Sunday, August 25, 2013

"What's Necessary to Salvation?": Wrong Question!

At St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta GA, our associate rector Fr. Daron Vroon hit a grand slam with his sermon this morning, and here's my instant replay:

He took off with a line from today's reading in Isaiah 58: If you call the Sabbath a delight... then you shall take delight in the Lord.  He was commenting more directly on the story in Luke 13, in which authorities chide Jesus for healing a woman on the Sabbath, and Jesus retorts, "Which of you on the Sabbath does not untie his ox or his donkey... and lead him to water? And ought not this daughter of Abraham be set free from bondage on the Sabbath?"

Fr. Daron quickly summarized the usual take on this story:  It demonstrates that the old laws are not necessary to salvation.  Problems arise because Jesus doesn't speak here of faith v. works. and he says elsewhere (in Matthew, for example) that he comes to fulfill the law, not to eliminate even one letter of it.  Jesus certainly says nothing here about not honoring the Sabbath.  So,  "Is honoring the Sabbath necessary for Salvation?" Fr. Daron asked.  With a smile, he said, "Wrong question!"

Fr. Daron says that we Protestants are reading our old debates into Jesus' remarks. That would be "Isogesis."  Instead we should look for what to take away from them  - "exegesis."  (I'm reminded of my old pal Brad Mullis, now a rector in North Carolina, who used to claim that this terminology was confusing: "I looked in the Bible and I can't find this extra Jesus!") 

When we don't limit our reading to just that issue of salvation, what we see is a story of how the Sabbath means much more than the legalists saw.  "It's not an obligation," Fr. Daron said, "it's an opportunity for refreshment, healing, and worship."

He moved on to discuss how our prayer book, our liturgical calendar, and our own parish provides a lot more opportunities for refreshment, healing, and worship than just the Sunday service.  Instead of focusing on what's needed to "scrape by" into Heaven, our Anglican tradition is much more positive and rich.

I'd say that's a grand slam that rounded all the bases:   A reminder that Anglican theology has long emphasized the goodness of God's creation (including the Sabbath), a caution against the neo-legalistic focus on what's necessary for individual salvation, and a clear explanation of our numerous prayer and singing services for our many members and guests who come from other traditions.

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