Who Is Salvation For?
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”
24 Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;
all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.
25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.
I have talked here a number of times about going to a Christian summer camp when I was in middle school. It was a great place, where I read scripture for the first time, talked to peers about faith, and felt God’s love become tangible. But one of the main messages at this particular summer camp was that you only can be saved if you are a Christian. You need to make a profession of faith. You need to read your Bible, you need to say “Jesus is Lord,” you need to go to church. And then you will be saved. God saves only those who are Christians.
I didn’t worry too much about this message until a few weeks later. After all, I was a Christian (or at least someone trying to learn what that means). I loved reading scripture and talking about faith. I felt like I am okay.
But one morning that summer, I sat down on our back porch. We have a porch swing, and especially in the mornings, it can be a beautiful spot to sit and watch the day begin. And as I was sitting there, I looked over at our next door neighbor. He was doctor named Dr Khan, about sixty years old. He was Muslim, along with the rest of his family, many who lived in that neighborhood and been great neighbors to my family.
And that morning, he came out onto his backyard. But he wasn’t alone. In his arms, was his newest grandchild. And he was in that yard walking his grandchild, rocking him in his arms, talking to him about the beauty of this world, sharing how much he loved him. It was a moment filled with tender beauty and love. I didn’t say anything to him because it was simply a gift just to be there and watch this moment.
As Dr. Khan went back inside, though, I thought back to that message from my summer camp. And that message no longer clicked with me. As I saw this beautiful moment of this beautiful man and his grandson, I knew God did too. I knew God was seeing the same thing I was. I knew God was seeing his beauty, his love, his joy, even more than I could see it. And one thought kept coming up again and again and again. How could God not want to save my neighbor? How could God see this scene and not want Dr. Khan and his grandchild and his entire family in God’s kingdom? How could God not love him simply because he is a different religion from me?
The only answer I have had that day, and the only answer I have had since that day is this: God does want salvation for him. God does love him. God does want him and his entire family in God’s kingdom. And God will never give up working to make that happen. And I believe God will succeed, no matter what our religion (or lack of religion) is here and now.
Now this doesn’t mean that I believe all paths or religions or philosophies are the same. There are major differences between Islam and Buddhism, between Judaism and Hinduism, between Christianity and Taoism. Saying there isn’t doesn’t just water down our own religion, but actually takes away from the uniqueness of other faiths. There are major differences in how we understand God, in how we are taught to treat our neighbors, in what kind of relationships and ways of love we are called to be in. There are differences in our understanding of the soul, of the world, and of how much God wants to be in relationship with us.
But those differences also exist within Christianity itself. There are people who have lived their whole lives as Christians who still do not know that God loves them, that God wants to forgive them and heal them. There are lifelong Christians who know only a God of judgment, a God of who doesn’t like people, or even a God who shows bigotry and prejudice and teaches us to do the same. There are bad theologies within our own tradition that do not witness to the amazing grace and love of Jesus Christ. There are theologies that make people doubt themselves and attack others instead of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit inside them. There are theologies that have kept women from speaking, kept children from being welcomed, and kept minority groups from being ever seen as equal, not just in other religions, but within our own.
I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and has shown us the way of God’s love far greater than any other teacher in the history of our world. But I believe that love is not just for those of us who are of one religion. It is not just for those who know and understand that love right now. I still don’t understand it fully. And I definitely do not live it out fully. But I believe God’s salvation is still for me and for all of God’s creations, even if we still have such a long way to go.
There is one image from scripture that has continued to give me this hope. It comes first in Isaiah 45, but comes back multiple times in the New Testament. It is that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess in the Lord of heaven and earth. Every knee. Every tongue. Not just those who are in churches. Not just those who call themselves Christians. But one day everyone will know God’s love in Jesus Christ, will know they are a part of God’s family, and will join in that most beautiful worship across every language, nation, and land.
Paul repeats this image Philippians 2, when he writes:
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
And that same image of all people and all creation being returned back to relationship with God is in Revelation 5:
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”
This is a hard image, a difficult hope for us to believe in today. After all we know holy wars, we know terrorism, we know oppression of women and men, we know bigotry, we know people who worship only themselves, we know how often people in this world get away from relationship with God and away from knowing love in their lives.
But don’t think it was any easier to have this dream in Isaiah’s time. This passage comes to us out of a time of exile in Babylonia. It comes when the people of Israel have seen their homes taken from them, have seen the Temple destroyed, have been forced into slavery and servanthood in a strange land, and pressured to worship not a God, but a king, Nebuchadnezzar. They have lived in a community built not out of love or commitment or trust in God, but out of greed and violence and idolatry.
But Isaiah hears God’s words: “turn to me and saved, all the ends of the earth.” Not just those who are Jewish. Not just those who have already known me and believed in me. Not just descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But all the ends of the earth. All the people. All the nations. Even Babylon. Even those slave traders. Even King Nebuchadnezzar and his great armies. All will know God. All will be turned one day back to right relationship. God wants all of them in God’s kingdom.
But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have a very big part to play. Our first song this morning echoes these words from Isaiah: “One day every tongue will confess you are Lord. One day every knee will bow…But still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now.”
There is a treasure right here, right now. It is know God’s love and salvation not just some point in the future, but here and now. While I believe God’s salvation is for everyone, I also know that my relationship with Christ is a blessing for me right now. And I know how much this world still needs to hear the message of Christ, how much people need to know God wants to love them, wants to forgive them, wants to be in relationship with them. People are hungering to know there is a purpose and a hope for their lives.
This image, this hope from Isaiah, still calls us to be witnesses of Christ in our lives. Because while we trust that God is never giving up on anyone, we still have the ability to change lives right now. We can still share that blessing of love and mercy, hope, and good news with those we meet. That’s what it means be an evangelist. It’s not a political ideology. It’s not fundamentalism. Evangelist means literally being “a messenger of good news.” It means sharing that greatest treasure we know right now.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is a day of fire and wind, tongues and power, the Holy Spirit dwelling among us. It is a day not only of new people hearing the gospel message, but also of Jesus’ first disciples seeing that what Jesus did is for more than them. It’s for more than their tribe, more than their small group. It is for all the world, across languages, across ethnicities, across even religions. This day, let us be filled with that same hope of Pentecost. And let us be filled with that same power. To join with sharing good news, not with fear, not with judgment, but with Isaiah’s vision. One day we all will be singing that same song, joined as one family, in God’s great kingdom.
That early morning, seeing my neighbor holding his grandchild, I saw a glimpse of what God sees. I saw how much God loves each and every one of us, and how much God wants to bring us all back home. Amen.