10 Mar 2019
When I was about 7 or 8 years old my father worked the night shift at the Post Office and my mother worked a day job. They did that so that there was someone home with me and because Dad made more money on the night shift. Sometimes he had to work on Sundays. I remember one time going to church, or at least Sunday School, with a good friend and classmate. The Sunday School teacher was appalled that my father worked on Sundays because it was a sin; Sunday was for church and church alone; only people like firefighters and police and doctors could be working on Sunday. Mail service did not save lives and so it was a sin. Now grant that I was only 7 or 8 and some of the details may be fuzzy but I am quite sure of the essential fact: my father was in some type of religious trouble, aka sin, because of his job. I was at an age where I believed what adults said because they were sources of authority. But some part of me said that was not right: he had to have a job, the job required work on Sunday at times, and he was a wonderful and loving father. It did not compute fully in my brain. I wish I could tell you if I discussed it with my mother, but I don’t remember. I just remember being really bothered by what I now realize was very bad theology. It was the natural result of believing the theology of the cross that said Jesus died to save us from a very angry God because we were so bad. Humans were rubbish, or even worse, and owed God a debt that they could never pay, in part because they were worth nothing. God was angry at humanity and so someone had to die, and it had to be Jesus because only the death of God could satisfy God.
When I started thinking about that idea it made no sense. This was not suicide, this was not a doppelgänger, this was just wrong. What it has done to individuals and families for millennia is appalling. I am a mentor in an EFM group and in it are two individuals who grew up in homes where a fundamentalist theology was in play. What they said was that doctrine was rigid and immutable; everything was places in black and white and it was clear that the beliefs of the church in which they were raised were the “white” ones. They left because they were labeled as outside of the possibility of salvation because of who they were. God was a rigid and angry taskmaster and creation was not good.
People are damaged in many ways, but to be damaged by religious doctrine is the ultimate sin.
What if we started our theology from the ground up, from the very particular-ness of being human and being of this earth. This is where St. Francis started and this is where, I believe, our own catechism really starts. We are an incarnational faith and that is where we must begin, with the messiness that is us as human beings.
When is the last time you looked at our own catechism? We have one you know and it starts on page 845 of the BDP. What is the first category? Hint: it is not the nature of God. Look how it starts:
What are we by nature?
We are part of God's creation, made in the image of God.
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.
Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation?
From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices.
Why do we not use our freedom as we should?
Because we rebel against God, and we put ourselves in the place of God.
What help is there for us?
Our help is in God.
How did God first help us?
God first helped us by revealing himself and his will, through nature and history, through many seers and saints, and especially the prophets of Israel.
It is beautiful!! This celebrates humanity and yet holds us accountable. And when it gets to the question of why Jesus had to die, it says nothing about paying a ransom to God.
What is the great importance of Jesus' suffering and death?
By his obedience, even to suffering and death, Jesus made the offering which we could not make; in him we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God.
What is the significance of Jesus' resurrection?
By his resurrection, Jesus overcame death and opened for us the way of eternal life.
You do not have to agree with me, but as good Episcopalians you do abide by the Book of Common Prayer. What if we began thinking of Jesus not as someone who came to die for us but as one who came to reveal the nature of God to us and to really free us from our petty and narrow beliefs? What if we stopped fighting over minutia and machining boxes that are every smaller and fit fewer and fewer people? Let’s use this season of Lent to examine a larger faith. If we start thinking of creation as intrinsically good we know that our next door neighbors are good, the folks on the other side of town are intrinsically good; those that come with another language and a different culture are good. Denison is good, Harlan is good, Iowa is good.
Get out of the box that has you have been trained to put around yourselves.
Jesus was perfect human; the model to which we know we strive even though we know we are not perfect. But he did show us the nature of God as love. Our own catechism says our mission is to promote justice, peace, and love. That is not a function of those who think they are a corner on the market of all things correct.
Jesus life and death point the way to something much bigger than himself. He was the messiah; he gave to us all we need to know and to do for salvation.
My plea to you is to think of yourselves as good and holy. As the saying goes, God doesn’t make junk. You are not junk nor is anyone else junk. That is not easy, is it? We all are like the rich young man: we follow the letter of the law but we balk at the spirit. We all have something with which we are unable to part. I can think of many things which keep me from the fully inheriting eternal life.
I close with a paradox for you: remember that you are created good and you are holy and loved by God, but like the rich young man you all have something that is holding you back from fully embracing the kindom of God.
This Lent, find that something and let go.