The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2018

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Like no other book in the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews is deeply preoccupied with salvation. The term “salvation” appears in Hebrews more than in any other New Testament book.[1] The author of Hebrews, whose true identity is known to God alone, makes use of this term more than any of the four Gospel accounts. More than in any one of the letters of Saint Paul. One can argue that the author of Hebrews is utterly obsessed with the topic of salvation. However, the author’s preoccupation with salvation is predicated on his commitment to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Whose royal priesthood is everlasting and who is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, for Christ always lives to make intercessions for us.

The author of Hebrew freely uses terms like salvation, redemption, and completion to describe what has already been achieved. And what Christ has achieved is the perfection of life through his death and resurrection, and through his perfection, we are invited to right order and unity in God. When the author of [Hebrews] speaks about inheriting salvation, the implication is not just that the salvation is the future, but that we can be sure here and now that we will finally be saved. Christ brings salvation about in his role as priest.

As I’ve read through Hebrews for the last few weeks in our Sunday lectionary, I found myself realizing that I don’t often think about salvation. While I read scripture every day and say my prayers, the topic of salvation is not one I ponder on frequently. I don’t stay up at night thinking -- What does it mean to be saved? What are we being saved from? How can I be saved?

How often do you contemplate your salvation?

Maybe I’ve taken the topic of salvation for granted and neglected not only to dwell and meditate on this gift, its meaning and purpose, but most importantly to give thanks.

It is my belief that the author of Hebrews deep obsession for the topic of salvation comes not from a place of fear, but from a place of utter thanksgiving. Amidst the temptations to abandon the faith and the persecution and imprisonment of Christians in that Church community, the author of Hebrews repeats over and over again the topic of salvation. Not juxtaposing salvation to damnation or warning people of hell, but to remind us again and again that salvation has been made attainable by Christ’s royal priesthood.

Professor Craig Koester in his commentary and translation of Hebrews, translates the Greek word we use for salvation, sōtēria, as “Completion.” And he does this to focus our attention to the author of Hebrews’ understanding that to be saved means being made complete through and within Christ. And the author of our completion, the author of our salvation, is Christ himself. Professor Koester writes, “Our completion, that is our salvation, is the consummation of humankind in and eternal relationship with God, in which people share Christ glory, enter God’s rest, see the Lord, enjoying in the festival gathering in the heavenly Jerusalem.”[2]

What does it mean to be saved? For the author of Hebrews, it means being completed by God, it means accepting that God is at work in our daily lives and trusting in God’s faithfulness, God’s constant presence. While we cannot save ourselves, we can persevere in faith as Christ did, following his teachings and example, trusting that God will not abandon us, but will bring us into complete and everlasting life as he promised.[3]

And the author of Hebrews makes a radical claim about the ongoing work of Christ stating that “he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” The work of the cross, the work of resurrection, the work of salvation, the work of completion, is ongoing. But not by our doing, but by God’s very nature and desire. Salvation is made attainable not by ourselves but by God who seeks to save all who approach him.

I’m reminded of a story shared by a seminary classmate after our summer clinical pastoral education program. Clinical pastoral education, known as CPE, is a program that allows seminarians to be trained as pastors often in hospital settings. My classmate Eric shared with us his encounter with a lovely patient who upon visiting her began to ask him about his own faith. A devoted bible believing Christian woman she asked Eric -- “Darling, when were you saved?” And after pausing for a second, Eric simply answered, “two thousand years ago.”

I have asked myself before the question, “how can I be saved?” But I’m realizing that the better question to ask is “how can I not be saved?”

I’m bold enough to ask this question not because I’m a universalist, I’m far from it, but because of my deep love and commitment to Jesus Christ. A commitment shared with all of you and the billions of Christians around the world, and with those who have gone to meet our maker. Christ has died once for all when he offered himself on the cross, in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, opening wide the gate of heaven to us below.

Salvation does not lie in our hands but in the scarred and glorious hands of Christ. We can ask ourselves the question “what are we being saved from?” but again, a better question to ask is “what are we being saved towards?” Salvation is not a contrast to death but the affirmation, believe, and thanksgiving in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Thanks be to God who gives us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.  

[1]  Marshall, I. H. (2009). The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (R. Bauckham, Ed.). Grand Rapids (Michigan): William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 255.

[2] Koester, C. R. (2010). Hebrews: A new translation with introduction and commentary. New Haven: Yale University Press. 373.

[3] Ibid, 125.