Pastor Phil

Redemption, Atonement, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m reading a book, “Honest to God”, by the Bishop of Woolrich, John A. T. Robinson, printed in 1963.  One of the premises of the book is to challenge people, religious and secular to rethink their image of God.  Printed in 1963, the Church, that I know, still struggles to reimagine God and free itself from old dogma.  Steve Jobs, told the graduating class of 2005, Stanford University, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”

Is “someone else’s thinking” why people are leaving the Christian Church in 1st world nations around the globe?  Does the old orthodoxy of God, being “out-there”, a white male in a flowing white gown and beard, who actively participates in the world, obsolete?  Does the idea that God had a plan to save humanity from HIS wrath and it required a human sacrifice, ring hollow to the ears of Christians today?  Do the Atonement theories of Anselm created in the “dark” ages reflect more of that time period than the teachings expressed by Jesus about our loving, gracious creator?  Has orthodox theology reflected ancient cultures’ understand of God and the gods, that we need to eliminate, so that new life will spring from the Church?  Happy Easter!

Today marks the 50 anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  The New York Times ran his obituary today, the actual one they printed on April 5, 1968.  The obituary concludes with words of King from a speech he had given in 1964;

The possibility that he might someday be assassinated was considered by Dr. King on June 5, 1964, when he reported, in St. Augustine, Fla., that his life had been threatened.  He said:

“Well, if physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”

Martin Luther lived a redemptive life.  One that continues to unfold within the struggles of humanity.  God did not plan it, order it, or cause it to happen.  Jesus lived a redemptive life.  One that continues to unfold within the struggles of humanity.  God did not plan it, order it, or cause it to happen.

Jesus’ redemptive life was not part of a plan to appease God for the behavior of Humanity.  Jesus’ redemptive life is part of God’s unfolding presence in our world to bring to light, life, love, hope, reconciliation and grace.  Jesus’ redemptive life can inspire the “better angels of our nature” to flourish, calling some to lay down their lives for a loving humanitarian cause or for other people directly.  That is the highest calling a person can have.

Our theology that expresses a God who cannot forgive humanity without some type of atonement forgets that Jesus himself understood God as a forgiving God as he expressed from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”.  Before Jesus died, Jesus lived and taught his understanding of God as loving and gracious.

Let’s get back to what Jesus taught…and WORK TO LIVE IT, it will be redeeming.


God needs a Sacrifice….r u crazy?

On Palm Sunday Jesus enters Jerusalem.  The Gospel of Mark maintains (Mark 11:11) that after Jesus “cased the joint”, that it “was already late”, so Jesus leaves Jerusalem and regroups for the night in the town of Bethany.  When he goes back the next day, Mark tells the story of Jesus’ great act of defiance, turning over the money changers and driving out those selling sacrificial animals. (Mark 11:15-17)  Why does he do this?  Is it simply commercialization of the Temple that gets him mad as hell?  Did he want to start a riot?  The answer is simple!  In seeking the answer, we get the bonus of a fuller understanding of the Bible!

Since times of old, for thousands of years, various communities offered sacrifices to please the gods.  We find that strange.  Today who does that?  Crazy people.

Animal Sacrifice is clearly commanded by God in the Hebrew Scriptures.  We read it in a variety of places.  A classic example occurs when God gives the 10 Commandments to Moses.  (Ex 20:22-24).  God says to Moses:

Exodus 20:22-24 (NRSV)
22 The LORD said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites: 23 You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.

Pretty Clear that God wants burnt offerings and sacrifices.  I could show you more verses commending the same thing, God wants sacrifices.

The Prophets come along years later and condemn the practice of sacrifices as something God does not like!  They should not oppose the word of God!!!!

Hosea on behalf of God says, Hosea 6:6  “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Amos says on behalf of God, “21  I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23  Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.   (Amos 5:21)

Micah says on behalf of God, “6  “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8  He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

This tells me two very important things.  ONE, the Bible is not a linear progression of thought, instead it is the reflections and thinking of different people, at different times, who understand God differently.  The prophets clearly call into question the sacrificial system, even though God commands Moses to instruct the Israelites to sacrifice.  TWO, Jesus is in line with the prophets before him.  Instead of using words to condemn the sacrificial system, he uses actions!  He enters the temple during the festival of Passover and over turns the tables.

Jesus wanted to do away with the crazy practice that God needed a sacrifice in order make ones’ relationship with God whole, right, or pure.  The prophets are clear, Jesus is clear, God wants our hearts, God wants acts of Justice, God doesn’t need sacrifices!


In Isaiah we read, “11  What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12  When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Isaiah 1:11-12

Wow, Isaiah not only condemns the practice of sacrifices, Isaiah says, God asks, “Who asked this from your hand?”  Does God really need to know who commanded sacrifices?……..Well the Bible says, you did God!  God said it to Moses when he was giving him the 10 Commandments.  Did God forget that?  (Exodus 20:22-24).  I’ll leave that for reflection later.

Most important is why then do we think Jesus was a sacrifice, when God claims to want no more sacrifices!  Jesus’ actions in the temple was a vivid demonstration against the religious sacrificial system.  Jesus wanted it destroyed.  He wanted to end the practice.

Unfortunately, after Jesus’ death, people conditioned to understand the need for sacrifice used their understanding to explain Jesus’ death as a sacrifice God demanded.  Some Bible authors of the New Testament got it wrong right out of the gate.  Within one or two generations….early Christians used their old thoughts, theologies, and practices to explain Jesus death.

We need to go back, way back, and rethink Jesus death as a sacrifice.  Sacrifice is important in life.  Some people sacrifice with their lives for a purpose, for a cause, or for someone else.  That is a high calling and commitment.

God just never needed a human sacrifice to love humanity.  We need to stop this terrible theology and rearticulate the theology of the cross.  I heard it best from author and pastor, Brian Zahnd, “The cross is not what God does, the cross is who God is!”  Profound.  God did not have a plan to kill Jesus to appease his anger against humanity, to forgive our sin, to make us right with God.  We are right with God just as God created us to be.  Instead, in the cross we see what God does, God does not seek revenge, but forgives, God does not strike the other cheek, but turns away and accepts the evil actions humans inflict upon one another.  God absorbs and takes hatred upon God-self.  This is the only way to stop violence, evil, and hatred in our world.  The cycle will never stop, and the Kingdom will never come if we can’t embrace and sacrifice our need for revenge and retribution.

You don’t need to believe in a God who demands a human sacrifice!  You can choose to follow the path of Jesus and sacrifice your pride, hatred, and instead seek love and reconciliation.  That is what God does!

You’re Seedy

Jesus says, “Those who love their life lose it, those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”…John 12:25.

That saying confuses me.  I always read commentaries to make sure I am getting the “correct” meaning.  I recently realized that the verse preceding it has the same meaning.  There is a parallelism occurring.  I no longer need to read commentaries for John 12:25 to jump out and speak to me.  I read John 12:24 and it all comes together.

Verse 24, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls in the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  YES, these two verses mean the same thing.

If a seed loves it’s “Seediness”, if it loves its life as it is, it loses, LIFE.  The Abundant life.  It loses the future potential of being a tree and producing fruit, which would be REAL LIFE, eternal life.  If seeds love their life, they will not risk and give that life up.  But if the seed hates its seediness, it gets a new life forever…never, ever going back to being a seed, but instead becoming a tree and producing much fruit.  This for me is a profound spiritual truth of faith.  Things must die for new life to arise.

When it comes to being human we have some choices.  We can choose to hold on to our “seediness”, those things in life that we want to control, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so.  We might rationalize, “That’s just the way it is.”  I have to believe in the Trinity, because, “That’s just the way it is.”  I have to believe that resurrection happened once, 2000 years ago, because, “That’s just the way it is.”  I have to believe that Satan is a force for evil that thwarts the work of God, because, “That’s just the way it is.”  I have to believe in Hell, because, “That’s just the way it is.”  I have to believe the “CORRECT BELIEFS AND DOCTRINES OF CHRISTIANITY” to be a follower of Jesus, because, “That’s just the ways it is.”

Sometimes our beliefs can get in the way of our relationship with God.  Something must die in order to bring new, resurrected life into my spirit and bones.  There is no other way.  For new life, for seeds to become trees and produce fruit, something must die.  “That’s just the way it is.”

The path of death and new life, daily, is at the heart of a healthy mature faith.  Holding on, tight-fisted, clinging to beliefs that make no sense, following Sunday Morning rituals that have lost their meaning, could mean they need to die.  The seed needs to be buried in order to see what will be birthed.

It’s a risk!  Those who take the challenge, grow in trusting God, grow in faith, and produce fruits of the spirit, “That’s just the way it is.”


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