Category Archives: theories of atonement

Interrupted by the Cross

Believe it or not the same week in which my pastor preached on Christ crucified, like Paul did, in a completely random way I was trying to find “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge via my library for reasons having to do with the Festival of Faith and Writing in April. I only found a sample of the e-book but have asked my library to get it. But the sample is amazing. The sermon and this book together are bringing me — hope. I have been so angry for a over a year, at the awful awful world, at people, at some medical stuff going on with me, everything has made me angry. And living with that anger, being on that edge and needing that control all the time, is exhausting.

Rutledge writes ” Understanding the cross and resurrection as a single event, undertaken from within the Trinity itself, is of utmost importance … The scandalous “word of the cross” is not a human word. It is the Spirit-empowered presence of God in the preaching of the crucified One. The Holy Spirit … inhabits the message and empowers the speaker, so that the proclamation of God’s act in Christ is the new occasion of creation, issuing from the Trinitarian power of the originating Word itself.”

The world — as completely horrible as it seems to be — may in fact be in the midst of being made new. Not with worldly power in any way (not politics, or privilege, or people/mob power and certainly not with hate and anger); but the generative power of God…

For some crazy reason it gives me a feeling of calm. If God is trying to fix the world, then however powerless I am, its okay. I can do my best not to make the world worse and call that a victory.  It is an acknowledgment — by God no less — that the world was/is broken and needs fixing. This is a horrible world. Paul would nod and maybe even roll his eyes: Of course it is. But for so long it just seems as if no one was listening. Or they would listen in the wrong way like: yep that is it exactly, that is why I am just doing what I need to do and the rest of the time eat, drink, and be merry. Which I just can’t seem to do. I can’t seem to not care.

This world: brutal. Beautiful. Both.

But one day only Beautiful.

 

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Interrupted by poetry

The Body of Christ

 

We remember Him by breaking bread or

Is that the way He remembers us? Either way

Breaking is messy – let’s be glad it isn’t glass

Imagine the shards

Stabbing us

The drops of inevitable blood

 

Instead with each piece pulled free and given,

Tiny crumbs fall to the ground, an abundance of memory

Reminding us of dogs who also

Deserve salvation and the birds of the air

And even of mustard seeds

 

Close your eyes. Wonder about mysteries

Wonder about wholeness that is found

only in the beautiful broken mess and then open your sight

to the cross, to what we are remembering

to Whom was so messily broken for dusty us

 

(Remember please this is copyrighted; all rights reserved)

Interrupted by pain and healing

Advent is waiting for God to be born in human flesh and human bones and the whole beautiful mess. God chose to join us, to walk among us, to suffer, to heal, to love us in the flesh. The Incarnation is amazing!

Since my back went out, I’ve been thinking about bones and incarnation. It was pretty brave of God to come down here, to be flesh, especially knowing what was going to happen. That much love…recently I was told: God’s love is like the biggest waterfall you can image. And what we do is hold a cup out and take a tiny sip. When what we could do is stand so we are flooded and covered with water! This image made my heart leap. In the midst of my healing — my wonder and awe only increases for a God being so loving as to be incarnated, encased in flesh, to be in some sense less than God in order for us to be more than human in some sense —

As my back heals, I’m going to think about bones:

God pulled Jacob’s thigh bone out of joint and he walked with a limp the rest of his life — but he saw the face of God in the face of his brother (his enemy) after that.

Ezekiel’s dry bones, brought back to life….

What other bones might I find in scripture?

Bones — a mineral, that gives our body a framework, that are vital, that are “living stones”, yes? When things go “down to the bone” they go deep, they go to the core, they hurt. When you have only the “bare bones” you have an outline or a plan that needs fleshing out. When you walk with a limp you are vulnerable, you are noticeable.

Many things to think about bones. And many many thanks for being on the path of healing!

 

Acts 2:22-36 and death

At the heart of everything is death. Perhaps. There are days that that foot-tapping, finger-snapping, joyful dance of life seems to catch me in the flow and send me spinning and I fall asleep full of gratitude. Even on those days, Death sings its counterpart. W.H. Auden’s poem captures this, how even if you are having a great day or an ordinary day or just working, somewhere around you death is happening. (And yes the poem does much more than that, beautifully.) I am not one of those people who just shrug and say “eh so what, we die, it doesn’t matter.” I quite dislike that attitude! If it is just a snuffing out, like a candle flame, that means it is the end of “me”. That is terrifying. Even if that also snuffs out pain and suffering, and I fully understand that a time comes when that is mercy, the snuffing out means something.

And if Death is a rebirth to something new — acorn to oak-tree — it will still be new. Those I love are not here. There is a loss. They are not here to touch.

So — “This Jesus God raised up” (v. 32) and earlier “But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for it to hold him.” Hands. Ascending. Freedom. Death personified. One of the theories of atonement — of the point of Jesus’ dying on the cross — is that it frees us from Death.

Yet we ourselves will still die. Those we love die. So what is this freedom from death? When God breathed life back into Jesus, reknit the broken body — that’s all off-stage. In my mind’s eye there had to be some fear in that moment, but that’s me not the scriptures. All we have is an empty tomb and a resurrected Jesus strong and glowing in a healed body that yet still bore scars. Here we have the witnesses who saw Jesus ascend — like mysterious Elijah — to heaven. Peter offers this as more logical evidence to believe — Jesus is freed from Death. We will be too.

Death is still pretty final and mysterious and scary. It is still, here and now, a loss. Let’s rejoice in the promise and the hope — let’s have faith and trust. Let’s witness to the moments of joy in our aliveness. Let’s be mindful of mystery. But let’s not minimize how — here and now — final and sad death is.

Interrupted by Summer

I will be wrapping up my discussion of “my” bit of Acts pretty soon; I’ll be working on comparing and contrasting The Prodigal Son story and the story of Jacob in Genesis 27 – 36:8. I’m reading Kenneth E. Bailey’s wonderful book “Jacob and the Prodigal” and preparing to lead a 4 week class this fall for adults at my church. Whew!

In the meantime — today — here’s part of an essay I wrote for the class I am taking, back in June.


Well – theology is hard! That’s the first insight that I have gained. But I think I have figured out that, for me at least right at this point in my life, perhaps “theology” can be yet another lens to read scripture or “read” church with. In the previous unit, “forgiveness” became such a lens – everything from scripture to tv shows had (still has) something to say about forgiveness. And the lens we use to see the world will transform the world.

So the lens of theology seems to be about theories – all overlapping and non-exclusive – about what exactly Jesus did for us. He healed the brokenness between God and humans; He freed us from sins; He heals us personally; He freed humans from death; He paid the price for our sin; He earned us God’s forgiveness; He restored order to the world. He healed the breach between humans. He fills us and the world with love. He has turned us around from worldly values of power, to true abundance and grace. Who is Jesus? How does the triune Godhead “work”? What is the role of the rites of the church? To some extent all these theories are just words, yes? But it turns out that a surprisingly concrete way that this theology way of thinking has affected me is with music. I love Christian music, I listen to it all the time, I sing along in the car. Now I can hear Chris Tomlin in “Waterfall” sing

“…your love is like a waterfall, running wild and free; your love is like a waterfall, raining down on me” – now I can “see” baptism in this song, I hear that God brings life to our dry desert roots. “Dancing in the rain” indeed! I just loved this song before. Now it is even richer.

Chris Tomlin again: “At the Cross” – “At the cross, at the cross… When your love ran red, and my sin washed white, I hold onto you… Jesus.” This is more than forgiveness of sins, it is a beautiful way of putting the price paid for justice, the love that was the motivation, not just some strange deal.

“Drops in the Ocean” by Hawk Nelson is my current favorite.  “I am for you, I’m not against you. If you want to know how far love can go, deep and wide, look at my hands, look at my side. Can you count the times of day you are forgiven, more than the drops in the ocean.” Forgiveness again. Love as the motivation again. A sense of awe for this amazing gift and freedom – for the amount of love it took to offer all of us such sweeping forgiveness and continuing forgiveness. And the price paid – the pierced and bloody hands and side – the price paid is not neglected.

Michael W. Smith’s magnificent “You Won’t Let Go”: as the title says, we don’t need to be afraid, he keeps us close, he lights the way, he is an anchor for our soul – even if we’re battered around. No matter how frail I am, or if my mustard seed of faith fails, He is faithful, and nothing can separate me from His love. What a joyous, marvelous song/prayer/praise this is. This is perhaps speaking to the question of Who God is rather than what it is Jesus/God has done for us. But knowing that He’s got me in all my mess, that He’s a faithful anchor is very reassuring.

From Kari Jobe’s song “Steady My Heart” – “I’m not going to worry, I know you got me, right inside the palm of your hand, each and every moment just as you plan…. Even when it hurts, even when it’s hard, even when it all just falls apart.” God in the richness of the three will steady my heart. He’ll anchor my soul. He’ll wash my sins white. He’ll more than resurrect me, he’ll be with me here and now, no matter what.