Reconsidering sacrifice

31 Aug

Paul’s understanding of Jesus as a blood sacrifice is not helpful for me.  I do not live in a time when people are ritually put to death to appease “the gods”.  I also do not live in a time where the worship of God requires the sacrifice of animals.  So, it just not a helpful way of looking at what happen to Jesus’ death.

As I write these words, I think how wonderful it would be to release Christianity from this concept of substitutional sacrifice that has become as ingrained in our theology.  In any case, I am done with it.

The next question is what to do with the rest of chapter 5 which expresses this idea.  Certainly, Jesus’ life was lived in a sacrificial way.  He talked with people who were socially beneath him in order to tell them about the authentic nature of the Divine .  He argued with people who believed themselves socially above him to tell them about the authentic nature of the Divine. And he walked with people who would listen to him so he could show them the authentic nature of the Divine.  His life was one of willing submission to the work he was given to do by the leading of God’s spirit.

Read Romans 5:6-11 and see if you understand anything differently

6-8 Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

9-11 Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!

So now I come to a question for myself and you.  As those who follow the risen Christ and believe in the work begun by Jesus of Nazareth and enjoy the grace of God in our lives, what are we willing to sacrifice in honor of God?

Don’t get worried, I was just thinking about an hour on Sunday morning and uninterrupted time each day to talk with God.  What do you think?  Who knows where it would lead?

Peace

The Gift of being OLD!!

29 Aug

Many times in the last few months I have told folks what a gift it is to be old.  Perhaps you don’t see this since youth and beauty and unbounded energy is all that is advertised, but, the gift of being old is knowing what you like and what clothes work for you, and how stupid it is to be really concerned about what others think of you.  It is great to be old.  To survive life and find joy along the journey.  This is how Eugene Peterson paraphrases it.

I have always love Romans 5:1-5 and now even more.  Paul is talking about the realization of God’s grace in our lives and how that can cause us to rejoice in good times and even grow through the tough times.

1-2 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Imagine that our cultures obsession with containers (OK, my obsession with containers) is just to hold everything God has generously poured into our lives.   That would be a great idea to put into our heads.

I will be honest that sometimes my head goes to the ‘dark side’, thoughts of what used to be and isn’t anymore, thoughts of what will be, wondering about decisions made.  It is an effort and a wonderful thing to put my head and heart in the presence moment where my body is.  To seek the Divine Presence and remember that even with all my containers, I do not have enough to hold all that God has given to me.

My sweet church on the mountain has a hymnal that is not United Methodist.  It has taken me awhile to get the hang of it, but the other morning during a Congregational Choice Hymn I found that, “Count Your Blessings” is in their hymnal.  So, count your many blessings, count them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done.

It is a get way to fill your head.  Paul knew about trials and hardship, I know about them too.  And, like Paul, I am convinced it the way forward is through, with the Divine Presence our constant companion and guide.  Peace,

Mary

Universal Salvation

26 Aug

The concept of universal salvation (everybody getting into heaven) is attributed to “liberal theologians” in the era.  However, the first person to give an understanding of universal acceptance was Jesus of Nazareth. Note: he got in trouble for this because the religious authorities wanted believe they had the power to say who was in and who was out.  Then, Paul reinforced these ideas, and actions of God in his letter to the Romans.  Paul also got in trouble with this because he refused to affirm that the ‘old laws’ of Judaism needed to be carried over to the ‘new faith’ of Christianity-he was condemned by all sides.  Then, finally when Martian Luther started translating the Scripture so that anyone could read them (again in got in trouble for translating) he claimed that people were “saved by faith only”.  Again, he was in huge trouble because the Roman Catholic church was making a lot of money from ‘selling salvation’.

When I look at our faith traditions from this lens and read again Eugene Peterson’s translation, God’s promise arrives as pure gift, I think that the idea of universal salvation is not a new one.  So the good news it that Paul makes sure everyone knows that they are included in the promise of God.

16 This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father—that’s reading the story backward. He is our faith father.

17-18 We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!”

19-25 Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.

The even better news it that God is the one who fulfills the promise, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do.  

So often we are trying travel our Christian life on our own steam.  But here, Paul reminds us that it is God who is the actor in our faith story and we are just the partners who follow where the Divine Presence leads.  We are invited into relationship with the Eternal Creating Spirit, invited to find healing, wholeness, holiness, and purpose for our earth bound, time bound, limited vision existence.  It seems like a no-brainer, but sure enough, we will probably get in trouble when we say everyone is included no matter what – it is a part of our faith history.  Peace

God’s Promise

17 Aug

Facebook-20150814-032732 (2)This photo was taken at Garfield UMC Annual Fundraising Picnic (It is like a church supper – outside).  These boys are wonderful, with great parents, and they are my acolytes at church; and inheritors of the promise that God gave to Abraham.

In this section of Paul’s argument of why everyone is included in the promise of being-set-right-with-God is that it is about relationships and not rules.  Abraham, God’s first relationship, was made before the sign of circumcisions sealed the promise.   And it was done by God’s power, not Abraham’s ability.

As Christians, we take of this for granted, that everyone is invited to accept God’s promise/relationship.   But, for me, as a United Methodist, it goes a step further.  I believe we are in relationship with God, whether we know it or not.  That the relationship has been forged for us by the life and death of Jesus Christ.  And that all of us, as inheritors of the promise are family together.  Just as these two brothers are individuals, they are related to each other (and just about everyone in the church!)  So, it is with those who are on this earth.  They are children of God, sealed by Christ, and live in the same Spirit of God.  Some do it with awareness of that relationship, so are not aware, Some name it as Christianity and some give it other names.  For me there is limitless possibilities of how the promise of the Divine is lived out.

12 And it means further that Abraham is father of all people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the “outs” with God, as yet unidentified as God’s, in an “uncircumcised” condition. It is precisely these people in this condition who are called “set right by God and with God”! Abraham is also, of course, father of those who have undergone the religious rite of circumcision not just because of the ritual but because they were willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God’s action for them, the way Abraham lived long before he was marked by circumcision.

13-15 That famous promise God gave Abraham—that he and his children would possess the earth—was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed. If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God’s promise at that—you can’t break it.

God’s promise, like a parent’s love, like the relationship of family, is a given in our world.  And blessing upon blessing, it does not depend upon us, but it completely in the care of the Eternal steadfast love for all that is created.  Peace

God-stories

12 Aug

Good Morning,

We are up to Romans 4 and I am using The Message again.  Paul continues the argument about who is included in the new promise of Jesus the Christ.  He goes back to the beginning of the Jewish faith history with “Father Abraham”.

In this paraphrase, Eugene Peterson says, that the story of faith is not a Abraham-story, but a God-story.  Jesus tries to get people to hear this over and over again in the gospel.  It is not a Savior-story, Messiah-story, or a Jesus-story; it is a God-story.  It is about what God is doing in the lives of people who will open themselves to the Divine Presence.  It is about a gift that is offer, which none of us can earn, but all can enjoy and find the reason for our human story.

1-3 So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”

4-5 If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

6-9 David confirms this way of looking at it, saying that the one who trusts God to do the putting-everything-right without insisting on having a say in it is one fortunate man:

Fortunate those whose crimes are carted off,
    whose sins are wiped clean from the slate.
Fortunate the person against
    whom the Lord does not keep score.

Do you think for a minute that this blessing is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised? Or do you think it possible that the blessing could be given to those who never even heard of our ways, who were never brought up in the disciplines of God? We all agree, don’t we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God?

10-11 Now think: Was that declaration made before or after he was marked by the covenant rite of circumcision? That’s right, before he was marked. That means that he underwent circumcision as evidence and confirmation of what God had done long before to bring him into this acceptable standing with himself, an act of God he had embraced with his whole life.

Paul’s frustration is that the people have forgotten that Abraham received a gift that brought his life meaning, and that the mark of circumcision was a response to that gift and not the reason for it.  (Note:  Paul, and apparently, the people/men in Paul’s world are obsessed with who is and who is not circumcised – it is such a man thing.)  It seems as through our human nature is to mark ourselves as “special” and take credit for what we are or have been given.  Truly, most of what we are is an accident of birth, what we become is our choice.

Is your story a God-story.  one of Gladys Knight’s songs says:

If anyone should ever write my life story
For whatever reason there might be
Ooh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory
‘Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me

I think for me, it is God who has been the center of my story.  It makes for an interesting life, and one for which I really can not take any credit.  It is a God-story.    Peace

God is the beginning, and the middle, and the end!

6 Aug

Good Morning,

I am finally back to work on the book of Romans.  I helped with Vacation Bible School at my Garfield church.  I had forgotten how exhausting it is to have a week keeping up the kids.  Then, two funerals in one week, plus a huge fundraising dinner.  I am rested up and we are up to the second half of chapter 3.

But even though I have been away, Paul is still arguing about Jews and Gentiles being the same before God.  I would not have wanted to argue with Paul!

Remember that the context of Paul’s world is the Jewish faith.  This might seem like a stupid statement, but I am amazed how often we forget this text is written in a very particular context to people who had a very specific world view.  Also, I am using “The Message” again, because I like it.

I think it is important to realized that Jewish hated Gentiles. They had been oppressed by them, killed by them, had their land taken, and the one thing Jews could say in return was, “the creator of the universe loves us and not you.”  So, now read verses 21 to 24 and it is no wonder people tried to kill Paul so often.

21-24 But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

We take these words as comfort.  We are put right with God through God’s love for us.  And if Paul, as a Jew, is saying that the Gentiles are put right with God in his time, then certainly we cannot exclude anyone from this grace of God in our time.

 The next two verses talk in terms of sacrifice.  Again, this is the context of the time.  In Paul’s time, the only way to get right with God was to make a sacrifice of something.  It was how they understood this relationship with God.  This understanding of blood sacrifice is not meaning for me.  I like Eugene Peterson’s, writer of The Message, phrase, “altar of the world.”  I think my image of Jesus death, informed by my culture, is Jesus’ non-violent presence against the violence of our world.  It is not a sacrifice that God needed, but rather a reality of violence that Jesus did not bow to and that the Divine broke through with the resurrection of the Christ

25-26 God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.

The last five verses are wonderful.  Let them roll around in your head for awhile.  God is the beginning, and the middle, and the end.  God is the true actor in all things and we are the ones who can choose to response.  A friend once wrote a beautiful theology, God as music, Spirit as song, Jesus as the dancer.  We are invited to join the dance.  We don’t make the music.  I have come to believe we don’t even get to choose our song, but we can dance.

27-28 So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counterclaims? Canceled? Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.

29-30 And where does that leave our proud Jewish claim of having a corner on God? Also canceled. God is the God of outsider non-Jews as well as insider Jews. How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.

31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.

I hope you dance today.  There is great joy is seeing the Divine as the one who names us, claims us, and bring our lives meaning.  We do none of this, but we can dance.

Slugging Through the Foundation

15 Jul

Good Morning,

Let me confess that I am avoiding working through these first chapter of Romans.  They’re hard!! (insert whining sound).

I realize the reason I wanted to talk about Romans was because of the later chapter, but in my neurotic, methodical way, I have to start at the beginning.  So, reading the first part of Chapter 3 in the New Revised Standard Version has done nothing for me, so I have gone to The Message.

Paul is continuing to lay the foundation that whether a person was born Jew or Gentle (really there are only two categories in his mind – neither a Jew or NOT), they are in the same boat when it comes to a relationship with God.  In this first section of Chapter 3, Paul does say that the Jews have more responsibilities.

1-2 So what difference does it make who’s a Jew and who isn’t, who has been trained in God’s ways and who hasn’t? As it turns out, it makes a lot of difference—but not the difference so many have assumed.

2-6 First, there’s the matter of being put in charge of writing down and caring for God’s revelation, these Holy Scriptures. So, what if, in the course of doing that, some of those Jews abandoned their post? God didn’t abandon them. Do you think their faithlessness cancels out his faithfulness? Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth. Scripture says the same:

Your words stand fast and true;
Rejection doesn’t faze you.

But if our wrongdoing only underlines and confirms God’s rightdoing, shouldn’t we be commended for helping out? Since our bad words don’t even make a dent in his good words, isn’t it wrong of God to back us to the wall and hold us to our word? These questions come up. The answer to such questions is no, a most emphatic No! How else would things ever get straightened out if God didn’t do the straightening?

7-8 It’s simply perverse to say, “If my lies serve to show off God’s truth all the more gloriously, why blame me? I’m doing God a favor.” Some people are actually trying to put such words in our mouths, claiming that we go around saying, “The more evil we do, the more good God does, so let’s just do it!” That’s pure slander, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

9-20 So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:

There’s nobody living right, not even one,
    nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
They’ve all taken the wrong turn;
    they’ve all wandered down blind alleys.
No one’s living right;
    I can’t find a single one.
Their throats are gaping graves,
    their tongues slick as mudslides.
Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
    They open their mouths and pollute the air.
They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
    litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
    They never give God the time of day.

This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.

The parts of scripture that Paul is quoting are from six different Psalms and a couple of verses from Isaiah.  Talk about proof texting.  However, I think that we can agree with Paul’s point.  No one on this planet can call themselves righteous and if we ever met someone who did, we probably wouldn’t want to hang out with them.

The bottom line is that Paul is talking to a group of people who believe that they are “closer” to God because of the group they were born into.  We still have people who believe this, or just believe they are better than anyone else because of their skin color, mating choice, wealth, intelligence, beauty, etc.  Why do you think you are better than or neighbor, or the strange person you encounter today?  I believe that no one person is better than another within the scope of God’s realm.  I think that’s why we have quoted John Bradford (1510-1555) over the centuries, “There, but for the grace of God go I’

Peace,

Mary

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