Sunday, January 16, 2011

Come and See!

I owe a debt of gratitude to René Girard and the folks at "Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary" for giving me much to think about concerning this week's Gospel passage. Also, a shout of appreciation goes to Peter Woods, whose words I used to close my sermon.

I don't know if I'm wallowing in heresy or not, but it's a fascinating way to view atonement...

Isaiah 49:1-7
Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The LORD called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the LORD,
and my reward with my God.”
And now the LORD says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the LORD,
and my God has become my strength —
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the LORD,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up, princes,
and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the LORD, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind — just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

John 1:29-42
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

This is the Word of the Lord.

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

If you’ve spent more than fifteen minutes inside a church, you’ve heard Jesus referred to as the “Lamb of God” more than once.

But have you ever wondered what that phrase, “the Lamb of God,” means? Well, come on, everyone knows what that phrase means, right? Jesus is the new Passover, a spotless sacrifice, removing the sins of the world and reconciling us to God.

The reason I ask the question is that I’ve come across some intriguing thoughts in my study resources this week. You see, I’ve always been under the impression that Jesus’ sacrifice was something God required in order to reconcile humankind to God’s self. The idea is that, in order for humankind to be worthy of relationship with God, blood must be shed. Our separation, by way of sin, is so great that a sacrifice must be offered. We are so depraved and dirty that, in order for God to look upon us with favor, someone has to die.

I mean, church folks usually say it in prettier ways, of course, but it comes down to the same thing.

In order to appease God, who was angry with the sins of humanity and poised, at any moment, to bring disease, famine, and conquest raining down on all of Creation, Jesus had to come to Earth and get nailed to the cross. God’s son was the only acceptable sacrifice for such corruption.

What if God is not like that, though?

I began to think about this a few years back, actually, during my training as a Commissioned Lay Pastor. You see, Reformed Theology, which defines the way Presbyterians struggle to understand God, has at its core John Calvin’s idea that man did nothing – can do nothing – to reconcile to God. God did everything necessary to reconcile humankind to God’s self.

Now, taking it a step further, we have to look at the Reformed understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. We’ve talked before about how the Triune God is one God, a singular, and though our human interaction with our singular Creator understands three “persons,” we risk falling into pantheism if we do not understand that every act of any “person” of the Trinity is participated in by every part of the Trinity – all of God is directly involved with every act of the Father, every act of the Son, every act of the Holy Spirit. We can say with as much confidence as we can about any point of theological thought that God does not operate any other way.

As I began to understand these kinds of concepts, the idea of Jesus volunteering to sacrifice Himself in order to appease a wrathful Father, bent on annihilating everyone, began to make less and less sense.

Author and lecturer Gil Bailie suggests that the phrase “Lamb of God” means something wholly different than what I had become accustomed to. He says that if God had demanded the sacrifice of Jesus, then Jesus would have been the lamb of the human community given to God.

I’m almost certain I will get this wrong, but I’m going to do my best to explain what he suggests: Over the millennia, humankind developed a scapegoat mentality: quoting him here, “All archaic religions existed to take away the sins of the world. How did they do it? Every once in a while they dumped all these sins on someone and ran them out, or strung them up -- and felt righteous about it.”

Commenting on Gil Bailie’s words, Michael Hardin says, “We have [misunderstood what it means for Jesus to be the ‘Lamb of God’] largely by failing to attribute the demand for blood to the correct party, us. In the now-overused words of Pogo, ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us!’ Jesus’ sacrifice was designed to expose our bloodthirstiness, our enslavement to the sacrificial mechanism, not to satisfy a God who sits on the throne demanding yet another scapegoat. By making our sacrificial system and its falseness visible, Jesus takes away our ‘sin,’ our ‘missing-of-the-mark’ and leaves us without a viable victim.”

We are left, in other words, without someone to blame. We can no longer blame it on God. We can no longer say God wanted that sacrifice. What’s more, we can no longer look around and point at another, saying “your sin killed Christ,” because if we are human, we must realize that we are as responsible as any other human for the sacrifice. There are no more victims, there is no one left to blame. All of our excuses, our deflections, our justifications have been torn away by the violence of the Cross.

If you’ve spent more than fifteen minutes inside a church, you’ve heard the phrase “God is love.” If we dare to view Jesus as the Lamb of God, and understand it in a way that removes the responsibility for the sacrifice from God, do we not begin to glimpse the staggering, breathtaking breadth and depth of that love?

God loves you, personally and individually, without reservation, without hesitation, without limits! What’s more, if Jesus is the Lamb of God given to us, then it becomes glaringly obvious that God has always loved us! There truly is no depth we can sink to, no far country we can travel to, no philosophy we can hide behind, which will remove us from the love of God!

John says to his disciples, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” And Jesus invites them to “Come and see.”

Despite the countless layers of encrusted doctrine, dogma and determined identities that the Church has put onto Jesus as well as the requirements so many communities put on prospective followers before they even begin, Jesus simply invites you and I to come and see. Come and see, come and experience a life where we don’t have to worry about being good enough, where we don’t have to make sure we’re always doing the right things at the right times. Come and experience a world where we sacrifice not because we are trying to gain God’s favor, but because someone else is in need. Come and experience a world where we don’t have to obsess over who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to the love and grace of God.

No, we can be like Andrew, sharing the Good News with confidence bordering on abandon, because we know that, since the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, then by definition God loves everyone, and everyone deserves to know that love, to be welcomed into the family, into relationship with God!

Christ’s invitation to us, and to everyone, is simply to experience. Come and see.

It is an adventure where the disciple and the teacher are in real relationship.

It is the path to life.

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