Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Forgiveness Poem

Last night at our last "Cross" study, we talked about how offensive forgiveness is.  Reminded me of this: 

Prayer for the Lady Who Forgave Us
by John Shea
There is a long-suffering lady with thin hands
who stands on the corner of Delphia and Lawrence
and forgives you.
“You are forgiven,” she smiles.
The neighborhood is embarrassed.
It is sure it has done nothing wrong
yet, every day, in a small voice
it is forgiven.
On the  way to the Jewel Food Store
housewives pass her with hard looks
then whisper in the cereal section.
Stan Dumke asked her right out
what she was up to
and she forgave him.
A group who care about the neighborhood
agree that if she was old it would be harmless
or if she were religious it would be understandable
but as it is…they asked her to move on.
Like all things with eternal purposes
she stayed.
And she was informed upon.
On a most  unforgiving day of snow and  slush
while she was reconciling a reluctant passerby
the State people
whose business is sanity,
persuaded her into a car.
She is gone.
We are reduced to forgetting.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A poem about living "in between times"

David Lose - his blog is called In The Meantime, and is definitely worth bookmarking - posted this poem and I want to keep track of it, so I'm posting it here.  It's encouragement for those times in life when you've come too far to turn back, can't yet see the way forward and yet know that where you are isn't going to work for long, either.  Which is pretty much everyday. 

“Interim Time”
When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,
No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.
In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems to believe the relief of darkness.
You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”
You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.
Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.
As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here in your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, 2008.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Looking to the Cross. Sermon #2 Atonement as Ransom

OK.  When you read this one, you have to sing two songs when prompted - "Please Release Me"  (try to sound like Patsy Cline when you do this.  She was so good!)  and "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail"  ( you may have to look at youtube if you didn't grow up with Buck Owens and the Buckaroos  We heard the sounds through the sound system.  So hard to duplicate the full PhiloPres experience.

This Lent we are looking to the cross, the central symbol of our faith.  Christians have, from the very first, struggled to make sense of the cross. We’ve agreed that the cross is essential to Christ’s work of “atonement” - of saving us, or reconciling us, or making a new life with God possible for us. 

But we have not always agreed on how God accomplished that, or what it means for us to be part of a community built around this treasured but puzzling symbol.  There are different ways to conceptualize the cross’s meaning. 

Today I invite you to think about one of the oldest ways to explain it:  the ransom theory of the atonement.

scripture:  Matthew 20: 13-20,  I Peter 1:18-20

Remember how scared we were as children of being kidnapped?  I think this is a common and universal fear.  Adults used to calm it, rather than stoke it, as we seem to do these days.   My parents, and many others, dispelled the childish fear by telling the story of The Ransom of Red Chief.   It is a short story by O. Henry about a little boy who is kidnapped, but who is such a terror that, rather than collect ransom,  the kidnappers eventually pay his father to take him back.  It’s a funny story. 

Well, there is a sort of funny theory of the cross that also involves ransom and in it God turns the tables on a kidnapper.  I’ll try to explain. 

In this understanding, humanity has fallen prey to kidnapping by Satan.  I know.  That’s the first problem.  Satan.  But just put that to the side for a minute, OK?  The idea is less like snatching someone than like the much more common practice of warfare in that time, where members of an army or population would be captured and enslaved by an enemy.  The captured people could be taken and their labor and expertise used by the ones who captured them.  This is far from modern warfare.  This is skirimishes between tribes, who often knew each other.  And if the person who was captured was important enough, or had relatives who were rich enough, sometimes an exchange of either money or goods or other prisoners could be arranged.  This was called redeeming - or buy back - the person.  With me so far?

This is the background to Old Testament verses like the ones we heard in our call to worship.   And it is the background to verses like our scripture texts. 

Now various early theologians had different versions of how human beings got captured by Satan and ended up belonging to and traveling with the Evil One’s tribe.  Most thought it had something to do with people’s bent for disobedience, which was sort of a bad inheritance from Adam and Eve.  It’s not so important how we got into this predicament.  The problem, according to this view, is that Satan has the rights to us.  He’s a kidnapper.  Or a slave owner.  And while he may find it advantageous to use us for awhile, he does not have our best interest at heart, and in the end we are going to end up dead.

Humanity, in this version, is enslaved.  Our theme song is  . . . (Please Release Me, let me go.  For I don’t love you, anymore.  To waste our lives would be a sin.  Release me and let me love)

God wants us back.  Not because we are cute and cuddly.  But because he created us to belong to him and he’s not happy at the loss of what was His.
So he decides to get us back.  But in order to redeem us, He has to pay a ransom to Satan.  And Satan sets the price very high.  He wants something more valuable than human kind.  So God shows him . . . a perfect human.  Jesus comes to earth and Satan sees that Jesus is perfect, and can do miracles.  He can heal people.  He’s a good story teller.  He’s brave and has powers that Satan thinks he could really use. 

Satan plots to capture Jesus, but of course he can’t.  But God offers him a deal - Jesus in exchange for the entire human race.  Humanity is freed from Satan’s camp and gets to come home to God, and in return, Satan can have Jesus for his own. 

This seems like a good deal to Satan. He says, Yes, and suggests that the exchange take place on the cross.  He’s making sure that God is serious about this deal, because if God is going to give him up - the cross is the most God-forsaken place on earth. 

God says Yes.  Jesus says Yes.  He goes to the cross in surrender and Satan has to let us all go free.   He loses all claim to us when Jesus cried out from his pain, and dies that we might live.

But wait!  It gets better!  God doesn’t really surrender Jesus to Satan.  Satan could not capture Jesus, because Jesus is God. It was a trick.  Gregory of Nyssa likens the Devil to a hungry fish who is caught on the hook of Christ's deity when he is enticed to swallow it by the bait of Christ's flesh. Augustine of Hippo says that Jesus used His body as a bait by which Satan was caught like a mouse in a trap.  Satan thought he was getting something good for him, but . . . .(Buck Owens and the Buckaroos - I've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see I won't be much when you get through with me Well, I'm a losing weight and a turnin' mighty pale Looks like I've got a tiger by the tail
Well, I thought the day I met you, you were meek as a lamb Just the kind to fit my dreams and plans But now the pace we're livin' takes the wind from my sails And it looks like I've got a tiger by the tail
I've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see I won't be much when you get through with me Well, I'm a losing weight and a turnin' mighty pale Looks like I've got a tiger by the tail)  Ol' Satan found out: 
He got a tiger by the tail.  And he had to let go. 

And so the gruesome spectacle of the cross is actually a reminder that, because of Jesus Christ, we belong to God. 

And even though this theory has obvious flaws, it may even seem a little silly, I think it still has power because when we come into relationship to Christ and the community of Christ that we know in the church, there is a powerful sense of having been rescued and brought home where we belong.  We go from feeling that we are in the grip of someone or something that we cannot trust, that we are basically doomed to being safe in a loving parent’s arms.  :  Here we are claimed and protected and valuable and beloved.  And we feel that - that we are part of God’s household here.

Baptism is a sign and symbol of that belonging.  When we say the baby’s name and pour the water of baptism on his head, and sign him with the cross, we are saying “You have been ransomed, rescued from the power of evil and death and brought back home to God through Jesus Christ.  This promise is to you and to your children and for all those far away from God who want to come home.”