A basic principle of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What exactly this statement means has increasingly come under debate in our time. For most of the modern period, Protestantism has almost exclusively understood Jesus’ death on the cross as a punishment that pays a debt, or “penal substitution.” Added to this has been the assumption that the primary problem resolved by the cross is God’s anger about our sin. These are two separate issues. I believe that penal substitution has Biblical support, but it has been drastically over-weighted; I do not believe that a view of the cross as an appeasement of God’s anger is Biblically faithful. One way of exploring this phenomenon (imperfectly) is to look at all the references to Jesus’ blood in the New Testament to see what the Bible says that the blood actually does. Continue reading →
We’ve just started a sermon series in the spirit of Easter called Rewrite in which we talk about people from the Bible and from our church whose lives have been rewritten by God. Our first Biblical character was Abraham who really was just a regular guy that God decided to build a nation from. Abraham did some dumb things, like prostituting his wife to the Egyptian pharaoh and then impregnating his wife Sarah’s slave girl Hagar upon her request only to let Sarah abuse Hagar and run her out of their home. But God wasn’t going to let Abraham’s mistakes get in the way of his plan. In addition to Abraham’s story, we heard the testimony of Elsa Kuflom, a member of Burke UMC who came here as a refugee from the war in Eritrea.
Psalm 52:3 blew my mind yesterday as I was reading it in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament: “Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? God’s mercy lasts for all time.” Since this is my own translation, here’s the Hebrew:
מה-תתהלל ברעה הגבור חסד אל כל-היום. Why in the world is God’s mercy (חסד) presented as a reason to rebuke the mighty man’s boasting? I’ve shared before that hesed, the Hebrew word for mercy, has a different semantic range and connotation than our word in English. It means most essentially the unconditional love that you have for the closest members of your family. So why should the mighty man be worried? Because God’s mercy for His people means wrath against their oppressors.Continue reading →
One of the struggles I have with the word “covenant” is that it seems to be used to describe two entities which are quite different: God’s unconditional, unilateral promise to Abraham and the elaborate set of rules and practices given to the Israelites in the Torah. In Romans 4, Paul pits these two “covenants” against each other in order to radically redefine what it means to be God’s people. Paul argues that God’s people are more essentially those who share the faith of Abraham than those who follow the law of Moses. If we understand righteousness to mean trusting in God’s unconditional generosity rather than following rules flawlessly, this means replacing an ethos of retribution with an ethos of mercy. I think that the reason evangelicals so egregiously misinterpret Romans is because we don’t want Paul to be replacing contractual rules with trust, since that means giving up both retribution and our autonomy; we would rather make “faith” into a new rule that we get punished for not following, so that we can continue to deny our dependence on God and judge others, which completely sabotages Paul’s entire point.
I knew something was missing from my spiritual rhythm the last two weeks and this morning I realized what it was: Wednesday morning prayer, which a very small group of dedicated prayer warriors celebrates together each Wednesday at 8:30 am. In addition to liturgical and extemporaneous prayer, we always read a psalm responsively as part of our routine. Two months ago, this small prayer meeting got flat-out Pentecostal. For a month after that, the Spirit was breathing all over the place every time I opened the Bible. I went through a dry spell for a month and a half largely because of my lack of discipline but the breath of God came roaring back today as we read Psalm 25 and encountered sinners, judgment, and fear in a quite surprising form. Continue reading →