Category: Salvation

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Psalm Passage – Petitioning the Lord God on the basis of what will be in the future

“Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” (Psalm 17:1)
While this psalm is being used in conjunction with the story of Jacob awaiting the morning when he will see his brother Esau for the first time in over fourteen years, I am mindful that it is most likely King David who wrote this psalm. While Jacob might have thought about this sort of thing during his fourteen plus years away from home, it is David’s contention of freedom from deceit we are reading.
But we can let it be our thoughts and words. And it is probably a good follow up to yesterday’s reflection on the passage from Matthew where I was talking about the Divine non-sinful nature of Jesus in comparison to us.
“From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” (Verses 2 – 3)
It is interesting to set these verses against the Lord’s prayer, in that section where the pray-er asks the Lord to forgive sins/trespasses/transgressions as others who have wronged the person praying are forgiven. But that is the position and contention of most Christians, that we have not sinned or transgressed. It depends, beloved reader, on who is defining the transgression.
“As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (Verses 4 – 5)
“As for what others do” . . . . . that is a very Old Testament perspective. ‘I am clean, O Lord! Others are dirty!” The Lord God judges each individual’s heart. We are not compared against one another. But in the Eyes of the Perfect and Divine Lord, everyone has fallen short.
“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Verses 6 – 7)
This is the more truer part of this psalm/prayer. It is not because of our relative sin to other people that we are saved and loved. And it is not really that we are only the modest mildly of “bad” people. The Lord God’s steadfast love is for everyone. As is refuge from one’s adversaries.
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” (Verse 15)
Here again we have the protestation of the psalmist that he is righteous (no, it is not God’s righteousness that is meant), and because of this righteousness he expects to see the Lord God.
I probably would not have made an issue of this psalm if I had not written as I did yesterday. And not if I had not made note of Jacob’s missteps in relating to his family. And, furthermore, not if I had not been reading about how sin is the Eye of the Lord God as the beholder. All of these things I have lead me to comment as I have.
The psalmist also touches on the reality that the Lord God is ready, able and willing to forgive us for all of our sins. That our lips are only free from deceit because of God’s grace and mercy, and the atonement of Christ. The psalmist and Jacob, and all of the rest of rely on the Lord God’s plan for salvation. From the perspective of the psalmist, that is yet to come. We know it as a reality. So rather than faulting the presumption of the psalmist (when all is said and done) let us commend his faith that the Lord God will undertake for him, and for all of us. Selah!Filed under: Revised Common Lectionary Year A 2017 Tagged: Discipleship, Discipline in the Church, God's Nature, Nature of Jesus Christ, Psalm Passage, Reign of God, Revised Common Lectionary, Salvation, Season After Pentecost, Wisdom
Syndicated from a simple desire


Interview: Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Part 2)

Image via Waterbrook Multnomah
Brian Zahnd joins the podcast to discuss his new book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. In part 2, they focus on understanding the cross and Hell through the lens of a loving and nonviolent Jesus:

The idea tracing back to Anselm that God is satisfying his wrath, punishing Jesus, in order to gain the capital that allows God to forgive. (0:16)
The kind of justice which takes place at the cross. (6:42)
The view of wrath striking Jesus on the cross, and how we should see wrath instead. (14:11)
Hell and its various meanings which are not from Scripture. (23:16)
The parables of the sheep and the goats and of Lazarus and the rich man. (32:52)
How Brian preaches Hell. (36:48)
Interpreting the book of Revelation. (41:04)
The centrality of love. (45:31)
Brian’s hope for the book. (49:46)
Closing prayer. (50:42)

Word of Life Church
Brian Zahnd (website)
Brian Zahnd (Twitter)
Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Interview: Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Part 1)

Book image via Waterbrook Multnomah
Brian Zahnd joins the podcast to discuss his new book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. In part 1, they focus on Brian’s story and the nature of the Bible:

Brian’s work with Word of Life Church in St. Joseph’s, Missouri. (1:09)
Writing theology at a pastoral level. (4:39)
The artwork on the cover of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. (9:21)

Brian’s fascination with the infamous sermon of Jonathan Edward, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, including how that sermon is not representative of Edward’s ministry. (12:59)
Why we should not see God as angry, spiteful and abhorring of sinners. (22:50)
How we got to this place where the Bible is understood the way it is. (29:26)
Interpreting the Transfiguration. (37:20)
What the Bible is, if it isn’t an end in itself. (44:44)

Word of Life Church
Brian Zahnd (website)
Brian Zahnd (Twitter)
Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Epistles Passage – Silly Questions & Serious Answers

“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1b)

The writer of Romans (Paul) asks an absurd question to make a point.

“By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Verse 2)

And answers it by saying “me genioto” which in the ancient Greek means “by no means!” I can still hear my Greek from seminary saying that with special emphasis. Paul has a habit of asking absurd questions, like this one to make a point – should we sin in order to know and get more grace? And answers it with another question asking how can we who have sworn to live a good Christian life deliberately do that which we know is sin! (Picture your favorite image of Paul being horrified!)

He goes on to strengthen his point . . .

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Therefore it is unimaginable, according to Paul, that we would sin just so we can get the grace that was already promised and given to us. Not unlike shooting your nose to spit your face – another saying tossed around. Paul has more to say . . .

“But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 7 – 11)

According to Paul those who believe in Christ and have put away and repented all sin, should never again sin nor seek to sin. And that we no longer need will suffer because of the sin we did in the past. So, let’s pose that question again – how can we who have sworn to live a good Christian life deliberately do that which we know is sin? Or maybe the more appropriate question is “why?”

Filed under: Revised Common Lectionary Year A 2017 Tagged: Christian Journey, Christian Life, Nature of Jesus Christ, Revised Common Lectionary, Salvation, Season After Pentecost, Spirituality, Wisdom
Syndicated from a simple desire

Interview: Wesley Rostoll, Seeing the Cross with New Eyes

Fellow MennoNerd Wesley Rostoll joins the podcast to talk about his new book, Seeing the Cross with New Eyes, with host Paul Walker. The book description is as follows:
“Why did Jesus have to die on a cross? Was it to appease His Father’s wrath or was it to undo the effects of the fall in Eden? In his first book, author Wesley Rostoll tackles the tough questions surrounding the atonement, eternal life, the Book of Revelation and more; offering us fresh perspectives into the cross that will transform our understanding of the gospel message.” Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Vlog 32: Cross and Atonement

For this vlog series, the participants follow up on the Easter season by discussing the cross and atonement. Steve opens the discussion asking the question. Deborah responds by suggesting that the different atonement theories are more complementary than contradictory. Micael wraps up the topic by questioning the common belief that the earliest Christians believed in a Christus Victor theory. Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Some Problems I Have With Penal Substitution Theology of Atonement

If penal substitution is true, God is not unlike other ancient, blood-thirsty god. In church we often sing worship songs with themes and phrases that say, “there is none like you!” I believe those songs are beautiful, because it’s true– there is no God like our God. But if penal substitution is true, God isn’t [Read More...]
Syndicated from The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey

Interview: Greg Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Part 2)

Greg Boyd joins the podcast to discuss his newest book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God. In this part 2, the conversation focuses primarily on the nature of the cross. If you missed part 1, you can check that out here.
The book description (taken from Amazon):
Renowned pastor-theologian Gregory A. Boyd proposes a revolutionary way to read the Bible in this epic but accessible study. His “cruciform hermeneutic” stands as a challenge to the field of biblical studies and to all thoughtful Christians.
A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia.
Throughout Christian history, various answers have been proposed, ranging from the long-rejected explanation that these contrasting depictions are of two entirely different “gods” to recent social, cultural, and literary theories that attempt to dispel the conflict.
The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God.
Developing a theological interpretation of Scripture that he labels a “cruciform hermeneutic,” Boyd demonstrates how the Bible’s violent images of God are reframed and their violence subverted when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. Indeed, when read in this way, Boyd argues that these violent depictions bear witness to the same self-sacrificial nature of God that was ultimately revealed on the cross. Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

What “God Loves You” Actually Means

From the beginning, God chose to have a people who would be the object of his eternal love, just as Christ is the object of his eternal love. God sought to acquire a “bride” for Christ who would receive and reflect the love of the triune community (Eph 5:25-32). And the only qualification for being incorporated into this radiant bride, and thus for being loved by God with the same love he has for Christ, is simply that one is willing to let God do this!

The very same love that the Father has for the Son is now given to us, for we are, as a matter of fact, in the Son. The point is made perfectly clear in John 17 when Jesus prayed that his disciples, and thus all the world, would know that the Father has “loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23, emphasis added). Then a few sentences later, he said to the Father, “I made your name [character] known to them … so that the [very same] love which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26, emphasis added).

The perfect love that defines God throughout eternity—the ultimate, worth-affirming, mutually submissive love that eternally unites the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is now directed toward every person who is “in Christ.”

This means that as you read this sentence you could not be more loved than you are right now! The love that God eternally is burns toward you with the same unimprovable, passionate intensity that the three divine persons have for each other. The perfect love that God eternally is is directed toward you, right here and right now. It is not a secondary, compromised, watered down, or derivative love. It is the one and the same love that is shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the very act of loving Christ, the Father loves you.

The goal of creation is for people to participate in the eternal love of the triune God. We do not do this by performing good deeds, successfully conquering certain sins, or holding all of the right theological positions. These may be by-products of the change in reality that takes place in us, but they are not the cause of the change. We participate in the eternal love of the triune fellowship by allowing ourselves to be placed in Christ by faith. We receive it. It is simply a matter of saying yes to God’s desire to relate to us in the process of relating to the triune community.

This was achieved when Christ came—which we celebrate during this Advent season—crossing the infinite gulf that distinguishes and separates God from fallen humanity. Through the incarnation and the eventual crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Father incorporates all who say yes into the Son. Thus the Trinity opens up the perfect, triune love and allows undeserving sinners to share in the dance of God’s eternal love and glory.

—Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pages 37-39
Image by Kaleb Nimz via Unsplash
The post What “God Loves You” Actually Means appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.
Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

Words of Knowledge that Led to Salvation


God is so good. Last Sunday I went out on the streets of Kettering with a guitar and some Gospel tracts to invite people to our evening meeting. I met a woman in dark clothing walking with the help of a crutch, who commented how happy I looked when I played. I asked her how she was doing. “Like shit” she said, explaining to me her tough family situation, tragedies in her past and her homelessness.
She then asked me what I was doing and I said that I invite people to a Gospel meeting where there will be worship, Bible study, prayer – and tea. She responded that she doesn’t believe in God – she found it impossible after all the bad things that had happened to her. I gave her a booklet the Jesus Army has printed called The Biggest Issue which asked on the front cover “Where is God when all goes wrong?”
She asked me how I got involved with this church and I explained that I found it on the Internet and came all the way from Sweden to join a training year, living in community and working in one of their Kingdom Businesses. She was really impressed by that kind of commitment to a church. She revealed that she actually carries a cross necklace around in her bag, “I guess I do have a little faith after all.” Then she said that a warm cup of tea would be lovely and decided to go with me to the meeting hall.
Well inside she was warmly greeted by the rest of the Jesus people. Heather and Wendy sat next to her, listening to her story and explaining the meeting structure. We sang worship songs and Tim talked about how we all need help from God and how He lovingly offers all the help we need: salvation. He talked to our guest personally several times and she was clearly touched by his message. He ended by asking her if she wanted prayer and she said yes.


I, Wendy and my good friend Mark went to her and offered us to pray for her infected hip which was the reason for her walking with a crutch, as well as for a change in her life. Mark prayed about things in her history that she hadn’t mentioned to him, me or anyone else. She started to weep. We prayed for the hip, it wasn’t completely healed but she didn’t care. God had touched her, and Mark led her in a prayer to receive Christ.
She then joyfully joined us as we went back to our community house, Holy Treasure, for some food and fellowship. She was very happy: “Micael, you were my saviour when you found me on the streets!” “Oh no,” I said, “Jesus is your Saviour, I’m just His messenger.” She was also amazed that Mark knew stuff about her that she hadn’t shared. We explained that it would take a little while if she’s wanted a bed but that night she could sleep at her mother’s.
The next evening I held a Spiritual Q&A apologetics class as usual. She turned up and even though she almost fell asleep during the first ten minutes of me talking about design arguments for the existence of God, she eventually became very engaged in the discussion. “But who created God?” “How can you believe in Adam and Eve?” She was very intrigued and wanted to join future Q&As. She had many questions, but decided that before she got most of it she was acting on faith, holding on to what is beyond our intellectual capacity.
I’m so happy that she wanted to follow the way of God and pray daily for her and her family. Please join me in that.
Filed under: Evangelism & Missions, Salvation & Eternal Life, Signs & Wonders
Syndicated from Holy Spirit Activism

Awakening Europe Managed to Do Something I’ve Never seen Before

Last weekend Heidi Baker, Todd White, Chris Overstreet and other revivalists were preaching and ministering in Stockholm at the huge charismatic Gospel event called Awakening Europe. Sarah and I were there along with at least 12,000 other Christians hungry for God and the expansion of His Kingdom in Scandinavia. Even though I’m critical to big arenas, church shows, expensive equipment and male dominance the overall impression from the event was very positive since the message was centred on something we are desperately lacking in Northern churches:
The Gospel.
This was without doubt the most Jesus-centred conference I’ve ever been to. The pure Gospel was being preached every night with emphasis on repentance, faith, salvation and being born again. The program booklet proclaimed that Europe shall be saved and that we should believe for 100 million souls over the next ten years. The pause screen in between sessions asked us if we had spoken to someone about Jesus today – something my friend Rebecka Rodriguez calls the One Person a Day Challenge. Swedish church leaders prayed that we once again would become a nation of missionaries.
Most impressively, they managed to get most of the ten thousand attendees out on the streets to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, love the poor and invite people to the event. I have never seen that happening previously. Every time when a Christian conference has had evangelism, it has only been a tiny minority participating while most people do other stuff in the conference or camp area. It has often been viewed as a bonus activity for those especially called rather than as discipleship training for all the saints.
I was even part of a team last summer responsible for a new outreach initiative at one of Sweden’s biggest Christian conferences. The conference leadership agreed with us that evangelism is for everyone and we hoped to get hundreds if not thousands out on the street. But out of ten thousand conference attendees, we didn’t bring out more than 40 over all five days. There was nothing wrong with the information – I made videos every day that they played on the evening meetings, and we got to share testimonies of how people received Christ and were healed out there as the conference was going on. Speakers at the conference referenced the outreach in their sermons – even the very theme of the conference was Exodus, encouraging the people to get out of their comfort zone and enter the wild.
So how in the world did Awakening Europe manage to get enormously different results? For starters, the demographics surely were different – the Awakening audience was much younger whereas many Christian summer conferences are mainly directed to families. The intention of attendees were also probably different: the Awakening folks went there for revival and breakthrough rather than cozy holiday and recreation. Yet this is not the whole story, because there were a lot of young and old revivalists present at the summer conference who still didn’t go out with us.
The main key behind Awakening’s success I believe was that nothing else was going on at the same time as the outreach. See, saying that evangelism is for everyone doesn’t mean much if you doesn’t act as if it is for everyone. You don’t have competing activities going on at the same time as Sunday services or evening meetings at conferences, and that powerfully signals that it’s for everyone. The same is true for evangelism.
Second, the outreach was preceded by a powerful message by Bethel evangelist Chris Overstreet who emphasised that this is for everyone, that salvation is the beat gift anyone can get and that we ought to pray for boldness and courage. He exhorted us not to retreat to hotel rooms or cafés but to take this opportunity to lead others to Christ. Hammering this in for at least thirty minutes, it likely prepare the uncomfortable more then a thirty second video would have done. He finished by letting us practice sharing our testimony and praying for healing with each other.
Third, the outreach was well prepared. An experienced Swedish evangelist shared how we practically act when approaching people – loving, respectfully, friendly and so on. We were told to go out of the arena and approach team leaders outside. Thirty key areas in Stockholm had been identified in prayer. Each team was led by an evangelist on fire and a Stockholm resident who knew the area. We received Bibles and tickets to the evening meetings.
This is something all Christian conferences should incorporate if we truly want revival and church growth. There’s only one way to reach out, and that’s to actually go out. Awakening Europe did precisely that in a very inspiring and honourable way.
Filed under: Evangelism & Missions
Syndicated from Holy Spirit Activism

Are we in debt to God?

Ted Grimsrud—October 10, 2016
[This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Shalom Mennonite Congregation, the first in a series on salvation and human flourishing.]

My agenda here is to talk about Jubilee. I believe that Jubilee is a central theme throughout the entire Bible, even if the term itself isn’t used very often. A key text is Luke 4, which tells of when Jesus opens his public ministry with words that would have associated him with the Old Testament’s year of Jubilee—which is one of three levels of Sabbath regulations in the book of Leviticus.
Sabbath theology
There is the Sabbath day, the seventh day, a day of rest—which when first instituted was radical for the Hebrew people who had recently been liberated from slavery where there was no rest. Every seventh day should be a time to stop, to recuperate, and to remember how God, in God’s mercy, had given them freedom.

Then there is the Sabbath year, the seventh year. During the Sabbath year, the land was to be allowed to rest, to not be cultivated but to recuperate. The Sabbath year was also a time for the forgiveness of debts, including the release from service for indentured servants, temporary “slaves,” you could say, who worked for others to pay off their debts. Part of the idea here, too, was the reminder of God as a God of mercy and generosity; and part of the idea as well was to prevent a long term separation between various classes of people—no indefinite indebtedness, no separation of the wealthy from the poor, of debtors from debtees.

Then the third level was the year of Jubilee. Here, after 7 sets of 7 years, the 50th year, land was to be returned to those who had originally owned it. There was to be a redistribution—or, we could say, an end to the redistribution—of the land. Instead of being redistributed to the big landowners, it goes back to those who first owned it. It would be as if in the United States all the wealth that has been redistributed from the lower and middle classes to the 1% would be returned every 50 years.

The year of Jubilee was a profound statement about God’s intentions for the community and, more than that, even, a profound statement about the character of God. Prevent having a few push the many off the land; have a society that cares for the vulnerable.

Every 7th day, every 7th year, every 50th year, would come as a reminder that God is a God of mercy, a God of generosity, not a God locked into a debt dynamic. And that is how God intends the community of God’s people to be. They remember that at the very core of their communal identity is God’s generous love that liberated them from slavery.
Jesus and Jubilee
Jesus evokes this Jubilee dynamic when he begins his ministry with the words, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, I have come to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, and the giving of sight to the blind. This is the year of the Lord’s favor,” that is, the year of Jubilee. The people in his hometown get mad at him not because he proclaimed Jubilee. It wasn’t that they didn’t like his good news. They got mad when he made it clear that this good news is for everyone, including Israel’s enemies. The idea is, good news for me is great, but maybe not good news for those I don’t like.

Once upon a time, a shopkeeper is visited by an angel and told that he could have anything he wished. The only condition was that his neighboring shopkeeper, who he hated, would also get whatever he wished—would actually get two of whatever the wish was. So the guy thought a bit. I’ve got it, he said. Strike me blind in one eye. Meaning, of course that the man he hated would be blinded in both eyes.

But Jesus’s message is indeed a message that God wills to bless everyone, friends of ours and our enemies. And with such a God, debt is decentered. The dynamic that so binds so many of us in this world, debt leading to more debt, leading to the on-going redistribution of wealth and power towards the 1%, from the many to the few—this is not God’s will for humanity.
Debt as a way of life
There was an important book a generation ago by historian, William Appleman Williams, written about the U.S.A., called Empire as a Way of Life. That was one of those far-seeing books, because in the past 40 years, the imperial nature of America’s way of being in the world has only gotten more profound and is finally getting the attention of more people. But I think if we would write a book now about America’s way of being in the world we’d just as well call it “Debt as a way of life,” the dynamics of global capitalism that are crushing the life right out of the earth.

Tragically, in our allegedly most Christian of all the nations, we miss completely the centrality of Jubilee in the Bible. It’s really distressing, and we see it again, right before the watching world, during this presidential election, how “Christian America” (so-called) stands four-square behind the American empire and the way this empire, like all other empires, uses debt as a major tool for subjugation.
Missing the biblical message
I want to suggest two ways that the biblical message about debt gets misunderstood by Christians. If I was to summarize the actual message about debt, I could do it this way, evoking President Calvin Coolidge, known as a man of few words. One Sunday, after church, he was asked by a reporter what the sermon was about. It was about sin, Coolidge said. What did the preacher say about sin? That he was agin it. We ask, what does the Bible say about debt? That it’s agin it—at least agin it as the basis for shaping social relationships.

But Christians tend to miss this. One way they miss the biblical teaching on debt is by missing the social dimensions of how debt works in the Bible. In the Bible, debt energizes the redistribution of wealth and power from the many to the elite few. But for many Christians, debt in the Bible is mainly about our personal relationship with God, about our own sinfulness and our need to find forgiveness for our sins. Christians miss the social critique. The second way of missing the biblical teaching is to take the next step. To make God a God who keeps track of debts and is bound to collect them, a “debt-ing” kind of God, we could say—then the dynamics of debt start at the very top.

Let me illustrate the first point, how we think of debt as personal sin. Some of you, I expect, grew up doing Bible memory. Now, I didn’t grow up going to church, I don’t have this memorizing thing in my bones—for better and worse, maybe. But I could always claim to have one verse memorized: John 11:35. Anybody know what John 11:35 says? “Jesus wept.” The shortest, easiest to memorize, verse in the Bible.

But there’s another slightly longer passage that many of us probably also have memorized, Bible Memory background or not. That’s Matthew 6:9-13. Imagine reciting this with a random group of Christians from various tradtions: “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our ….” Oops. I expect some would use different words here. Some may say “sins” (or “trespasses”), some may say “debts.” Matthew 9:12-13 actually says “debts”: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

Switching “sins” (or “trespasses”) for “debts” here seems to change the meaning quite a bit. Now it is the case that Luke 11:4, the other version of this prayer, does have “sin” instead of “debt.” So the use of “sin” instead of “debt” might make some sense—except it seems for many Christians, saying “sin” here alludes to one’s personal sin that we want God to forgive.

In Luke as well as Matthew, though, the point is social more than just between the individual sinner and God. Luke also has Jesus say, “as we forgive our debtors.” Forgive us our sins as we forgive our debtors. Or, maybe a plausible paraphrase: As you, O God, show mercy toward us when we fail, empower us to show mercy toward those who are indebted to us. This is a call for Jubilee, a call to break from the cycle of shaping our social relationships by debt, by leverage, by a quest for advantage. It’s not so much about forgiving individual sins as it is about an entire mentality, an entire framework for thinking about all our relationships.
Is God a “debt-ing” God?
Part of why we don’t think about the forgiveness of debts is my 2nd point; we think of God as a “debting” God. Traditional Christianity’s very notion of salvation relies on the view that we are irrevocably in debt to God due to our sinfulness. Thus, we must rely on an extraordinarily powerful (and violent) sacrifice—Jesus’s death on the cross—to turn God’s anger toward us away. Only this can satisfy God’s need to have debts paid.

But the point of Jubilee theology, the point of Jesus’s announcement of Jubilee at the beginning of his ministry, the point of the dynamics of the prayer that Jesus instructs his followers to embody—is that God is not a debt-ing God. God is not a debt-ing God. Rather God is a merciful God, and a God who forgives debts, and a God who wants human beings to live in freedom, not in bondage to always owing somebody something—except, as Paul writes, the debt of love.

There is a famous story that almost for sure didn’t really happen. But it’s kind of funny and it provides a key metaphor for my theology. Some big time philosopher (or maybe it’s a scientist) lectures about the infinite cosmos and is challenged by an elderly woman in the audience. “What you are telling us about the universe is rubbish,” she says. “The earth rests on the back of a huge turtle.” “Oh yes,” the philosopher says, “and pray tell, madam, what holds up the turtle?” “Why, another turtle, of course.” “And what holds up that turtle?” “Ah, I get where you’re going. But sir, it is turtles, all the way down!” Turtles all the way down, we don’t need anything more.

Now, I’m not interested in the infinity or not of the physical universe here. I want to use this metaphor of “turtles all the way down” to think about the moral universe. In many understandings of the gospel—we have something like this: God can forgive only because God’s justice has been satisfied by Jesus’s sacrificial death. Or, maybe it’s God’s holiness or God’s honor. The thing is, our debt to God due to our sins is enormous. In this view, since God’s moral character requires the payments of debts, there has to be some other way for our debt to be paid—Jesus’s sacrificial death.

The point is that God can’t simply forgive—God’s moral nature requires some kind of payment to balance out the enormity of human indebtedness. Reciprocity. Retribution. Tit for tat. It can’t be love all the way down. The moral universe rests on something else—retributive justice or justice as fairness. Love and mercy are possible only in ways that account for this kind of justice—which means salvation is not truly based on mercy. Rather, salvation is based on an adequate payment of the universe’s moral price tag placed on human sin. Salvation is based on the payment of our debt.

The textbook I used during my 20 years at EMU, The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill, has a really helpful discussion of the dynamics of reciprocity. The “norm of reciprocity” governs so much of our social life—if you do me a favor, I owe you one back. Like, if we invite friends for dinner, we never do it twice in a row—we wait for our friends to feed us before a 2nd invitation. Or, if you hurt me, I pay you back by hurting you. Debt is simply part of the air we breathe. Kraybill argues that Jesus’s message of love, though, broke free from the dynamics of reciprocity. Give without expecting a return. Instead of retaliating, forgive. The problems with our American way of life and our Christian salvation theology, are that they actually do not reflect the deepest human wisdom that life is about love all the way down, not love resting on “justice.”
A Jubilee-oriented view of God’s love
As a thought experiment, I tried to remember how I have experienced Jubilee. What are experiences I have had of people giving to me without expecting a return? This is an exercise I’d recommend for all of us. As I thought about, I realized how common that kind of thing has been in my life.

A couple of memories popped right up. Of when Kathleen and I went to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary 35 years ago with hardly any money. The guy in charge of finances learned of this and immediately called us in. We thought that since we weren’t Mennonites at that time we couldn’t apply for financial aid. He told that was not the case. He gave us some aid from what remained of their funds and gave us some work study to help as well. We received this a extraordinary generosity.

Or of the time when I was 22 years old and the engine in my old Volkswagen bug blew up near the North Dakota, Montana border. A cop stopped to give me a ride to the next town. The car dealer there went back to get my car and towed it for free, gave me a place to stay for a few days, and bought my worthless car for enough to cover my bus ticket back home. There have been many kindnesses from friends and from strangers.

However, the memories that came most easily to mind were generous acts by my mother and father going back to before I could remember. There is a foundation there, ways they acted toward me that helped me experience life as beautiful and meaningful, a sense that has also helped me manage when things haven’t gone well. They helped me see the truth in something that Lou Reed sang—there is magic in everything, and then some loss to even things out—and that’s okay.

As I pondered these memories, I realized something with a start. It hit me. It is impossible for me to imagine repaying the debt I owe my parents—even as probably every day of my life I think about how much whatever is good about the life I’ve lived comes from all that they gave me. And it is impossible to imagine them thinking that I should repay the debt I owe them.

And I would never imagine wanting our son Johan to pay me back. Sure, we gave him life, we nurtured his life, we still do, but it’s never been about reciprocity, it’s never been about a tit for tat. He’s a gift. Our relationship with him has always been based, you could say, on a gift economy, not a debt economy. And my parents always treated me as a gift. I almost died when I was born, and they never let me forget that my name, Theodore, means “gift of God.”

So, what I realized, what startled me, is that this is what God is like. This is what the economy of our relationship with God is like—a gift economy, not a debt economy. God is like a parent who receives one’s child as a gift, beyond price, debt-free.

I want to suggest that there is a lot of theology here—the theology of Jubilee. The theology that sees as central to God’s character the love and generosity of the creator in Genesis 1. The theology that sees as central to God’s character the love and generosity of the liberator who frees people from slavery and bondage and indebtedness throughout the Bible. With God, it is love all the way down. God forgives us our debts and empowers us to forgive our debtors. Amen.

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – The realities of this life and the life to come, and the lessons therein

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.” (Luke 16: 19 – 22)

I try to limit how much my personal life intersects and affects these comments. But it is a night I usually write, and despite my present circumstances I am trying to write. I am doing one of several studies that my medical providers have ordered. Tonight I am doing the home sleep study and so am “wired up” quite interestingly. It is getting to be increasingly uncomfortable to wear and I have to wonder how effectively it will measure a typical night’s sleep.

I was not in fact going to write tonight, but then I saw that one of the passages was this one, and the plight of Lazarus in this life and the plight of the rich man in the afterlife spoke to me, trussed up as I am.

“The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ “ (Verses 23 – 24)

I am not comparing, exactly my situation with theirs. By the time you read this beloved reader (and actually by mid-morning tomorrow) this will be done and over, and fading into history. But while I am so encumbered, I feel for Lazarus and am glad his suffering came to an end, and he was welcomed into heaven. And if the rich man was suffering more than I am now (and he undoubtedly was) and his suffering was to be without end (and I am sure it was and is) then he surely is a miserable wretch. But what can be done?

“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ “ (Verses 25 – 26)

Just as there is a separation between those who are well off, and those who suffer and do not have enough – there is a separation between heaven and Hades/hell. We may not be able to control in this life where we are, but in the life to come . . . that is a different story.

“He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ “ (Verses 27 – 29)

In Jesus’ time that was all the warning and teaching there was available and we know from reading about the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews that for many that was not enough to warn them and keep them from this sort of hellish fate. Something more was needed.

“He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” ( Verses 30 – 31)

And there we have it – what is needed is someone to come back from the dead to convince the non-believers that there is a right and righteous way to live. And that it will be rewarded. Just as my being trussed up for this testing will be over soon enough, so too will this life. What we endure in this life is brief compared to the eternity that awaits us. So the question is, beloved reader, in which time frame would you rather have to endure difficulty? Now, or in the time to come?

Now this next idea will seem strange to you, but bear with me – prove Father Abraham wrong. Resolve to be convinced by what is preached to you – whether it be the prophets old and new, or one who has risen from the dead. For we know of someone who rose from the dead. Let that fact, if no other, convince you of the right and righteous way to live. If the teachings of Jesus during his lifetime do not persuade you, let the power he had over life and death, and the promise of the life to come, guide your journey in this world. Selah!

Filed under: Revised Common Lectionary Year C 2016 Tagged: Christian Journey, Christian Life, Evangelism, Revised Common Lectionary, Salvation, Season After Pentecost
Syndicated from a simple desire


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