What if we’ve got it wrong?
What if we’ve told it backwards?
What if the old pictures of God need re-printing,
editing, another look-see?
What if we are not ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God?’
What if, instead, we are invited partners in a dance of love,
creatures formed from dust, to be sure,
but creatures breathed into existence because of love, first, last and always?
I am knee-deep in Lenten texts right now,
reading and re-reading familiar passages,
reminded and remembering the Story,
the wild, wooly, wacky Story.
And I am seeing things anew, asking different questions,
surprised — again! — by the intricate beauty of it all.
It was a weekend perfect for beach-walking and I did a lot of it.
And as I walked, I pondered and prayed.
Then, on Sunday I worshiped and led in worship.
And I wrestled with some powerful ideas,
some poignant truths.
“How many of you,” our pastor asked us, “grew up hearing about an angry God?”
“How many of you heard someone tell you that Jesus took your place on the cross?”
“How many of you have heard that Jesus’ death paid your debt to God
or satisfied God’s wrath?”
My hand shot up. For each and every question.
Because that’s the primary understanding of Christ’s death on the cross that
most conservative, evangelical churches of the past 150 years have
faithfully taught, week in and week out.
But there is so much more to the cross,
so much more to the Incarnation,
so much more to the Story.
The easy-out response – and the truth, as well – is that it is a mystery,
a complex series of ideas and actions that we cannot fully comprehend.
There are lots of images, word pictures and acted parables
in the New Testament which speak to the breadth of it all,
the beauty of it all,
the truth of it all.
Jon quoted N.T. Wright:
“Jesus did not give his disciples a theory of what happened on the cross;
he gave them a meal.”
He gave us a meal,
a picture of nourishment,
Exactly nowhere did Jesus say he came to save us from God.
Exactly nowhere did Jesus say he was taking our place on that cross.
Exactly nowhere did he whisper that God hated us.
What if. . .
What if the truth is both simpler and more complicated.
What if the fullest picture of the whole shebang –
creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection,
the whole nine yards –
what if it is the natural outflowing of God’s amazing grace,
the potent, beautiful overflow of God’s goodness?
What if this Franciscan nun I’ve been reading,
a scholar and a thinker and a deep believer,
what if this is what it’s really all about:
“The doctrine of the primacy of Christ means that Jesus did not come because of human sin;
rather, from all eternity God willed to love
a finite other as a more perfect expression of his love.
Jesus would have come, therefore, even if there had been no sin.
The meaning of the Incarnation is not about sin but about the love of God.”
– Ilia Delio in The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective
What if our sin is not the most important thing about us?
What if love is the reason. . .
If that is true, then this must be true:
GOD DID NOT PUT JESUS ON THE CROSS IN OUR PLACE.
It is sin on that cross — all that cuts us off from the God who loves us.
Jesus cries out, “ENOUGH!”
And the God who bends low dies so that we might live.
So that we might live in love.
So that we might live in God.
So that might be reconciled to God and to one another.
What if. . .
My deep thanks to my current partner in ministry, Dr. Jon Lemmond, for tackling this huge topic in a 20 minute sermon. And thanks to our community of faith who welcomed his words and wrestled right along with him as we kneaded our thinking muscles on Sunday morning. I am also grateful to Fr. Steve Coffey for his teaching on Dr. Delio’s work and to the good nun herself for this exquisite and thought-provoking book.
Joining this tonight with the ‘usual suspects: Michelle, Jennifer, Jen, Laura, and Ann -
and also with Heather because I did decide to ‘just write’ about the impact
of this process on me over the last few days and with Jenn, because
there is no greater picture of mercy than the Incarnation of Jesus.
If I remember to do so, I’ll also link this with Emily W.
Pray for me, friends! I’m preaching next Sunday for the first time in a long time,
on a gospel text that I love – the anointing in Bethany.
And remarkably, it fits in well with the thrust of this week’s message, too.