SERMON NOTES for August 19, 2018
Alternative Translation from Kingdom New Testament, by N.T. Wright (modified)
GOSPEL READING — John 6:51-58
[Jesus said,] “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread, they will live forever. And the bread which I shall give is my flesh, given for the life of the world.”
52This caused a squabble among the Judaeans.
“How can this fellow give us his flesh to eat?” they asked.
53“I’m telling you the solemn truth,” Jesus replied. “If you don’t eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54Anyone who feeds upon my flesh and drinks my blood has the life of God’s coming age, and I will raise them up on the last day. 55My flesh is true food, you see, and my blood is true drink. 56Anyone who feeds upon my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I abide in them. 57Just as the living father sent me, and I live because of the father, so the one who feeds upon me will live because of me. 58This is the bread which came down from heaven; it isn’t like the bread which the ancestors ate, and died. The one who feeds upon this bread will live into God’s new age.”
Summary of the first three weeks of calling for a New Reformation:
- (July 22) For human beings that means the healing of tribalism — creating one new human family out of our splintered tribes.
- (July 29) This includes challenging Scarcity thinking — that there’s only enough for our tribe — in favor of Abundance thinking — that there is enough for the whole human family.
- (August 5) Salvation is much bigger than ‘going to heaven when we die.’ On Easter God launched a massive project of New Creation — the Jewish hope of God’s coming age of renewing everything.
Today we take on the ‘engine’ or energy source of tribalism: sacrificial thinking and practices.
- Sacrificial thinking goes something like this: the goodness of our tribe must be maintained by regularly expelling the sinfulness.
- Sacrificial practice involves what may be called sacred violence: a dose of violence sanctioned and demanded by the gods to keep our tribe relatively free of unwanted, unsanctioned violence. In all ancient cultures sacred violence is practiced mostly through ritual blood sacrifice, beginning with human sacrifice and even cannibalism. In cultures based on the rule of law, sacred violence is practiced through things like armed police forces, capital punishment, and military institutions.
- There are certain kinds of gods — wrathful, punishing gods — that go with sacred violence and sacrifice. We consider most of those gods to be false. But do elements of those false gods continue to creep back into what we claim as the true God of Jesus? The answer I offer today is, Yes, Jesus is still seeking to divest us of the wrathful, punishing elements of God.
The alternate translation of the Gospel Reading makes clear that Jesus, beginning in verse 54, starts using a different word for “eat.” It is a cruder word for eat often used for animals feeding, so it’s translated as “feed upon.”
Why would Jesus suddenly start using a cruder word for “eat”???
- My proposal: because he intentionally wants them to think about what he is saying — “feed upon my flesh” — in terms of cannibalism! He’s inviting that connection!
- Why? Because even though his fellow Jews have given up older forms of sacrifice — human sacrifice and cannibalism (gross!!) — they have not yet given up sacrifice.
- More importantly, even though they see themselves as worshiping the true God among all the false gods, they continue to see in God the qualities of false gods who demand sacrifice. They have taken positive steps but haven’t arrived.
Jesus, in short, is in the line of Jewish prophets who call for the giving up of all sacrifice:
- Hosea 6:6 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
- Micah 6:6-8 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
- Jeremiah 7:21-22 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not . . . command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
So Christians are now free of sacrifice, right? We’ve arrived, right? I’m afraid not. We no longer practice ritual blood sacrifice, but we continue to have sacrificial thinking and practices of sacred violence. Most importantly, we still haven’t given up the elements of false gods in our view of God. Brief story: 18th Century explorer John Cook visits Tahiti and is treated to a ritual of human sacrifice, to which he replies, “If you did that in England, we would hang you for it!”
St. Paul even saw the problems with the law —Romans 4:15 “For the law brings wrath” — the wrathful God from which Jesus came to divest us. Why? Because Jesus let himself be executed under the law to expose it! Jesus turns the old sacrifice into self-sacrifice. He is willing to step into our machine of sacred violence in order to begin taking it away from us, like jamming a stick into the spokes of the wheel. John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” — “sin” in the singular, namely, the sin of sacred violence.
But we still won’t begin to really undo sacrifice until we let go of all views of God as wrathful and punishing — until we reject the theology known as “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” (PSA).
- PSA hasn’t been around for the entire history of the church; it’s a latecomer. It began in the 11th Century with St. Anselm (at the time of the First Crusade — coincidence?). Luther was uncomfortable with it but failed to reject it. So it was finally cemented in the for we learned by John Calvin.
- What is it? Asking the question, “Why did Jesus have to die for our sins?” And then answering, “Because the wrath of God demands deadly punishment for our sins, but Jesus stepped in to take the punishments for us. All those who believe this, go to heaven. Those who don’t believe it, go to hell.”
- This doctrine eternalizes tribalism! Those who believe go to heaven; those who don’t go to hell — the ultimate tribes. If Ephesians is correct that Jesus died to create one new humanity out of two, then PSA must be rejected.
One last question: Is humankind ready to completely give up its sacred violence? No, but seeing God as seeking forgiveness, healing, and restoration can keep moving us toward that goal. Examples: training police to refrain from lethal force, especially along lines of racial bias. Criminal justice that incarcerates with restoration in mind and not just punishment — such as treating addiction and mental illness.
Transition to the table: Jesus comes to us each week to confront our sacrificial thinking and invite us into self-sacrificial practice, lives of loving service.