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Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
I never get tired of that proclamation. Christ is risen!
And here we are, a week after Easter Sunday. Does it feel like deja vu for you? Year after year, we go through the cycle of Advent leading up to Christmas, then Epiphany, then the 40 days of Lent that leads up to Holy Week – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Does it feel like we are back at the same place all over again? How do you feel? *
We begin a new sermon arc today – Living a Resurrected Life! It is actually a continuation – it builds up from our Good Friday & Easter Sunday services which built upon the Story of God and Us series. This series – we want to look more closely at the 7 characters we met during the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.
So are we back at the same place? (read menti)
*No – As Heraclitus said “No person ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and they isn’t the same person.
We are constantly growing and changing and learning. And when we come back again next Easter, we would have grown, and our understanding of God, of Easter, of resurrection would have grown as well.
*The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
*Even Jesus told his disciples in John 16:12 ““I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide you into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak on their own, but will speak whatever the Spirit hears, and the Spirit will declare to you the things that are to come.”
What we may know about how to live a resurrected life today will change. It changes because we are constantly changing, and hopefully, in a good way. People weren’t ready to hear that the world wasn’t flat during the time of Jesus – it wasn’t until the 15th century that the idea that Earth was round became commonly accepted. Likewise, it takes time for us to put behind cherished ideas as we grow in our understanding.
One of the characters we met was a follower of Jesus. If you search through the Bible, you won’t find him – he was the follower who got it. I was inspired by the interpretations where Judas was cast as the disciple who didn’t get it. He witnessed the miracles and he thought that Jesus was going to be the messiah who will help them overthrow the Roman occupation. I imagined this follower as the opposite of Judas – as someone who finally got what Jesus was teaching – the path of non-violence, the path of love. Like Judas, this follower wanted change. He wanted to fight back. He wanted revenge. He grew up hearing “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
Do you know where that law is found in the Old Testament? (hint: you can select more than one)
* Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, Exodus
Leviticus 24:19 If a man injures his fellow man, then what he has done should be done to him. Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, the same sort of injury he inflicted should be inflicted on him
Deuteronomy 19:20-21 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Exodus 21:24-25 “But if there is further injury, then the punishment that must be paid is life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, and bruise for bruise.”
If you selected Numbers – you are not too far off – in Numbers 35, there are verses that talk about blood vengeance, detailing when someone can put another person to death for murder, and the cities of refuge where they can flee to seek asylum.
But Jesus taught him not to take revenge.. Matthew 5:38-44
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
Jesus taught this other way because fighting back wouldn’t get us anywhere. It will continue to perpetuate the hate. Violence will beget more violence, and it will just spread.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Jesus taught us to overcome hate with love. It is the only way that there can be true freedom and true change. If freedom is accomplished through violence, it will continue to sow seeds for future violence. The cycle of violence will just continue and repeat itself.
This disciple was brought up in a world that understood justice as retributive and reciprocal. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. And this concept of retributive and reciprocal justice is transactional in nature.
Even today, most of our relationships are transactional in nature. We are shaped to think transactionally. Every. Single. Day. You head downstairs to the coffeeshop later, you buy lunch. Transactional. You head to office (or work from home) tomorrow. Transactional. And even our friendships cannot escape being shaped by this. I enjoy your company, you enjoy my company, so we hang out. Transactional. Very few things are untouched by this concept. That is not to say that it is necessary a bad thing – but we ought to be aware what should NOT be transactional. (we aspire to this – and we often are unsuccessful)
*What do you think should not be transactional?
You know what’s the thing that should definitely NOT be transactional?
Our relationship with God.
I think that’s what Jesus had been trying to teach his disciples. Whether it is through the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, or the parable of the Prodigal son, or the parable of the lost sheep or lost coin – Jesus speaks against transactional logic. If we see things as transactional, then the shepherd won’t go out of the way to find the lost sheep – the shepherd will focus on the 99 that are still safe with him.
Not only did Jesus teach us to be non-transactional, He lived it out.
Like the disciple who were taught “an eye for an eye,” most of us have been taught the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Gary talked about it in his sermon “Our story of God and Us – God” on 28th Feb. Check it out on youtube if you missed it.
In a nutshell – God is a holy (and angry) God, we have sinned, and God is angry at us. In Gary’s words “the wrath of the Father needs to be taken care of. And the way the wrath father is taken care of is that all the wrath is poured on the son. So sort of God takes the wrath of God so we no longer have to take it. This image that is used is that of Jesus standing in our place – he takes all the wrath of God. Jesus gets murdered so we can then get into heaven.”
I want to expand on it – because that’s what many of us have been taught – that Jesus died for our sins but all the assumptions and reasoning behind how that works are often unexplained, and we are left to fill in the blanks. What I mean when I say Jesus died for our sins may be very different from how you understand how Jesus died for our sins.
Here are some theories:
Each theory has different understanding of how the universe works. And often we project what we understand as how the world works onto how God works.
John Dominic Crossan:
Anselm lives around the year 1000. He lives in a feudal society. In a feudal society, the Lord cannot say, “I forgive you.” Can’t do it. That would derogate his standing, his status and his honor. It would be like a federal judge coming in one morning saying, “This is a beautiful day, you’re all free.” Can’t do it. So Anselm was thinking God is like a feudal lord or a federal judge. God can’t forgive. Just can’t do it. Somebody has to pay. So he comes up with substitutionary atonement as his attempt to make sense of what happens. Otherwise, he doesn’t know why on earth Jesus died. And the reason he doesn’t know is because he’s a bad historian. It’s as simple as that. He doesn’t know the history. IF he knew the history he would know that Jesus is God incarnate and the normalcy of civilisation will not tolerate people who stand for justice. The point is not simply getting rid of substitutionary atonement because it is very bad theology. I think, quite frankly, it’s a crime against divinity.
When we unpack what is behind “Jesus died for our sins” then we start to see the issues.
At the end of the day, this is still a transactional relationship. Somehow, somebody must pay the price. Somebody must pay the price so humans can enter into relationship with God. But who said that? Did Jesus’ death on the cross somehow changed God’s attitude to us?
Did God change? If we look at God represented in the Bible – God has changed – from the Old testament and the New testament, there seems to be 2 different Gods. But what if it is not God that has changed, but rather our perspective that has changed?
What if we have gotten it wrong, and Jesus is teaching us, and correcting us?
What if this bloodthirstiness, this desire for vengeance, actually comes from us?
But really – who is paying what to whom?
James Allison, Catholic priest and theologian said “Who is paying what to whom? The angry deity in Christianity is us! We are the ones who are pissed off at each other. God needed to step into our violence, and occupy the space of shame, blame, pain, violence. Yes, you did that to me, and I am not holding it against you, so how about trying a different game. God absorbs the shame, blame, pain and violence so we can move away from that.
It isn’t surprising then, when people proclaim about what God hates, it so often aligns with what they themselves hate. The angry deity is US.
Have you ever felt “this person deserved this”? This is not fair? This person didn’t deserve what happened to them?” Or that this person is so proud, and God hates pride, this person is a sinner.
Have we realised we have made God in our image? That we start judging, and we are now playing God?
Our sense of fairness, of what someone deserves, all come from the transactional understanding of the world. The accounts must balance. We humans have a need always to blame someone or something when bad things happen. When we suffer or are threatened, we look for scapegoats.
But that’s not God’s way of working. At least not when we look at Jesus teachings. Take the parable of the workers in the vineyard. If you were one of the workers who started off working in the morning, you would have protested it’s not fair when the owner paid all the workers the same regardless of how much they worked.
“I finally understand now – now that I see him on the cross – he isn’t sacrificing himself to appease God’s wrath… he is showing us what love really means.
Jesus taught us to absorb the hate with love, and not allow it to bounce back into the world.
Jesus is absorbing the sin without returning it. Jesus is holding and carrying our sin, without passing it on.
“Jesus took away the sin of the world by taking in hatred and giving back love; by taking in anger and giving out graciousness; by taking in envy and giving back blessing; by taking in bitterness and giving out warmth; by taking in pettiness and giving back compassion; by taking in chaos and giving back peace; and by taking in sin and giving back forgiveness.
I stand here, amazed. No greater love than this, that a life laid down for the sake of others.”
There is only light in God – Difference between the Old Testament God vs New Testament God – God didn’t change – our perspective changed. We grew. We grew as Jesus revealed a different way. (And that impacts other religions too)
Dave Tomlinson – “Someone who punishes his son for someone else’s action – needs counselling.”
“The work on the cross – crucifixion, Jesus death and resurrection – doesn’t change God’s attitude towards us, but changes our attitude towards God – open to a love that will not let us go, a love that has no end, whatever we can do against God will not stop God loving us. Even when we crucify God, God did not stop loving us.
People who continue defending atonement is not defending God – but the framework that lies behind it. Our ideas of transactional fairness – I don’t want to use the word justice here, because that is inaccurate to call transactional fairness justice.
Greg Boyd, Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, pointed out that how we think about the cross is heavily influenced by Tertullian, referred to as “the father of Latin Christianity” and “the founder of Western theology” – whose writing helped develop much of early Church doctrine. Tertullian’s work is very much anchored in a legal framework as he was trained as a lawyer – and so were John Calvin and Martin Luther – two key figures of the Reformation.
In this framework – Our relationship with God is seen as a contract. Jesus got us off the hook, and now we enter into a new contract and we need to fulfil the terms of the contract so we remain in good standing with God. This is still a transactional approach to a relationship with God.
In a contractual relationship, we see things from a self-centered perspective. We only focus on what we need to do minimally to maintain this contract or what we need to avoid doing to adhere to this contract. Who in the right mind does above and beyond what is agreed on the contract?
Worse yet, we look for loopholes. What parts of my life can I still keep and hold on to while still “honouring” this contract? That isn’t being Christian. Being Christian is a transformation of even our innermost parts. We don’t say “I can keep exploiting others and make lots of money as long as I go to church on Sunday, and give tithes to the church.” We don’t say “As long as I confess my sins, God will forgive me, so I don’t have to change how I live, how I behave.”
Greg Boyd says our relationship with God shouldn’t be contractual but covenantal.
A covenant is relational. Jesus says “This is a new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Not “this is a new contract in my blood.”
A covenant changes our lives. The covenant we will most identify with is the covenant of marriage. You pledge the conditions of the covenant not as how much you can get out of the deal or how much we can get away with but as a way of safeguarding the preciousness of the relationship.
We ask – N, will you have N to be your spouse; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?
One isn’t thinking about how much cheating one get away with, or what one can and cannot do in a marriage (that is contractual thinking) but rather one thinks about how do we get closer, how do we grow, how do we serve each other more faithfully (will you love, comfort, honor), how do we overcome challenges in life together (in sickness and in health).
Salvation is a covenant. Not a transaction.
So how do we lived out a resurrected life?
Move away from a transactional framework to experience our faith. It applies not only to good things, but also bad things.
But a covenantal framework – we think about how do we get closer to God, grow with God, how do we serve God faithfully, how do we overcome challenges in life with God (in sickness and in health)
Peter Abelard (who argued against Anselm’s atonement theory) wrote:
“Indeed, how cruel and wicked it seems that anyone should demand the blood of an innocent person as the price for anything, or that it should in any way please him that an innocent man should be slain–still less that God should consider the death of his Son so agreeable that by it he should be reconciled to the whole world.”
“Christ died neither because a ransom had to be paid to the devil, nor because the blood of an innocent victim was needed to appease the wrath of God, but that a supreme exhibition of love may kindle a corresponding love in the hearts of men and inspire them with the true freedom of the son-ship of God.” ~ Peter Abelard, French philosopher/theologian (1079-1142 CE)
Are we living a contractual relationship with God or a covenantal relationship with God?
that’s why holy spirit is sent. Jesus was preparing his disciples for the work – to help others change into this participatory understanding that WE ARE CALLED TO ALIGN WITH GOD’S WILL and do the work of transforming/redeeming the world.
This is Jesus You will change your life for.
We should breaking away from a transactional understanding of relationships and work towards covenantal understanding of not only our relationship with God but also with each other.
How does that covenantal relationship look like as we live that out?
“When you look at Jesus he lives fully. Nothing diminished his life. He never diminished anybody’s else’s life. People betrayed him and he responded by loving them. People denied him and he responded by loving them. People forsook him and he responded by loving them. People tormented him and he responded by loving them. People killed him and he responded by loving them. How else could he communicate to people like you and me that there is nothing we can ever do, there is nothing we can ever be that will place us outside the boundaries of the love of God. It is not that we are some worthless inadequate person that God has to come in and rescue, it is that God’s love is so abundant and so overwhelming that this love calls us to live, and to love, and to be all that we can be so that God can live in us and through us. That is a very different way to think about God.” – John Shelby Spong.
Then we would be able to laugh fully, cry fully, live fully, love fully, forgive fully.
[ Download sermon discussion questions for self-study or group discussion click here ]