SERMON NOTES for August 15, 2021
The crucial question for the church: why are our children’s and grandchildren’s generations missing from church? Proposition: not because of secondary things like the music, but because our basic message of salvation is missing the mark. The church’s message has been focused on the afterlife, and our children and grandchildren face numerous worldwide crises: climate change, pandemics, racism, economic injustice, divided and ineffective politics, rising authoritarianism and its destruction of scientific truth. They crave a message of salvation that helps to address the crises of this life.
I find author Brian McLaren to be one of the greatest resources to the church at this time of needing to upgrade our messaging. Two of my favorites are The Great Spiritual Migration and Everything Must Change. His most recent book speaks directly to the challenge of reaching the younger generations: Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It. Today’s story in the sermon comes from another great book: A New Kind of Christianity (pages 137-38). Brian’s theologian friend challenged him to see that the Protestant version of the Gospel, “justification by grace through faith,” is not fully compatible with Jesus’ version as stated in the Gospels themselves: The Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15). The Protestant “justification” Gospel comes primarily from an interpretation of certain parts of St. Paul. Brian’s friend asks the crucial question, “Shouldn’t you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?”
When I was here five weeks ago (July 11), we highlighted other parts of St. Paul which are more compatible with Jesus’ message, The Kingdom of God is at hand. Paul talks about the kingdom of God as a New Creation. We’ve read two of the key passages already this summer:
“So for anyone in Christ: new creation! The old has passed away; the new has arrived!” — 2 Cor 5:17 (read on June 13)
“For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one . . . that he might create in himself One New Humanity in place of the two.” — Eph 2:14-15 (read on July 18)
In that Eph 2 passage Paul uses ‘kingdom’ language by calling the Gentiles “citizens” of the commonwealth of Israel, members of God’s household. In short, we are to be one human family. Can you see how big this is if we are all called and sent into the world to work this project of uniting the human family? In a world so divided, we are called to bring healing. We have dropped the ball on that mission to the extent that we over-focus on one play, the message of the afterlife.
Jesus names our opposition — a big reason why we’ve been led astray — as Satan. At the beginning of the summer (June 6) we read in Mark 3 about Satan casting out Satan and keeping the human family forever divided against itself. Satan was an old Middle Eastern title for the Accuser, the one who brings an accusation against someone as evil and then leads everyone else to cast them out. Jesus is naming this casting out of evil as evil in itself. It is playing into the age-old sin depicted in Genesis 3, where Satan tricks human beings into eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We think we know good from evil and appoint ourselves to violently cast it out. But this thinking we know who is sinful ends up being the greatest sin when it leads us to violence against others — resulting in the human family being endlessly divided against itself.
In today’s Gospel Reading, this Satanic game is represented by the metaphor of ritual blood sacrifice — the most ancient forms of which included cannibalism. “Feed upon my flesh, and drink my blood,” says Jesus. Gross! Why? Because he wants us to see that the logic of old-time sacrifice is still behind our old game of thinking we know the evil ones and acting to violently get rid of them. It’s what the Jewish leaders and Pilate will do to Jesus on the cross!
Here, we need to end with seeing a part of message which goes beyond being an over-focus. It is flat out wrong. It is sometimes called Penal Substitution Atonement Theology. It’s probably and unfortunately very familiar to us: all human beings are sinful and therefore deserving the punishment of death, but kind and loving Jesus steps in to take the punishment for us, so that whoever believes in him is saved from that punishment. But this thinking turns God the Father into the main practitioner of that old-time sacrificial logic! Jesus came to save us from that Satanic thinking, and we have fallen back into it.
No!! God sent Jesus to expose that lie and to offer us something else: forgiveness, love, and healing. New creation! We are to be One New Humanity, coming together to face the challenges of life.
Let’s come to the table of Jesus’ self-sacrifice — his body broken and his blood poured out for us — so that we may be fed for the mission of uniting the human family to work for life!