Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Did God plan to have Jesus die on the cross?
I have heard this question asked in many different ways and I would like to look for a possible answer to this question in Peter’s Pentecost day sermon. I will explore Peter’s sermon in small segments and then try to put it all together at the end of this reflection.
Peter began his sermon this way.
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say…”
Have you ever wondered why people listen to some people while ignoring others? The writer of Acts makes it clear that Peter is one of those to whom people will listen when he speaks. His audience is his own people, the Israelites. Perhaps Peter’s personal history of following Jesus and being one his inner circle disciples was part of his appeal. But his history also included his disastrous denial of Jesus in the garden where he was arrested and outside the court where Jesus was being tried and convicted.
Peter’s first denial is seldom mentioned as such, but I think his decision to draw a sword and strike off the ear of one of the slaves who came to arrest Jesus represents a serious form of denial. By using violence against someone, Peter denies everything that Jesus taught them and practiced in his own life. The other denials come as a result of fear. To admit being with Jesus was to risk being treated like Jesus. Peter was living under the influence of sin and death in both of his denials.
It is Peter’s denial that makes what he has to say credible. Peter is known as the one who denied Jesus in fear, but who now preaches Jesus as God’s Messiah. The Israelites who were moved by the ministry of Jesus could see in Peter’s denials their own lack of response to the crucified one.
Peter could stand up and speak boldly only because the peace, power, and forgiveness of Jesus’ resurrected presence came to him at the moment of his great despair and guilt. He preached his story as the story of Israel. Peter’s primacy as an apostle then comes from his failure and his openness to the love and forgiveness of God. It was this openness that the Holy Spirit blew through on that first Pentecost. Peter testifies against himself and in favor of God as he knew God in Jesus.
“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you…”
Peter testifies to what seem to be commonly agreed upon experiences of Jesus’ work among different peoples. He healed, fed, and cast out the accusing finger from communities, both Gentile and Jewish. Peter says that it was God who was doing this work through Jesus. By seeing Jesus, Peter makes the claim that we are seeing God.
“…as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God…”
This is the powerful and somewhat puzzling statement that is often interpreted to mean that God turned Jesus over to be crucified at human hands. This is often seen as a critical part of the Christian view of Jesus’ saving action in history. Jesus had to die in order to save us.
Implied in this understanding is the notion that God was angry and wrathful and could only be satisfied by the death of Jesus who was the perfect sacrifice for sinful man. The reasoning suggests that we humans are so sinful we could never pay the debt we owe to God, so only a man who was God could offer the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
I would like to offer a different understanding. I believe God turned Jesus over to us as a gift. Jesus was a clear revelation of a God of peace without violence. God can only give himself to us as a pure gift of love. God does not see us as rivals, but as his children whom he loves. It is God’s giving of himself in Jesus that is his plan. He delivers into our hands his very heart and life.
“This man…. You crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.”
Peter clearly does not say it was God’s plan to have us kill Jesus, but rather Peter is telling the truth he experienced in his own life. When the cock crowed, Peter saw what our human plan and foreknowledge was all about. It was not like God’s plan or foreknowledge.
It is this truth which Peter offers in a brief homily on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with God’s fire of love, forgiveness, and the awful truth of human violence. Peter understands that Israel, like Peter, was capable of hearing the message of the Gospel of Christ because Israel had been seeking a clear view of God for centuries. They knew in a very special way that God was not violent like the Roman gods. The peace of Jesus was not like the Pax Romano.
Peter’s sermon did not end with Jesus’ death at the hands of the Romans.
“But God raised him (Jesus) up, having freed him form death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”
Peter is saying something very radical. Violence and the threat of death and vengeance are not part of God or his Son. Jesus is not resurrected to pay back those responsible for his death. This sort of power and vengeance and violence did not trap Jesus in death.
Because he full incarnated the very nature of God, such violence, vengeance, and death dealing did not corrupt Jesus. This is perhaps what is meant by the expression that Jesus was like us, yet without sin. Peter reminds us that God did not pour death into death, he did not give Jesus as a sacrificial victim to our wrathful ways. He was not trying to somehow change us by being merciful. He was simply and completely showing us who God is. He poured life into our death and death could not hold God’s life and love in its grip. AMEN!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Is Easter for you?
In the Nicene Creed, we say that Jesus “suffered death and was buried.” The wisdom of this ancient statement of faith is that it understands and clearly expresses that we all “suffer death” throughout our lives. We are only buried after we die, but death is what happens on our way to being buried.
Death is a code word, not just for physical death but for all of the ways we relate to one another as if God did not exist. We use it to unify ourselves and to create order and temporary peace out of our violent chaos.
To suffer is to bear a burden and death is an impossible and excruciating burden. Death is a way of being and living over against others that seems very natural to us. In fact, the path that Jesus offers to us seems unrealistic and unnatural. It is this suffering of death that Jesus undergoes during the final week of his life.
E.E. Commings wrote of dying and death in a poem I have always loved.
dying is fine) but Death
Death if Death
when(instead of stopping to think)you
begin to feel of it, dying
cause dying is
perfectly natural; perfectly
it mildly lively(but
& artificial &
evil & legal)
we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us, o life! the sin of Death
Have you experienced death? If you look back over your life you may discover that you have indeed suffered death within your families, school, church, work, and recreational communities. Here are some examples. Has admiration for you by another turned to envy, rivalry, and hostility? Have you ever been falsely accused and then suffered consequences for it? Have you ever had people you thought were your friends believe damaging rumors about you and either distanced themselves from you or actively worked against you? Perhaps you have been on the other side of such relationships.
Jesus’ last week before he was crucified was the “perfect storm” of death. He went from the adulation and admiration of the crowd at his entry into Jerusalem to the screaming calls for his crucifixion. He is falsely accused, betrayed, denied, abandoned by his closest friends, and then sentenced to public humiliation, ridicule, and brutality. Death took the full measure of Jesus, just as it takes the full measure of each of us over our life times.
During Jesus’ time with us he did not follow the rules of death. He brought life, forgiveness, healing, and fresh starts for those of us who suffer death. The Nicene Creed says it this: “On the third day, he rose again.” Jesus did not come back from suffering death infected by death’s ways. He offers us life that is abundant in exchange for death. Is Easter for you?
If you are ready to live life in all of its richness and fullness and to celebrate and give thanks to the God whose love makes such a life available to us, Easter is for you. Let us come together “on the third day” to accept the life God has for us.
God’s Peace and Life,
EASTER SERVICES AT CHRIST CHURCH
5:30 AM Easter Vigil
8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Holy Eucharist with Choir and child care
Easter Egg Hunt for the children of the parish immediately after the 10:00 AM service
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Jesus was on a very special mission during his time with us on earth. He came to the human family when we were ready to experience God in a very different way then before.From the beginning of time human beings created gods in their own images and many of these gods were simply human beings who used their human powers to create empires and myths that hid the violent nature of humanity.
Jesus’ mission was to save us from ourselves and from those gods we create in our own images. Jesus came to show us the God who created us and in whose image we are made. This God was full to overflowing with love for all of us, not at all the angry wrathful vengeful gods invented by human culture. It is this God of love whose story is found within the tangles and wicked webs of human history recorded in the sacred scripture of Israel.
If it seems that the God of the Old Testament is wrathful and impossible to reconcile with the God of Jesus, remember that scripture records the gentle, but persistent God of endless and abiding love trying to communicate this love to a planet who threw this God of love out of the primal garden of Eden and then claimed to be the victims of God’s righteous wrath.
Jesus came to save us from such delusions and he ends his mission in a garden where he prays for all of the people of the world and prepares to shine God’s loving light on the painful truth of who we and the joyful and fearful truth of who we can be. The path of truth passes through the garden where Jesus prayed and the garden in which he was buried and from which God raised him from our death to a life that those early disciples were able to experience and witness.
We are saved for the joys of a life today that is filled with God’s love, forgiveness, healing, and presence in the moments between the moments of each day. Passion Sunday is the beginning of our corporate journey through the last week of Jesus’ life. Come and be a witness to Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem and the events of his final week. Plan to be present at corporate worship and private prayer and meditation offered at Christ Church this week.
Jesus came at a time when we were ready to hear and to turn away from our wrathful ways. Jesus came at a time when we were ready to receive and abide with the God of love and creation. Jesus came at a time when we were ready to see the painful and the fearful and joyful truth. Come and see.