Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sermon Scraps: the not-so-left-overs, continued

I believe I left off with Maryology. I love Maryology. I truly believe we are supposed to be (metaphorical) Marys for the world -- we are supposed to be the God bearers (theotokas) in the world. I heard once that we may be the only Bible that some people read. I believe that is our mission, to carry God, to carry the Word to the world. Anyway . . . I digress.

I believe it is essential that Mary was fully human. Jesus had to be born with all the trappings of original sin. Now, don't go saying that I said Jesus was born with original sin. That's not what I said. That's an entirely different topic. If God became human, I believe that shows an ontological shift for God. We were incapable of moving ourselves closer to God, so God moved closer to us.

While the divinity of Jesus is important, I believe we get that. I can understand that Jesus was God. We seem to have trouble understanding that Jesus was human -- like us. He laughed, cried, told jokes, went to the bathroom, had headaches, toothaches (poor dental coverage in the 1st Century). He got angry; he may have suffered bouts of insomnia. He was hungry, and thirsty. He was like us. He experienced what we experience.

But Jesus was also God. He loved like only God can -- fully, in your face, confrontationally, unconditionally. In truth, I don't think we know what do with divine love. I have a wonderful friend (a former brother in ministry) who preached the gospel -- he preached the love of God. When I had my spirit and my heart broken, he was there to pick me up, to show me God's love for me. And yet, he could not believe the love that he preached. He could not believe that God loved him, that God forgave him, even him, and he self-destructed. And the truth of the matter is that God's love is overwhelming. I don't pretend to understand how God could love me, how God could forgive me. I know what I've done. I asked in the last post about whether or not we could worship a God who could forgive us.

This is the question. How can God forgive us? I believe God can forgive us because God lived as one of us, because God felt our brokeness. God felt our hurts, our alienation, our lonliness, our shame. God took our brokeness upon God's self, and responded with love. When confronted with divine love, we (humanity) responded with the cross. Often, we fear what we don't understand, and we don't understand God's love. Moreover, what we fear, we often try to destroy, and so we tried. We tried all the way to the cross. I don't know have any theological weight to explain this, but somehow I believe that Jesus experienced every sin on the cross -- he felt every sin from mine to the Sho-ah. He took on every sin, all sin, Sin itself.

And it was enough to kill him. It's important to say that Jesus wasn't pretending to be dead. It's not like he was faking it, or just passed out. Jesus really, really died on the cross. Sin killed him. On the last men's Walk to Emmaus I worked, one of the pastoral team said something that really struck me as particularly apt. When we forgive someone, we take on the consequences of their action. The example (I think it was) Jason (or maybe Bill) was gave the thrown baseball. If you throw a baseball through my window and break it, you owe some money. If I forgive you of that burden, then I take on that burden -- I pay for the window. Don't push this example too far -- you'll end up back with St. Anselm and Cur Deus Homo.

But hear this, Paul wasn't kidding when he said that the wages of Sin is death (Romans 6:23). Sin will kill us. Sin does kill us. In my head I always think of Sin as Mestophales -- so cunning, promising good things, but those same things we think we want, usually are not what we need and are often the very worst for us. As an example, consider this: I love junk food. I could live on hamburgers and pizza, but hamburgers and pizza will raise my bad cholestoral level, raise my blood pressure, and they will kill me. Morever, Sin alienates us from one another. We were created for relationship (with God and with each other). If I eat nothing but hamburgers and pizza, I'll be as big as my house, unable to leave my house, and I will have fractured my relationship with others. Moreover, science has shown that junk food like hamburgers and pizza release neurotransmitters of joy (happy feeling stuff) in our brains, like drugs, or dark chocolate. In essence, we can become almost addicted to this food. It can become our obsession, our God, and then we've fractured our relationship with God.

The wages of Sin is death. This isn't metaphorical. Sin kills. It killed Jesus. Jesus took on the consequences of Sin. He died. But that's not the end of the story.

Now for some undeveloped theories. Billy Abraham (google him) makes it a point to say that in atonement, God makes an ontological shift toward us. Schubert Ogden (google him) wrote that the Christ event (that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) re-presents salvation to us. In the end, I would lump Ogden in the narrative theology of atonement group (I'm skipping some steps here; it's worth reading Ogden on your own). I find this inadequate. Yes, on one hand, the narrative of the Christ event does re-present the possibility of salvation to each of us individually. We all make the choice. But if God ontologically moved toward us, it's God who's done the work, not us.

Billy also goes on to say that atonement has to be bi-lateral. God moved toward us, and we move toward God. I like to think of the empty tomb accounts. The women come to the tomb. The women come toward God. In my mind (as yet, this is still an undeveloped theory), the women were the first to move toward God, even if they didn't know that was what they were doing.

I think somehow, all of us come to the empty tomb. Sin killed Jesus, but as I said above, that is not the end. Sin does not have the last word. Death is not the end of that story. We come to the empty tomb, like Peter and the beloved disciple, hoping to see for ourselves that the story isn't over. Some of us come, like the women, believing the story is over, ready to bury the one who took on our Sin, but he will not be buried. He lives. Some of us can't even bring ourselves to the empty tomb -- it's too much to believe. And Jesus walks through walls and tells us, like Thomas to touch the wounds. Each of us comes to a point where we have to choose to believe that the tomb is empty and Jesus is risen indeed, or we choose not to believe.

In exploring this with my theological sparring partner, Br Scot, I asked, but what if the women hadn't come to the tomb? What if we didn't move toward God? I don't know the answer to the 'what ifs' of this particular story, but I believe God would have found another way. Br Scot's answer to this was, do you have to know what God is doing for God to work in your life? But it still come down to this; we have a faithful step that we must take, an epistemic step to take. We have to choose to believe or accept that what has been told to us, or revealed to us is true. In that step, we are shifted ontologically (notice the use of the passive voice). We do not change ourselves, but we are changed. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever would believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life (paraphrase of John 3:16).

So can I worship a God who could forgive me? Yes. If I can  be forgiven, if my sin is forgiven, then the worst of humanity's sin is also forgiven. Sin is sin is sin in God's eyes. Jesus forgave all sin -- even those we can't forgive yet. If I can accept my own forgiveness, then I can accept (even if I don't understand) that God's forgiveness is for all.

Well, bring on the hole-pokers. I want to be ready for questions, so seriously, ask me now, when I have to look for answers. I would rather hear them now, not in my mock-board of ordained ministry interview.


  1. Celia, This blog is very stimulating. What is the evidence for Christ being dis-eased?(headaches, toothaches, etc.) I try to answer my own question. Are toothaches the result of our sin? ie. not caring for/loving the temple of the holy spirit? Or the hands of other's sin. Probably yes and no...genetic, developmental conditions. Is His DNA purely the Holy Spirit's or is there a mixture of Mary's genes?

  2. Kenne, there is no evidence of Jesus' disease -- good point. I was using those elements as examples of our human experience. Head aches are common, as are toothaches. And no they are not a result of our sin. They are the result of biological factors (bacteria growth, sinus pressure, stress, etc.). The point is that Jesus lived a human life -- a common human life.
    As for DNA, I would shy away from getting specific. I'm reminded of a program I saw a few years ago on the History Channel about Mary. The person being interviewed said that Mary could have been a virgin and conceived if she had been a hermaphrodite. I thought, Wow, what kind of question do you have to ask to get that answer. This is one of those areas where we have to recognize that the kerygma of Christ does not always hold up to post-enlightenment critique.
    In my comments, I was referring to the personhood of Jesus. I wouldn't feel comfortable getting anymore specific. Our understanding of this kerygma is changing. For instance, in the UM Hymnal, the Apostles' Creeds says, "I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit . . ." but in the Book of Common Prayer says, "I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit . . ."
    I'm not sure I've fully answered your questions, but I appreciate them, nonetheless. You've caused me to reexamine the Chalcedonians. I could spend a lifetime studying the Council of Chalcedon and not really understand it. So thank you for the challenge.

  3. I've always believed in the human-ness of Christ. I have never been able to understand why so many people seem to feel threatened by the idea that Jesus (while divine, the Son of God) was a PERSON. He pooped. He ate (probably not in that order). Experiences He encountered made Him happy and made Him sad. He walked on His legs, He spoke with His mouth and He worked with His hands. He belonged to a family. He was an infant. He was raised by parents. People taught Him things and then He taught others. He felt the same base urges and temptations we all feel. I like your concept of Maryology. My understanding that Jesus had to face, suffer, and overcome all the things any human must face, suffer, and TRY to overcome only serves to embolden my awe at His choice to allow Himself to be sacrificed so that the rest of us could be saved. Thank you for taking the time to make us think about this stuff. I've learned a great deal reading your blogs (including several new words, boy do I love words)!

  4. At Amanda, you're right. We give lip-service (at best) to the humanness of Jesus. I think that after 2000 years, we still really uncomfortable with the idea of the Divine Creator suffering at our hands. As much as we claim that we understand the foolishness of the cross, it makes us uncomfortable -- the one who was from the beginning, who called forth light out of darkness, the one who was revealed to Moses as a burning bush, this one, also suffered a horrible, ignoble, and seemingly weak death. If God can be arrested and murdered at our hands, how powerful can God really be, moreover, if this is true, then who is in charge? It makes us uncomfortable.