June 21, next Sunday, is National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and our denomination is marking this Sunday as a day of prayer for Indigenous people everywhere. We are choosing prayerfully to acknowledge our own complicity in the oppression of indigenous people and of all minorities in Canada. That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is stirring up in us all. Our prayer is that God would use this time to sensitize us to the reality of white privilege and release the healing and hope for all those who have suffered and who still are suffering the most as a result of this insidious evil. Dear God, in your mercy, hear our prayers…
Today’s text brings together so much of what Paul understood to be the whole point of Jesus’ work! Theologians describe this as ‘Soteriology’. It’s about how Jesus SAVES us!
How are we different now as a result of our having been impacted by God in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ?
It seems that there are various understanding this. We typically assume that whatever we believe must also be true for everyone. In fact, what some may believe is good and true about Jesus and his work in us may actually seem offensive to others. I know what I believe has significantly evolved and grown over the years – and I’m deeply grateful for that because I find that I am now more certain of loving this Jesus Christ and of being loved by him, while also increasingly stretched by what he is revealing of himself, and of God, and of creation – but perhaps especially of myself. And while we may not exactly sure about where he is leading as we grow in our faith, what we MUST know is that WHATEVER He is revealing of himself is constantly always bigger and better & deeper & more beautiful than anything we could ever have known before…
But getting back to today’s text: It seems, historically [i], that people have developed various theories – doctrines – to understand who and what Jesus is and does. Most describe Jesus as the lamb that God needed to have die in order to destroy the power of evil over us – by satisfying some great debt owed either to Satan, or to God. Jesus is understood then to be acting on our behalf in order to change God’s mind about a sinful humanity – getting between us and God’s wrath. But surely that can’t be the whole of it – as Richard Rohr so often stresses – ‘it was never God’s mind that needed changing about humanity, so much as our minds that need changing about God! God loves us, always has, always will, that doesn’t ever change!
The bottom line in understanding today’s text is that God, in Christ, is about something quite wonderful for all creation, bringing us into awareness BOTH of who and what God actually is as well as what we, and all of this is, as well – and what we have always been intended by God to be. Jesus demonstrates what ‘righteous’ or ‘being-made-right’ living – ‘us-aligned-with-God’ living – is actually all about. He is what makes it possible for us to know that even the very worst of ourselves is no longer ever able to dominate & define us – and certainly NEVER able to separate us from God’s love!
The truth is that most of us – no, all of us – allow the best of ourselves to become trapped in prisons of some kind: some we build for ourselves, some we allow others to build into us! I’m thinking about the crippling effects of guilt! Victimhood! Broken self-image! …all designed to be keeping us as less than ourselves…
The tragedy is that we then go on to fool ourselves enough that we think we come to feel safe within those prison walls, like ‘Red’ in the movie The Shawshank Redemption – remember his thoughtful words while gazing wistfully up at the granite from inside the prison courtyard?
“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.” Or like that paralysed man in John 5 who got so used to lying in his paralysis next to the pool at the sheep gate in Jerusalem that Jesus had first to ask whether he ‘wanted’ to get well.
I’m speaking about all those restrictive attitudes that we permit to keep as down and away from the vast and spacious wonder of all of what we and all of this is created and intended by God to be. DO WE WANT TO BE WELL? Why would we ever chose to allow our truest selves to remain hidden in this way?
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us [ii].
OUR SALVATION is about us being saved from the dark, worst effects of our smallest, false selves and the graspy, self-preserving drivers that we allow in to steal our lives…
Who and what Jesus is, and does, is surely about so much more than something merely transactional – as if the entire point of Jesus’ life was just about what happened just between him and God – with us as passively beneficial spectators. It’s in the medieval teachings of the likes of St Francis of Assisi, and St Bonaventure, and John Duns Scotus that we understand the whole Jesus event of his birth, life, teachings, his death and resurrection to be REVELATORY and INVITATIONAL, as opposed to merely TRANSACTIONAL!
It’s REVELATORY to the extent that it reveals the depth and the effect of God’s love!
… and it’s that poured out love – all about Christ’s dying and rising – which is at the heart of everything that is most true in life. I read somewhere of how ‘The Christ Mystery is thus the template, model, and goal for all of creation. Julian of Norwich, a 14C mystic writing almost 650 years ago, described how she, in a vision, believed that Jesus touched her! She writes of how she saw and heard him speaking to her from the cross, speaking about himself as well as all reality. There was no shame in what he was saying, no guilt, no fear of God or of hell, only a love to inspire delight, freedom, intimacy and hope, cosmic hope…
Jesus was revealing to her and through her to us all how he, as the risen Christ, was transforming every cross, in all of creation, into resurrection glory – and that this is the loving, transformational nature of God – as we know he said elsewhere [iii], that: anyone who has seen him as seen God! THIS IS REVELATORY!
…and it’s also INVITATIONAL – INVITATIONAL to the extent that he invites us to enter IN to participate in his life & death and rising…
As Christ died so are we are invited also to allow the death of our small self-lives, that our true soul-selves may be released: I think of texts such as
- Col.3:3 …for (I) have died, and (my) life is hidden with Christ in God.
- Galatians 2:19-20 – 19 For …I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.
- And again, Julian of Norwich: ‘The place Jesus takes in our soul he will never vacate, for in us is his home of homes, and it is the greatest delight for him to dwell there… And the soul who contemplates this, is made like the one who is contemplated’ It’s as we consider Jesus within us, so we become like him!
- ‘On that day you will know that you are in me and I am in you’ (John 14:20)
Us being in Christ, is our acceptance of his invitation not merely to be spectators but to be participants – invited to be participating with him in what God is still doing through him…
Oh, he touched me, he revealed to me who I actually am and who I have actually always been, and then he, in me, he uses me to reach out into creation to touch others – that they too may know. Looking through the eyes of the risen Christ, so I am given to see my truest self as well as all of creation as God intends it to be seen!
Where does this leave us? …this leaves us with hope! Of course there is wickedness and struggle in our world where people continue to experience the injustice and the hate and discriminating prejudice that we all so easily fall into & even perpetuate. Of course there is still so much anger and hatred and selfishness and greed, and deepest hurting. But, thank God, that’s not all there is and it’s NOT what we allow mostly to define us! There is also hope! Our hope is in the fact that in Christ, God is come bringing all of the loving-kindness that is at the heart of God’s sacred essence and presence – with us invited to absorb and recognize that fact in every fiber of our being…
Also, we choose not to allow that knowledge to anaesthetize us! Our faith is never meant to be – as Karl Marx wrote – an opiate to dull us into passive inactivity! Instead, it’s to be the living, loving fire that mobilizes us towards God’s most radical mission and purpose.
And so, as we go about facing both the best and the worst of our world – facing it as the God serving, Christ receiving, Spirit compelled Christ followers that we are: …pushing back against the reality of Covid-19 …and refusing to continue to be complicit in perpetuating the marginalizing racism that dehumanizes those who are different to us… so may our lives become as this beautiful prayer that Karen will be singing for us in a moment – Christ as:
…our breath …our voice …our hands, feet, our heart …our dream.
Christ as our will …our way …our faith and …our peace, …our rock …our strength.
Christ as our everything. If we lose sight of the path,
Christ as the road that takes us back …who makes everything of us,
Christ who is everything in us…
May that be our reality, even as we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2020.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
[i] In a paper published some 2 years ago theologian Stephen Morrison[i] attempted to describe these, writing about: The Moral Influence Theory – which describes Jesus as being sent primarily to demonstrate his good moral influence… Other doctrines include The Ransom Theory, Christus Victor, The Satisfaction Theory, Penal Substitution, The Government Theory and The Scapegoat Theory.
[ii] Marianne Williamson
[iii] Jesus was speaking to Philip in John 14