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Month: November 2013

God’s Therefore (Sermon for Nov. 17, 2013)

God’s Therefore (Sermon for Nov. 17, 2013)

God’s Therefore

A sermon for Nov. 17, 2013, St. Matthew Parish

George Martin

 I had a reflection on the theology of Job at the third hole while I played golf on Friday. You may remember that the book of Job is about trying to explain what appears to be unjust suffering and pain. It is Job’s so-called friends, who presume that the afflictions Job suffers must call for some kind of repentance on his part. He must first seek God’s forgiveness. But Job claims to be innocent, and with an unusual theology, blames God for what has fallen on him.

So it was that my tee short on that par three hole had veered to the right. I had a chip to the front corner of the green, and stroked the ball perfectly, and then there appeared this little one inch stake holding up a rope protecting some ground under repair. My ball struck that stake and careened off into the front sand trap. I was indignant at the injustice of this event. I failed to hit the sand, and that meant my ball when flying over the green. I ended up with a six.

Standing on the next tee I announced to my playing partners—a member of the parish, our music minister, and a former rector of this parish, that I was the recipient of an injustice. Crying to the heavens filled with indignation I hit the best drive of my day, and still felt cheated by that little wooden stake.

Thus I invoked a particular theology that neither Jesus nor St. Paul would ever endorse. It’s that false theology that I want to address, because I believe it’s a ditch many of us use to find some sense of justification and rationality for what it often just the way things are.

There are two seemingly contrary lessons or rather pictures before us today in our readings. We’re coming to the end of Luke’s Gospel for this particular liturgical year, and thus it makes sense that we can’t leave out the somewhat dire “end of the world” meditation of Jesus. He spoke of wars, rumors of wars, temples destroyed, persecutions, false accusations against disciples, and betrayal within families.

It’s the message you might expect from someone walking around with one of those “End of the World” signs.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah could stands in contrast. It’s an “end of the world” vision, but it’s a re-creation of a new world. It’s marked by joy. No one dies early. All live a full life. Those with vineyards will harvest a crop every year. (Grape growers around the world will deny that this is possible.) Nobody will ever labor in vain. And even the wolf and the lamb will lie down together in peace, though I think we’re still looking for the first lamb who would volunteer to test that proposition.

Now some of you know that on many a morning I get up early and walk to Starbucks in the Palisades. You might think that I spend my time talking to others, and sometimes that happens. There are few members of this parish who actually are up at that hour and frequent Starbucks. But generally people stay away from me. And I understand why.

Yesterday, for example, I started reading this book. One look at its title and the number of people willing to talk to me diminishes greatly. The book is called, “Apocalyptic and the Future of Theology.” A week ago I finished a book called “Apocalyptic Paul.” It was equally effective in keeping people away.

What I really want you to offer you is a way of using the adjective Apocalyptic so you won’t cringe or run away. And maybe if you seen someone reading one of these books, you might actually engage them in conversation. This may seem like a stretch.

It helps to know that the most frequent translation of the word “Apocalypse” —(that’s the noun) and it is a Greek word—is “Revelation.”

So Jesus is talking about the Revelation, the Apocalypse of God, but not as God bringing disaster. Please note that this is so different, so very different, from so many more popularized versions of apocalyptic imagery. This isn’t God causing wars, or temples to crumble, or families to fall apart. This is the world that is in denial that this is God’s world. The Cosmos—another Greek word for all that is in the world—is in the words of one theologian that which is afflicted—broken. Paul said this creation was subject to the bondage of decay. (Rom. 8:21)

Isaiah believed the same, and thus offered another picture. A God made, or God-remade world. What’s important to note in that prophecy is the way the verbs are framed.

I came across a question that the Annie Dillard was once asked. As aspiring writer once asked her, “How can I know if I can be a writer?” Dillard replied, “Do you like sentences?”[i]

So here’s the first sentence of Isaiah’s prophecy: For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.

Who is the subject of the sentence. It’s not Isaiah. He speaks for God. Thus the God of Genesis, the God of the story of Adam and Eve, the Abraham and Sarah, and Moses and Miriam, is going to start over. With a new creation. And then the prophet tells us how it will look.

And they waited. And held onto the vision. And Jesus new that time hadn’t come as well. But he knew that inside that vision was the vision of the Kingdom of God. The kind of rule, the kind of sharing, the kind of caring, that was meant to be for all.

What was meant to be for all! And some have said that the hardest passage in the Bible is the one that says of Jesus, “One man’s act of righteousness leads to rectification —meaning the new creation and restoration of relationship with God— and AND, life for all.” Not some. Not a few good people. Not a few lucky souls. But life for ALL.

But we often live with a different theology. I did as I saw my nicely hit chip shot lunge into that undeserved sand trap. I deserved better I thought.

You know that phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” The majority of people think it’s in the Bible. It’s not. But there is a kind of make yourself better theology lurking throughout—sometimes its subtle and on occasions is pretty obvious. There are some passages in Deuteronomy, for example, where Moses supposedly declares that we have it in our power to choose blessing or curse. It’s that age-old presumption that someone who is successful in the eyes of the world must have done something right, and thus have the rewards that are signs of that right living.

Here we are on what we call Outreach Sunday. In a few days we have the Christmas Faire which will give away all its proceeds to groups that work with those who haven’t been experiencing success and the fullness of life. Is this simply charity on our part? Is it what sometimes is called “Boot-strap theology?” Here hang onto our boot straps and learn how to really wear boots that make you look good in the world.?

The legacy of autonomy in reference to God haunts us. That our salvation as it were is something like a suitcase. It has a handle on it. And we are to grasp that handle. And carry it with us.

And those that aren’t in evidence of  their salvation, or success, or happiness? They haven’t found the handle.

But what if it never had a handle in the first place? I was at the 18th Annual Awards Breakfast last month of the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition, to which we belong along with 33 other faith groups, agencies, and organizations which are committed to ending hunger and homelessness. Our speaker this morning at announcement time is Alison Hurst who comes from Safe Place for Youth, one of our partners.

At that breakfast we heard from four in a group of over 25 who were being celebrated for the turn-around in their lives. So much of the hell that they’d been through wasn’t because they were bad to begin with, but, Oh, the beginnings that some of them had, and then the fateful turns and twists of luck or its lack, marked a road that none of them would ever choose again, or wish for any of us.

Anthony wrote: I grew up on Cleveland Ohio and was bullied at school and bullied at home. I was told I would never amount to anything, that I was worthless and I believed it.” Antwann, homeless from 18 until he was36, incarcetated 20 times, due to his mental illness was finally diagnosed and received the medication and treatment that brought him to a whole new day. Every one of their stories was like that.

Their stories called to me—they led me to ask for forgiveness. For all the times that I presupposed that people in those circumstances somehow were deserving of their fate and place in life.  God wanted me to see them as God saw me—that I stood in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. I needed to be reminded that forgiveness is the act of seeing possibility, and new life, and a new relationship with one another. That’s what we are about will all those we are called to serve, and how we are see ourselves. Not as deserving of God’s grace and favor, but as the recipients of what God in Christ has done for us. God as agent. We are the recipients of God’s grace and love. God as, we often say in the Eucharistic prayer, as the author of our salvation. We don’t author our own standing with God. It’s all God.

I need to stop thinking that if some tragedy befalls me, even that ball in the sand trap, that I must have done something to deserve this fate. We are to see the world as it is: and it is a world where there is injustice. Where nations rise and nations fall. Where there are earthquakes, famines, plagues, and typhoons that destroy without regard for who is or isn’t worthy. In this world we can be falsely accused for having faith, even betrayed within our own families.

But there is a way to live in this world that speaks of a new creation; that declares the revelation of God, God’s apocalypse, in letting us experience the God who had always been pursuing us. When St. Paul used the Greek word for revelation, the word “apocalypse”, he was telling us that the world had changed in Christ.

One final language lesson. That world of Job and the feeling that you might deserve God’s favor, was an “If—Then” World.[ii] That world was shattered in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

It became the “Because-Therefore” World. Because Christ died for all, we gather in the name of the one who authored our Salvation. The one who recreates the world leading us to welcome one another as Christ welcomed us. Forgiven. Blessed. And in this “Because-Therefore” world we aren’t any more special than anyone else. Nonetheless the “Therefore” part has to do with our generosity—a generosity of spirit, to be sure, but a generosity that makes it possible for the various organizations such as we support that meet real human needs. As we respond with kindness and with real gifts in some small measure we are sharing in God’s “Therefore.”

 


[i]  Fleming Rutledge, “Sentences and Verbs: Talking about God,” in Apocalyptic and the Future of Theology, Ed. By Joshua B. Davis and Douglas Harink, p. 298

[ii] Ibid., p. 307

“Celebrating Baptism” — Nov. 10, 2013 Sermon (St. Matthew’s)

“Celebrating Baptism” — Nov. 10, 2013 Sermon (St. Matthew’s)

Celebrating Baptism

A sermon for Nov. 10, 2013

St. Matthew’s Parish, Pacific Palisades CA

George Martin

 Not too many can say that they attended their Father’s baptism, but I was there when my father was baptized. I was 15 years old at the time when he was baptized on a Saturday afternoon at St. Michael’s in the Hills in Ottawa Hills. It’s part of Toledo, Ohio where I was born and lived the first 18 years of my life.

My father was making many changes in his life at that time. Discovering a courage he didn’t know he had, he left my grandfather’s insurance business, and became a draftsman for Owen Illinois, the glass company. He was in his early 40’s and finally starting to use his degree as a civil engineer. It was while he was on a job in Waco Texas that my father found the Episcopal church and practically caused my mother a heart-attack when he said he wanted to switch from the Congregational Church to the Episcopal church. It was the church of her childhood, but upon marriage she was told they’d have to join the rest of the Martin family in First Congregational church.

I assure you my Grandfather didn’t take kindly to losing his son in the insurance business, and he was sure his son had opted for hell, by leaving the Congregational church. Neither my grandfather or grandmother attended my Dad’s baptism or our mutual confirmation on the next day.

The Rev. Timothy Pickering, the vicar of St. Michael’s, had asked my Dad in that confirmation class when he was baptized? My father said, he’d ask him Mom who must have his baptismal certificate somewhere. But there wasn’t there a certificate. My grandmother, said she thought he might have been baptized, but she also couldn’t remember it happening.

And that’s what leads me to preach on baptism, on this wonderful day at St. Matthew’s when we have at least one baptism at each of our services.  I want us to celebrate the significance of baptism; it’s not just for the wonderful pictures of this day, or the family gatherings that are taking place; it’s really about welcoming each newly baptized person into the household of God.

There is actually an official welcome that is inside our liturgy of Baptism which we all say together at the close of the baptism. We’ll talk about that welcome.

The practice of baptizing people at its roots is really a Jewish ritual. The early Jewish Christians knew of the baptism of John the Baptist, and that even Jesus was baptized in the River Jordon. Ritual baptism was practiced in the Qumran Community, a rigid sect of Jews expecting the end of time and the immanent arrival of the messiah. We read in the book of Acts of various ways in which people were baptized, sometimes after they received the gift of the Holy Spirit and sometimes before.

By the time of St. Augustine there were many who wanted to be baptized, but there was controversy regarding the reality of sin, and how it seemed, at least to some, that sin should be totally absent from your life if you were a baptized Christian. Thus within 350 years of the death of Jesus many waited to be baptized until just prior to their death, assuming that with only a few hours to live, they’d enter heaven without committing any sins. Fortunately, good old St. Augustine helped counter this rather weird approach to baptism.

Of course, through the centuries the question of infant baptism crops up, partly because the early church practice was adult baptism. There’s now clear evidence, of course, that whole families were baptized. At the time of the Reformation, with it’s emphasis on individual salvation, and through the witness of what is known as the Anabaptist movement, there were groups of Christians adamantly opposed to infant baptism. These were the so-called “believer’s churches” composed of people who willingly understood what the Christian faith was all about, and now wanted to belong to a community that lived that faith. It’s legacy is found today in the Amish and Mennonite churches.

So what is baptism all about? I came up with this definition:

Baptism is the sacrament of initiation into a community focused on developing the moral imagination and practices needed to sustain the vision of God’s kingdom, both in heaven and on earth.

There is no once you’ve got it magic bestowed on us with baptism. It’s not an insurance policy keeping anyone out of a hell. It’s certainly not something you need on your resume. But it is the welcome point into the Christian way of life.

By the way to be baptized is to be a full and complete member of the body of Christ. Thankfully with the adoption of the 1979 Prayer Book we officially welcomed all who were baptized to receive communion, even children. Prior to that time you had to be both baptized and confirmed to receive.

Let me give you my definition again: Baptism is the sacrament of initiation into a community focused on developing the moral imagination and practices needed to sustain the vision of God’s kingdom, both in heaven and on earth.

The world out there says “Do your own thing. Be your own person. You deserve whatever it is you need to be happy, or to be fulfilled.”

But inside the Christian story? We are called to learn is a communal story. It’s roots are found in Deuteronomy. On the night of the Passover celebration the youngest child asks, “What is the significance of this night?” And that’s the time to tell, once more, of God delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land.

We have the added story of Jesus and find in his story that communal identity supercedes personal identity. We seek to be Christ-like, to be disciples, who are being shaped into a kingdom ethics, and it is this way of life that makes us a special people.  We also being shaped to be an eschatological people; we live on the other side of time. We live in the time after resurrection. Thus this is a new Time.

That early church in Thessalonica got their time mixed up. They thought the end of the world was very near, thinking Jesus was about the return. But Paul said they weren’t to live in fear and actually he said “…the day of the Lord has already come.” The call was to live our lives standing firm in the traditions of our faith, knowing that in Christ it was a new world in which we could live freely and confidently.

Thus the promises made at baptism. They are about standing firm. Attending to prayers and the life of the church. Coming weekly. Sharing in ministry with one another. Working for justice. All of the promises come with baptism…they are the signs of living into our baptism.

One priest friend of mine was at a party in an apartment looking over Central Park in New York City. He was with the host, standing by her grand piano, and saw a photo of her grand-daughter wearing the family baptismal gown. My friend asked, “When was Mary baptized. And where?”

The grand-mother replied. “Oh she wasn’t baptized. We just wanted a picture of her in the family baptismal gown.”

Something was missing there. Baptism is far more than a photo on a grand-piano. It’s really the welcome into a grand life as a member of the family of Christ.

It’s growing up in the certainty and confidence that at the last day I shall see my redeemer. We say those words at the start of every funeral service. And sometimes it seems we come to too many funerals, but as members of Christ family, we can handle the contingencies of life. We do so with the practices of faith we learn along the way.

Please remember that my definition means “..developing the moral imagination and practices needed to sustain the vision of God’s kingdom, both in heaven and on earth.”

Those baptized today are welcomed into a community that dreams what is possible.

“We welcome you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified. Proclaim his resurrection. And share with us in his eternal priesthood.”

I love that phrase. This is a family. It’s a household. When we’re not here we’re missed. This is our weekly family meal. This is the sending forth place that leads us into caring for one another, and meeting real needs in this world.

We confess the faith of Christ crucified, because that tells the whole story of a God who so loved the whole world that he gave his only begotten son. And because of Jesus we are forgiven and stand inside God’s atonement.

More than that..that part about sharing the priesthood of all believers? It means that each of us by what we do, what we say, how we live our lives, we can be Christ for one another.

Something I read this morning leads me to remind you about the meaning of the name of a church in our community that’s significant for understanding the meaning of baptism. The church is “Corpus Christie” and it means “The body of Christ.”

Not the particular body of Jesus, but the community that knows Jesus as the Christ, as the messiah. Not a group of individuals, but a real community. And that’s who we are called to be in our baptism: to be that family of God that nourishes that moral imagination and which has practices which sustain the vision of God’s kingdom both in heaven and on earth.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s About Atonement” Sermon for 10/27/2013 (St. Matthew’s)

“It’s About Atonement” Sermon for 10/27/2013 (St. Matthew’s)

It’s About Atonement

Sermon for Oct. 27, 2013 based on Luke 18:9-14

George Martin

 Years ago I did some dumb things when I stood in the pulpit. I probably still do….hopefully with less frequency.

The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector comes into the church’s liturgy every three years and I remember preaching on this text one Sunday when wasn’t as wise as I am now.

You see, I didn’t start off the sermon. I let the country singer Mac Davis have the first words of the sermon. I’d figured out how to hook up a Sony Walkman to the church’s sound system, and thus the sermon began with these words:

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way.
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day

To my knowledge no one left the church that day. A few may have considered doing so.

Fear not I’m not playing the song. It’s actually a real country song. It’s a lament of a guy who doesn’t have a real girl friend in his life. He’s justifying his loneliness.

Personal justification. We do it all the time. Why do we deserve some kind of special treatment? Well, we come up with reasons that make sense to ourselves.

Why’d we get in some bind or even have that train wreck? While looking for ways to explain the troubles that come our way, we also often find reasons that diminish our responsibility.

It’s the common human story—wanting to be right with the world, and wanting the world to be right for us.

Or it’s the wisdom of Barbara Brown Taylor. She’s an Episcopal priest known as one of the best preachers in our world today. I was blessed to attend a workshop with her, and she said there were four parts to every story.

There’s the situation. Then something isn’t right. Then it gets lots worse. And lastly, and maybe this takes a long time, she said, there’s some resolution.

But then she added, “resolution doesn’t mean all live happily ever after. Sometimes it simply means it stops getting worse. And you live with it.”

I didn’t know that wisdom when I brought Mac Davis to the pulpit.

But I was also wrong about understanding the story of the Pharisee and the Publican when I preached that day. I’d like to get that sermon back, but I can’t. Maybe I can get it right today.

At least today I shall not be suggesting that the humility of the tax collector is the point of the parable.

Let me remind you about something I need to remember as well: any time you read one of the parables of Jesus and the meaning of it seems obvious—WATCH OUT!

The very purpose of parables was usually to contain something hidden, and maybe even subversive. And that’s exactly what sits inside the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Both men were in the temple to pray. But it’s not the context in which you might come to this church during some weekday. Many of us take turns to come into the church to pray and sometimes there’s someone else here.

But these two were praying in a worship service. They were hardly alone. Those listening to Jesus knew what temple worship was all about. There was a morning sacrifice and one in the afternoon. To be sure there were religious people there. You’d expect a Pharisee there. You’d expect the Pharisee to be very careful about who he touches even. That was part of being a holy man in that world. You’d expect him to follow a very strict personal code of conduct with regard to the food he ate, the tithes he gave, and the rules he followed. You’d also expect that he would define himself as better than others, and therefore likely, in his own mind, to be favored by God.

What about the tax collector? Jesus tells us that the stood far away. That makes sense. By most standards, given his collusion with the Roman occupying government, he didn’t belong in such a holy place. There was an outer courtyard in the temple where Gentiles could stand. The picture Jesus gives us suggests, however, that this tax collector was a Jew, but a very marginal Jew in this context.

In the parable itself the Pharisee received the lead role in the story. He was permitted a speech. The tax collector received a sentence.

It’s that sentence that is usually mis-translated, and which leads certain preachers to think that Jesus simply wants all of us to be humble. The usual translation of the tax collector’s sentence is, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Many would preach it’s the model prayer for everyone to say.

The parable concludes that the tax collector went home justified, or right with God. And the Pharisee? Well it says all who exalt themselves shall be humbled. Maybe Mac Davis was right after all.

Not so! The better translation is that the tax collector, while beating his breast, said, “Lord, make atonement with me a sinner.”

Now I see some puzzled faces with that translation. I need to unpack the concept of “atonement”….and I really don’t have the time that’s needed. What I shall do is be as succinct as possible, and mark this as Sermon 1 in a series in which we think about Atonement.

The basic question is “How are we reconciled with God?” Is it based on living a certain way—never straying from the straight and narrow? Or was some kind of sacrifice required, maybe on our part, to atone for the things we’ve done wrong? The verb “atone” is usually found in the context of making something right that went terribly wrong, and in the process paying whatever penalty is required to restore the relationship. 

The word “Atonement” can be divided in a somewhat helpful way in English into
“At—One—Ment”…meaning a moment of unity and reconciliation.

The theological interpretation of atonement says that it happened with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The problem is when and how it happened. And there are many interpretations that have been floated through the centuries.

I must, of necessity, use some broad brush strokes to give you two quite different theories of atonement.  One is the classic one—sometimes called the Substitution Theory. In its various versions it’s been the dominant theme within Christianity, especially since the 5th century.

The other theory of the atonement is called the Christus Victor understanding. It wasn’t fully explained in the earliest days of the Christian story, but it was the far more characteristic understanding of the cross and resurrection.

I wish we had seat belts in our pews. I could instruct you to put them on at this point. I don’t want you leaving your seats while I talk about the Substitution Theory. What would assuage the anger of God, over all the sin that was in the world? It presumed that there was this huge debt that had to be paid. And only God’s son could pay it, and could do so only by dying on the cross.

It’s sometimes called a “Forensic theory,” because it assumes that a terrible crime has been done, and there must be justice that comes through some kind of penal system.  Some of the classic theologians advocating this view imagined some kind of courtroom scene in which the plight of humanity could find its way back to God, through the legal fiction, as it were, of God dying on our behalf, and therefore giving us a chance at eternal life in heaven.

You’ve heard this proclaimed, not necessarily in these terms, but in the frame that you must believe in Jesus, that Jesus died for your sins, that you must make confession and then you can be saved. That has been a dominant theme especially since the Reformation in much of Protestant theology.

Inside traditional Catholicism it’s translated a little differently in that you are saved, by belonging to the church—the true Church; this church with its sacraments and traditions reminds you again and again about the death of Jesus on the cross. That’s probably not a totally fair way of putting it, but it’s the best I can do at this point.

There’s another theory of the atonement—another story as it were. This one doesn’t believe that God was angry about the sin of the world. This is the Christus Victor understanding. It includes the whole story of scripture, and in particular is mindful of the way that Jesus taught about and lived out a vision of God’s kingdom. It doesn’t overly focus on the death of Jesus, because it sees resurrection as victory and conclusion. It also emphasizes a community of disciples continuing to live with a vision of God’s kingdom on earth.

The Christus Victor understanding doesn’t explain the death of Jesus as a judicial transaction that took place. As Denny Weaver, author of a book called The Non-Violent Atonement says,

“… his death was the logical outcome of his preaching and living the message of God’s kingdom; … the powers that be thought that violence and death would end that message and secure their place in the world. And it did that, but only for two days. For on the third day he rose again.”

Yes there were and are evil powers in this world. Yes they sometimes—oftentimes—use violence as the way to bring about their version of justice and peace. Jesus could have resorted to violence, but the story is that he didn’t. And yet God, in the resurrection, had the last word. Resurrection was also the first word recreating that community that embraced the vision of Jesus.

Many of you have heard that to be a Christian means that you believe that Jesus died for your sins. And if you follow the premise of the Mel Gibson movie titled “The Passion” you are suppose to come to faith knowing just how bloody and awful his death was.

But come back to that tax collector, if you will. That man who beats his breast and says, “Lord make atonement with me a sinner.” There is no cross in view.

But there is another story lurking the shadows of this story. It’s the story of the two brothers we heard a few weeks ago. One son overcome, upon his return, with the love of his Father who fully restored him to his place in his Father’s house—the robe, the ring, the slippers, the party—the whole thing. And there was his elder brother who stood outside and spoke of working like a slave; of doing everything right, or so he thought. Only he couldn’t accept his father’s acceptance of his brother back into the family.

And this week, in the Gospel story, one spoke up that he wasn’t like others, and thus deserved God’s favor. Another stood at a distance who had absolutely no claim on God’s favor, but he realized in the context of that worship that God makes atonement possible, even for him, even for a sinner.

I like what Rob Bell had to say in his book Love Wins. (It’s book that upset a great many who believe in that more penal view of the cross.) Bell said,

“ A gospel that has as its chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story.  A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the “in-ness” of one group at the expense of the “out-ness” of another group will not be true to the story that includes “all things and people in heaven and on earth.” (Location 1651)

Understanding that Christ is the Victor, that the resurrection is the point of God’s victory and the inauguration of a new world, as it were, at least a world with a people living the Jesus story, means that the focus isn’t on who gets to heaven, and who deserves hell.

We might even say the Christus Victor approach to atonement is a this worldly focus as it is mindful more of the hell that some know here; it believes that if we listen to the radical message of Jesus there should be no hell on earth. There is no reason for the violence we inflict on one another. There is no reason that anyone should be hungry, and not fed. Or be ill, and not receive treatment. What you do for the least of my brother’s and sisters you do for me, Jesus said.

And so, with an apology to that congregation when I let Mac Davis start the sermon so long ago. My apology for letting him sing “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.”

Except my apology isn’t really for playing the song. It’s that I didn’t see that the story is about atonement. Now I realize the radical message of Jesus. As marginal and hated as he way, that tax collector was embraced in God’s love. He discovered that he belonged to the kingdom of God. It’s the message I hope and pray is at the very heart of all that we do here at St. Matthew’s.

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