Delivered at First Christian Church on July 1, 2018
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays (except in July and August when things change up, so please check the calendar here).
Grace and peace to you, First Christian Church, and isn’t it great to be back in this sanctuary together, Ames UCC?
In addition to being a joy, these July services we share are also unique.
There are six different churches downtown—our two, First United Methodist, Grace Lutheran, Body of Christ, and Holy Transfiguration Orthodox—six churches all professing devotion to God in Christ Jesus with this same scripture as our teacher, yet we continue to maintain our own buildings and pastors and services and ministries. We are so insistent on practicing that love of God in Christ Jesus with distinct music, art, liturgy, and theology, that we mostly remain out of touch and independent.
But here we are, every July, as well as at the beginning and end of Lent, together. During the highest of holy days and the most ordinary of times, for over fifty years, we have come together to give God our united thanks and praise.
NO ATONEMENT SACRIFICE
Because of the unique and long-standing nature of this relationship, the amount of flexibility and openness to difference it demonstrates, and the trust I hope that I’ve personally earned, I’m going to risk being completely transparent with you about my theology of the cross.
Namely, that I completely disagree with this reading. Not all of it, and not all of 1 John, but its interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’s death.
Which puts me in good company, if not in terms of theology, then in the fact of disagreement. This essay, 1 John, is part of an early schism about whether Jesus’s body matters or not. One side said it does not, that it is only a mask. The side represented in 1 John said it does, that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, so his body is essential to the teachings and the gift. Which I do agree with.
But I cannot accept the authors’ theology that God intentionally had Jesus die as a blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world.Instead of an individual bull or goat or dove, the traditional sacrifices for individual sins, they argue that Jesus was a universal lamb to compensate for a whole a universe of sin. Which makes God a murderer and the “structural, civic violence”1 of an empire necessary and holy.
That’s the theology and the God that I grew up with and that is most commonly professed. It is not, though, the theology I can stake my life on or the God that I can love.
Am I saying Jesus didn’t die? No. Am I saying Jesus’s death is inconsequential? No. Am I saying we don’t sin? No way.
I’m saying that it isn’t Jesus’s death, but his life and his resurrection, that are the mechanisms which might redeem us from sin. It is what he did before and after that ordinary, brutal day that may give us means to stop deceiving ourselves and have fellowship with God and each other.
Might and may are probably the most important words there. Jesus’s life and his resurrection might redeem us, if we remember to allow them to.