s and 40’s horror movies like “The Wolfman,” and “Abbot and Costello Meet Dracula.” I guess no one in my family or my communities of faith thought it would be a good idea to hold back when it came to telling stories to little kids about burning alive for eternity. Get ‘em while their young, eh? 
Therapy is covered by most HMO’s, so I shouldn’t complain.
So as I said, my parents prompted me to pray what is known as the “Sinner’s Prayer” when I was six.  I said something like, “I know that I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins and I ask Jesus to come into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior.” I prayed it out loud and when I was done, my parents cried and hugged me and I think we had some sort of family celebration that night. 
For years, when people in the conservative, evangelical churches we went to asked me when I had been saved, I would tell that story. But at some point---probably when I was in my early teens---I started to wonder if I’d really been granted salvation. After all, I thought, I was only six years old when I came to my parents with visions of the lake of fire burning in my head, and what does anyone really know about what it means to become a Christian at that age? I had heard all of the arguments about how kids can understand that kind of thing, and for the most part, I tended to agree with them. I did clearly remember praying the “Sinner’s Prayer,” to be sure. And I did recall that I seemed to know what I was doing. But I couldn’t tell if what I had done was something that I had been taught to do, or if it was something that I’d desired completely. The only reasonable solution, in my mind, was to just “get saved” all over again. Over the next few years I got saved at camp meetings, youth events, church services and in the middle of the night when I woke up terrified of being consigned to Hell, and a few other times when I wasn’t particularly being coerced, but thought it might be a good idea. By the time I was 16 years old, I had been “saved” more times than the chick on “Knight Rider (the original, not the newer, glitzier and Hasselhoff-less remake).” I have to be honest. Salvation did start to lose it’s “special-ness” after a bit.
Funny thing, though. I never prayed that “Sinner’s Prayer” out loud again after that first time. All of the other “saving” moments that followed were just moments of silent prayer to God. I didn’t realize this until recently. The realization itself really made me think about the power of speaking. It’s almost as if I knew instinctively, though I had no way to articulate it--that the words of salvation had already been spoken. Nothing that I could do or say from that point could add anything to them. 
For years there has been a kind of mysterious terminology and methodology that is used by evangelical Christians over and over again to describe and prescribe Christian conversion--neither of which receive a great deal of critique. There is a fortress around the evangelical understanding of Salvation. It’s formidable, and there are huge risks for trying to breach its walls.   But these are walls that need to come down, and now.  
The lectionary texts for this Sunday are from Luke 2:22-40, the story of how Jesus is taken to the temple when he is an infant and encounters Simeon and Anna, two elderly people who recognize that there is something special about him.  
Simeon (Greek for Sema-el which means "God has heard") is a man who has spent his entire life quietly waiting for the Messiah, who will bring about the "Day of Consolation" for Israel.  When he sees Jesus he offers up a song and a prophecy.  The song that Simeon offers up is known as the Nunc Dimmitis, a Latin phrase that corresponds to the first line of the song, "Now let your servant depart."  I have prayed that very prayer at the bedside of people who are dying.  It's a powerful prayer, and full of hope.    
The reason that Simeon prays this prayer, acknowledging that he can now die in peace, is due to the fact that his "eyes have seen [the Lord's] salvation."  The salvation of the Lord, however, is one that comes with a price, according to Simeon.  He predicts how Jesus will cause many to fall, and others to be lifted up.  There is no middle ground here.  Because of Jesus, Simeon, predicts, "the thoughts of many hears will be revealed."  Simeon's oracle is one that offers no compromise, and Luke lifts this up for all to see.  
The Greek word that is used for "salvation" in Simeon's song is soterion.  One of the implications of this word is that those who experience it will undergo a change in their entire manner of living, their entire understanding of who they have been, who they are, and what they are are called to become.  "Salvation" at least in the Biblical sense is something that encompasses our past, present and our future.  It is not merely one moment in our lifetime, but all moments.  
The Apostle Paul spoke of soteria as something that can be understood as a past experience---"this grace was given to us before the beginning of time." (2 Timothy 1:9)  He also spoke of salvation as something that is an integral part of our present---"work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12).  Additionally, Paul saw soteria as a future act that will not be completed until the final day---"our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed" (I Thess. 5:9)
When I look back in my life I see God's grace-filled salvation at work in me from before I was born until this day, and I am so filled with hope at what is yet to come.  You see, I am constantly being refined as I come to understand more completely what it means to be a follower of Christ.  When we begin to understand that our salvation is more than just a moment, we can move closer to becoming the children of God we are called to be.  And further, this knowledge of God's salvation through Christ should offer us the humility that we need to walk in Jesus' footsteps.  
We need to reject the Christian triumphalism that has helped built the fortress around the conservative, evangelical doctrine of salvation.  When those of us who call ourselves Christians begin to realize how "lost" we still are, and let that govern our ideas of evangelism and witness, we come closer to realizing the kingdom of God here on earth.  There is no middle ground with Jesus, to be sure---no compromise.  If we desire to follow Jesus the Christ, we need to die to ourselves every day.  We need to be willing to give away those possessions of ours that hinder us from following Him.  We need to be willing to turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, be willing to give the clothes off our back... we need to understand the meaning of the cross.  
In the third century, when Constantine placed the cross on the shields and breastplates of his soldiers it was a turning point---probably THE turning point---in Christian history.  It elevated the cross as a symbol of might, victory, God's favor and triumph.  The effects of this misguided symbolism are still being felt today.  In Jesus' day, the cross was a symbol of shame, humiliation and ultimately lonely, isolated death.  When Jesus told his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him, he didn't intend for them to emblazon it on their t-shirts, create 100-foot tall images of it to place in the church parking lot, and he especially didn't intend for them to use it to promote a sense of Christian triumphalism.    
As Christians we need to live out the implications of our salvation with a broken spirit and repentant heart.  God's salvation through Christ is not merely something that can be defined by a mere moment in our lives, but something that the Spirit of God is continually doing in and through us.  Like Simeon in Luke's Gospel, we will find if we live humbly before God, we will begin to see for ourselves all the ways that God has saved, is saving and will save.  

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