shake off your guilty fears

It was five degrees outside, and we're still recovering from missed sleep and stubborn colds, so we skipped church, remaining camped out in the living room in our pjs. Jim dug out his guitar and the way-back chords from many shared years of youth-campus-church-camp ministry. Our poor upstairs neighbor! We don't sing like that in our little country Episcopal church with the organ hymns and octogenarians, and I miss it. I miss the emotional resonance and immediacy of my younger faith.

But there's a disconnect, too. I don't believe all those same things. One song he pulled out, "Arise My Soul Arise," has a beautiful uptempo and essentially bloodthirsty lyrics that completely jar with the echoing melody. I don't really believe "the Spirit answers to the blood" or worship Jesus "the bleeding sacrifice" anymore. Penal substitutionary atonement is not the message of the cross or the essence of the gospel I now believe.

And then I read this, from Fr. Richard Rohr:

A violent theory of redemption legitimated punitive and violent problem solving all the way down--from papacy to parenting. There eventually emerged a disconnect between the founding story of necessary punishment and Jesus' message. If God uses and needs violence to attain God's purposes, maybe Jesus did not really mean what he said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and violent means are really good and necessary. Thus our history...

...This perspective allowed us to ignore Jesus' lifestyle and preaching, because all we really needed Jesus for was the last three days or three hours of his life. This is no exaggeration. The irony is that Jesus undoes, undercuts, and defeats the sacrificial game. Stop counting, measuring, deserving, judging, and punishing, which many Christians are very well trained in--because they believe that was the way God operated too.
God didn't kill Jesus. Jesus was killed by coercive and violent "powers and principalities," whom Jesus shamed and delegitmized by rising from the dead. They dealt their worst and were revealed to be impotent. Jesus' perfect love casts out fear, inaugurating a Kingdom rooted, imagined, and embodied in other Ways entirely.

Jesus wasn't "born to die." His birth, incarnation, ministry, execution, resurrection, and life all have meaning to the work of salvation. Jesus is the Word of God-made-flesh, revealing Divinity and God's own character with the touch of his calloused hands. God speaks through Jesus, whose life reveals the Father's sacrificial love for creation.

The gospel is not about wrath or blood, except that God's love is stronger than the world's ugliest violence. It begins at the beginning, long before the cross, and God is still speaking, saving and liberating and healing and resurrecting in and among and through us today. The upside down Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, is good news for us together: that's the message of the cross to which I cling.

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