I shared in the sermon yesterday about a chance encounter a church family and I had while awaiting news in the hospital. As you might have experienced, hospitals are often anxious spaces. There is much waiting, worrying, and perhaps even some prayer being uplifted. I also imagine that many turn to God after years of not having much of a relationship with the Holy One.
Although the woman we spoke with was one of great faith, her concern was for her loved one. He had recently been more interested renewing his relationship with God that he had long ago been abandoned. However, a Christian friend—well-intended, no doubt—told him he could not be “saved” without entering the baptismal waters. He had not made that decision, and if he had, he would not have been able to do so with his health problems.
She just needed to talk. It’s hard to “meet people where they are” when their faith language might be ripe with different meanings. What does she think salvation means? What is her understanding of the role of baptism in faith? Her understandings come from a lifetime of teaching, and she might have very different ways of experiencing the Divine in her life. She came from a different Christian tradition, and it is not the time to try to change someone’s understanding during a time of strife. She really needed comfort.
I shared with her my perspective, and one I thought you should know if I haven’t shared it already. While I am a big proponent of baptism and I rejoice every time a sister or brother enters the waters, I do not think God sees it as a prerequisite to being with God when our physical lives end. I encouraged the woman to understand that if her loved one’s heart had turned to God, God was already there ready to receive it. In fact, God never abandoned the relationship; it was the other way around. The God I know, experience, and find in our Holy book does not abandon his beloved children. We are never without the Holy One in life, in death, or in life after death.
The good news, I heard from Jeff McFarland after the service, is that the woman’s father had a rather miraculous healing. Rather than planning his funeral service, she is planning to transport him home. I wonder what will happen to his faith in light of this experience? Who knows? I can only pray that the lines of communication between him and his Maker will be fully operational. I hope he knows that he is saved (which often meant “healed” in the Greek) and free to new life.