Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who Can Save?

1 Timothy 4:12-16

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to the reading');" onmouseout="return nd();"> to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. by the presbytery');" onmouseout="return nd();"> Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

This past Sunday (9/28), I was installed as the pastor of the Lutheran Church of Hope (Anchorage, AK). The passage above was read directly from the ELCA's installation service as one of the scriptural charges to me. (The service doesn't actually include the youth opening verse, but it seems appropriate to me- so I included it.)

However, in preparing for the service- the last half verse caught my attention and gave me significant pause: "... for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers."

This made me stop in my tracks because I in no way believe that I save anyone. I believe that all salvific action is the work of God through Christ. We come to know that work and believe in it through the power of the Holy Spirit. So, what is this charge saying to me? I cannot save people... so what does this phrase mean? (Like its sibling verses, 1 Timothy 2:11-12, we cannot exorcise it from the canon, but we have to wrestle with it.)

That being said, I view being a pastor as working alongside and with fellow believers- encouraging them in the work of ministry, vision and hope. Nowhere in my vision, do I save anyone from anything? Am I even capable of that in any way?

I don't save from sin. I don't save people from themselves. I don't save from death.

Maybe the solution is this: in giving "attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhorting, to teaching,"... I can save myself from thinking that I know everything. The more I read and study Scripture and writings, the more I realize that the full comprehension of God is beyond my grasp. If I can, in some small way, help myself and those who are around me from believing that we can fully know and understand God- we will be saved from some of our greatest errors. If I can keep myself and a few others in awareness of God's grace and constant love for us, we may well manage to remember that we cannot save ourselves. Maybe the writers of Timothy are reminding me and others that salvation comes from God, but if we don't do the work of uplifting and supporting one another in faith- that one freeing truth will be the first thing we forget. And once we've forgotten that... nothing else matters.

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