Sunday, March 11, 2012

Stumbling Blocks

Notes for a sermon preached by Hawley Todd at Grace Church at the Celebration of Wholeness and Healing, Sunday, March 11, 2012

From the Epistle: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Open with prayer – Especially seeking God’s guidance

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom” and most often we Christians demand both!

We want signs and wonders. We want God to prove himself/herself – to perform the miracles we want for today and to make everything safe and secure and comfortable in our lives.

We want wisdom and knowledge and understanding. We want to know and comprehend life and we would rather do without mystery and paradox.

We want to know God! And sadly for many of us, the commandment to love God gets replaced with our need to know God – but that is another sermon for another day!

The crucifixion of Jesus has been a major problem for those of us who follow and love Jesus since the moment it happened. How could the all good, all powerful Creator God allow such a horrible thing to happen to Jesus? Or even more close to home, how can the all good, all powerful God permit (or God forbid – cause) all the horror and pain and suffering that makes up our lives and world to occur? If we are honest, this problem called Theodicy is the biggest issue that the Christian Religion has to face.

But let’s stick with Jesus and Good Friday for starters.

The apostle Paul did not have a systematic theology and neither did the early Christians around him. They struggled to make sense of how the Messiah could die such a horrid death. And Paul used metaphors from his day and time to make sense of it.

  • It could be like a court of law where one is justified
  • It could be like freeing a captive by paying a ransom
  • It could be like the sacrificial system where an animal was killed to expiate one’s sins.

And Christianity fell headlong into the Greek trap of trying to have answers and make sense of it all.

For the first 1000 years, the dominant worldview around Good Friday was that Jesus paid the price for our sins. What we call atonement. Yet the critical piece in all of this is that a battle between good and evil rages for our souls. The price was paid to free us from evil.

And then a good Englishman named Anselm came along in the 11th century and changed everything. The price was not paid to the devil to free us but paid to make us right with God the Father. I really do not like this version and understanding of Christian thought and frankly find it appalling. Yet for so many today, that is just what is taught and hence their view of God.

Luckily, Peter Abelard responded with yet another understanding of Good Friday. Abelard said that Anselm missed the boat. The death of Jesus was not about Jesus having to satisfy the wrath of God the Father at all. In fact, Jesus died on the cross for the exact opposite reason. Jesus died for us to show how much God loves us and the extravagant ends God would go to prove his love!

But what about suffering? What about tornadoes? What about all the other horrible things that happen?

The Buddha had it right. – Sarvam Dukkham – suffering is inherent in all life.

Christianity in its core story has it right – Our God and savior died on a cross. Suffering is real. Pain and agony are part of life.

However to focus on just the cross is to miss the other critical half of the Christian message – the resurrection.

Why does Christianity exist?  It is not because we can explain in our wisdom the profound mysteries of Good Friday.

Rather, Christianity exists because Jesus died and rose again on the third day. The whole point of the story is that Jesus rose – that Jesus is alive – that Jesus is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow. And for us here today at a healing service, that is essential.

Suffering is real and our pain is real. Being a Christian does not create a big bubble around us to protect us from all sickness, disease and death. What it does do - and what God offers us - is that God will never abandon us, even when we identify with Jesus on the cross and feel forsaken for the moment.

And Christianity offers us resurrection – new and continued life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Both in this life and the next!

Personally, I do not believe Jesus needed to die on the cross to save us. Yet he did. We live in a fallen world where people have free will and do things that grieve the heart of God. Good Friday was what Leslie Weatherhead would call the Circumstantial Will of God. God works for good in all things. Yet God respects our free will and hence “bad things” do happen. And God works in those circumstances. Yes even Jesus suffered and died on a cross. And somehow God made even that work for good.

But here is the critical piece for us here today. God wants each of us to move more fully into health and wholeness. That was how God created us to be. And even more importantly, the resurrected Jesus is here with us. Yes even in our pain and sorrow – helping us to weather the storms and move to become the people we were created to be – whole in body, mind, emotions, spirit and soul.

Let us pray!

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