Sunday 23 March 2008

Easter sermon: no payback!

A sermon by Kim Fabricius

Two numbers forever etched in our memories of infamy: 9/11. Reflecting back on the event a year later, one commentator (Stanley Hauerwas) wrote: It was “an apocalyptic moment Christians in America cannot ignore. Surely something like how we felt as we survived the days after September 11, 2001, is how the followers of Jesus felt after the crucifixion”: disbelief, confusion, grief, anger – and fear. We were all afraid of further acts of terror. The disciples too were afraid of further acts of terror – the state terror – of imperial Rome. What happened next?

For the followers of Jesus, there were two days of total eclipse, and then – resurrection! – an even more apocalyptic moment than the crucifixion: in Jewish thought resurrection belonged to the scenario of the end-times, when God would bring the old world of suffering and death to a dramatic conclusion and begin a new world of justice and joy. Surely a cause for celebration, you might think. But – observe – the immediate reaction of the disciples to the presence of the risen Christ is not joy – but, again, fear. A different kind of fear, the commentators tell us, than frightened fear, rather “awe” in the presence of the holy. But I wonder if there isn’t a bit of special pleading here. I wonder if there wasn’t that same fear-as-fright about their reaction, except now with a different object: not Caiaphas and Pilate but Jesus himself. For had not the cowardly disciples denied, betrayed, abandoned their leader to his fate? In other words, hadn’t they behaved in such a way as to invite and expect some sort of payback? Indeed, isn’t it that the most astonishing thing of all about the resurrection of Jesus: there was no payback!

Think of 9/11 again. On the third day, as it were, America rises from the dead, from the ashes of Ground Zero. What is the immediate reaction of the nation, embodied in the melodramatic speeches, soon to become military policy, of George Bush? What else but payback? First the easy pickings of Afghanistan, then the full-scale invasion of Iraq; and now here we are, five years later, with George Bush unbowed and unrepentant, in defiance of reason and evidence still speaking the empty rhetoric of freedom and democracy, still claiming that he did the right thing, and, notwithstanding the current anarchy and slaughter, eyes wide shut in denial, still declaring that he’d do it again: bring the superior firepower of the US, its swift and righteous sword, to bear on the evil and cowardly terrorists.

But after Easter, what does the crucified and risen Jesus do? Does he respond to his execution by marshalling that legion of angels he refused to deploy on Golgotha, smashing his way into the imperial palace with shock and awe, overwhelming the hopelessly outgunned royal guard, and exacting a righteous and terrible revenge on Pilate, who, of course, had form as a ruthless tyrant long before his showdown with the rebel from Galilee? Does he storm the Temple in a way that makes the disruptive demonstration the Sunday before look like the piece of street theatre that, in fact, it was, then advance beyond the court of Gentiles and invade the court of priests, seize the hapless Caiaphas and – how ironically apt – cast him from the spire he had once stood atop with the devil himself? Does he round up those reprehensible disciples, perhaps hood and humiliate them, or take them down to the pool of Bethesda for a bit of waterboarding, which, after all, isn’t really torture, or, at the very least, give them a tongue-lashing they’ll never forget and send them away in guilt and despair? None of the above. No violence, no vengeance – no payback!

So what does the crucified and risen Jesus do? He ignores Pilate and Caiaphas, his judges and executioners, completely. And when he meets his followers – who would believe it! – he says things like, “Do not be afraid,” and “Peace be with you.” He shows them his wounds to reassure them, and to demonstrate that even in his regnant glory his decorations will always be scars. And he commissions them to carry on his ministry – how? As avenging furies, agents of retribution? (“I’ll be back, through you, my shock troops, and this time it’s personal.”) No, no payback! Indeed the mission impossible he gives them is a ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation.

But why should this surprise us? Hadn’t the crucified One already disarmed his disciples in the garden, and forgiven his killers on Calvary? Will the risen One now change his mind? In John’s gospel Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples as he gives them the gift of peace (John 20:21-22). This is John’s version of Luke’s Pentecost. But the peace of Christ is not for them alone. The man for others (Bonhoeffer) commissions a church for others. The peace they receive they must share, declare, and effect. And this peace takes the form of – forgiveness! Jesus says: “If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23). And though the construction looks like a conditional, as if forgiveness were discretionary – as if the disciples might grant forgiveness to this one but withhold it from that one – the key to Jesus’ command is its gracious sweep and urgency. Forgiveness itself is God’s judgement on sin, and forgiveness itself is the condition that makes justice possible. Wrath – whatever that might mean – must be left to the Father. This is John’s version of Matthew’s Great Commission.

Am I suggesting that forgiveness become the central plank of the West’s ethical foreign policy against terrorism? A counter-question: why the absolute astonishment, indeed repugnance, with which Christian themselves react to such a suggestion? Does it not, in fact, demonstrate – in the sense of “what difference does it make to our discipleship?” – that we do not live the truth that Jesus is the risen Lord, that we ignore the events of Holy and Easter week, as well as his life and teaching, that we honour the seventh beatitude more in the breach than the observance; rather we live as if Caesar (in whatever guise) were Lord, as if the events recorded in our tabloids rather than the stories of Jesus in the Bible define the “real” world, as if violence rather than peace were the origin, goal, and very grain of the universe? If being Christian trumped being American, British, or whatever, and if the church itself practiced a politics of peace, then at least we would have something to say to government that wasn’t the mere echo of its own loud voice.

It is a commonplace to say that the autumn of 2001 changed everything. In fact, 9/11 and its six-year wake has changed nothing. No, it was a spring weekend in the year 33, when there was a most rude interruption to the way the world does its business – a gruesome gibbet, an empty tomb, an unarmed man passing through barricades, waging peace – that is what changed everything. Though you wouldn’t know it. And why on earth should anyone, governments included, believe it when even the church doesn’t?

The American theologian Stanley Hauerwas was once asked, in his dissent from the war on terrorism: “Well, what alternative foreign policy do you have to bombing Afghanistan [and invading Iraq]?” Hauerwas replied: “My only response is [that] I do not have a foreign policy. I have something better – a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill.” People who believe in a saviour who would rather die than kill, who did die rather than kill, and who lives and rules the world – no payback! – with truth and grace, because God is non-violent, and in him there is no violence at all.


Shane said...

No violence, no vengeance? God is non-violent.

This sermon seems to have a lot more to do with your personal politics than it does with that things scripture says about who God is and what he does. God is most certainly violent.

God exiled Adam and Eve from paradise for eating a bit of fruit. He created rival ethnic/language groups to punish the Babel-builders' hubris. He drowned every living creature on the face of the earth except Noah and his family and the animals in the ark. He hardened Pharoah's heart and then drowned his armies of Pharoah in the red Sea in retribution for enslaving the chosen people. (For which Moses praised his a 'man of war' Ex 14). God killed Uzzah for touching the ark. he sent bears to eat the children who made fun of Elisha's bald head. The psalmists praise God as a warrior and crave the execution of his justice upon the wicked. The new testament encourages us not to take vengeance ourselves, of course, for "'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." And, if you believe the book of revelations by 'repay' God means punish with war, famine, pestilence, and death:

"So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles." Revelations 14.

Do you really mean to tell me that, "blood came out of the winepress" means that in the end God sets everyone down to a nice cup of tea and they all have a good cry together and forgive one another and go their merry way?

God has both the right and the ability to execute perfect retribution on everyone. And, if past performance is any indicator, he seems likely to rain down more wrath and vengeance in the future.

Matthew R. Malcolm said...

Thanks for this post - and for your response shane... I wonder if both ben's point and shane's point have a place: The astonishment of the post-resurrection era is that there is no payback YET... and Christians, until the parousia, must maintain this way of life, conforming themselves to the cruciform Christ, and trustfully looking ahead to HIS righting of all wrongs in the future.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shane,

Well, I hope others join in on this discussion. Orator dixit, and it's right that all you guys now have a go. Besides, I've spoken on the points you raise on this blog aplenty, in a few of my Propositions, and whenever the issue of pacifism has been raised, most recently by Scott.

I will only say here that my sermon is on the resurrection texts. I take the resurrectiion - with the crucifixion - of the nonviolent Saviour to be the biblical event - eschatological event - on which all else hinges, which acts as their interpretive key, which stands in judgement upon them (crux et resurrectio probant omnia). I would argue that it is a key which can unlock the texts of violence, vengeance, and terror you mention, including the book of Revelation (see the deconstructions of such brilliant New Testament scholars as Richard B. Hays and Richard Bauckham). I think it is hermeneutically unintelligent and unintelligible to throw the Bible at me like a brick in the way that you have done. Show me the violence in Jesus, crucified and risen, however, and I shall reconsider bowing the knee.

I am, by the way, a most reluctant pacifist. I have, of course, a personal politics; I would, however, submit that it less eisegetical than you suggest.

Anonymous said...

Further proof of no payback: Jesus is the only person who, after coming back from the dead, is not interested in eating our brainsssss!

(Sorry, the kids were watching zombie movies at work last night.)

Anonymous said...

LOL Dan, that is great.

Can we look a little more closely at what God having vengeance on anyone (of course, only those jerks we don’t like) suggests?

Why bother having vengeance? Certainly God, creator of the universe, could just pop anyone out of existence that he doesn’t want around anymore without making them suffer, so it doesn’t make sense if is just to get rid of people. He could take lessons from the Nazis if eradication is his aim.

So is it for their edification, like a father punishes his child until the child develops a more mature sense of how to treat others? This would imply that there is always hope – that all will/may/can be redeemed, even after death, and that hell is a sort of after-death continuation of the plan of salvation. Actually – that may be – it was the position of several of the early fathers – such as my favorite, Isaac of Syria, an unapologetic universalist who is writes that in the end there is hope for the fallen angels as well. He didn’t deny hell, but insisted we can only maintain that God is also infinitely merciful if there some reason for hell we don’t quite follow. If Isaac were alive today, I wonder if he would suggest Iraq, Cambodia, drug addiction, and video games count also as hell. Or maybe hell is wanting revenge.

If not for some better purpose, like the eventual healing of all creation, but just to make certain ones suffer “because they deserve it” – for how long? Forever? Why? Will God get some sort of satisfaction from seeing such ones in agony for their sins, or (was it Augustine that suggested this?) for the satisfaction of the redeemed that God causes the wicked to suffer. Like God letting the wronged ones watch while “they get their due” for what they have done to the church. Sounds rather creepy; do we want a God like that?

This debate is what happens if we have to narrow (and I don’t accuse you of this, Kim, of this, but general fundamentalism) a view of what the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ were about. I thought it wasn’t primarily about sin, but about being transformed through the work of God into one in union with God, because the relationship with God is what we most actually want. And we do have to take scripture as a whole, which if it teaches us anything, it is that Christ showed us there is a different way to react to sin than to pass it on to others like the plague in our fevered state of hurt from being wronged. But God knows we can’t do it on our own; we are too weak. He unites with humanity in their weakness – not their “righteousness” – and promises to make all things new (that’s from Revelations as well, I believe).

Easter Blessings.

Anonymous said...

I've just come from a wonderful morning of Easter worship and return to read Kim's Easter sermon. I think it's wonderful; I wish I could have written every word myself.

But the problem with using illustrations from 9/11 and US foreign policy is that if people don't agree with your interpretation of THOSE events the greater point may be lost.

and Christian peace is about so much more than foreign policy ( although it's also about that); how we spend our time and money; our relationships, not just with foreign nations, but also with the neighbor across the street.

I don't think Kim or Stan Hauerwas should describe themselves as pacifists; the Christian life is so much more than that.
But I haven't convinced Stanley yet.

John Rasmussen,
somebody still on Long Island ( I work one mile south of Huntington High )

P.S. Kim,"Forgiveness is God's judgment on sin" is a terrific line. Where did you get it from ?

Steven Carr said...

' Hadn’t the crucified One already disarmed his disciples in the garden, and forgiven his killers on Calvary? '

Of course, Jesus had pronounced that this generation would pay for the crimes of killing the prophets, beginning with their collective guilt for the killing of Abel.

So why did Jesus ask his Father to forgive people that he himself had condemned?

Of course, the earliest manuscripts of Luke's Gospel do not have 'Father forgive them, for they know now what they do'.

Richard Beck said...

Kim's 9/11 analysis is difficult but very appropriate it seems. If I read him right, Kim is diagnosing in the human psyche what evolutionary psychologists call "moralistic aggression," a fairness motivated revenge instinct. All humans have this. It is deeply rooted in our moral psychology.

The point is, attacking back after 9/11 "feels right" to the human mind. It's feeding into a biologically grounded ethics. This biological ethic is like our sweet tooth, a inclination that pulls us and tempts us. If someone hurts me my entire psychology is geared to prompt me to reciprocate and, neurochemically, to get reinforced to reciprocate. Revenge is like sex or donuts. It feels good to us. And this felt goodness and rightness makes it seem commonsensical and unimpeachable. It's power is its broad appeal to human nature, something we all share.

Thus, nothing that Kim says here is going to "feel right" to most people. It goes against how we are wired. It's pushing back very hard on our biology.

BTW, if you look at the Sermon on the Mount as an evolutionary psychologist you are struck by Jesus' insight into human moral psychology. His ethic always cuts exactly between the biological ethic (e.g., an eye for an eye (moralistic aggression), greeting only your brothers (kin selection)) and a truly transcendent ethic.

Kim's post cuts along the same psychological fault line.

Anonymous said...

Kim, thank you for this terrific Easter reflection. While, as Shane says, there is a politics embedded in it, have we not long since lost the delusion that the Cross and Resurrection are profoundly political?

And again, if we do not interpret the largest events of our time in light of the pivotal event of history (Cross and Resurrection), then what indeed does the Gospel have to say?

Anonymous said...

Kim you are so right. As James Alison says it is part of the density of the resurrection experience that it is already an experience of forgiveness. Not eisigetical... this is the witness we have.

dreaminginthedeepsouth said...

I remember reading once that vengeance belongs to the Lord, because humans are incapable of it(the implication being that vengeance done properly doesn't look like we think it does..). That's the hard part, isn't it? To leave that to God?
Our sermon this a.m. was about "Eastering" (from a George Herbert poem) -- Easter as a verb. Is that the antidote to revenge and bitterness? The cycle of violence? I do pray so.

Anonymous said...

hello shane,

i must say that i am no authority in theology and on pacifism but coming from a Christian background that shares the same view that you have on matters that were discussed on this post I must say that one thing that is mostly forgotten or even ignored is the call to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) which is basically a call for us who profess to be disciples of the living Christ to exhibit grace in the same manner that He exhibited His grace for us upon which we were redeemed. all I'm saying is that perhaps we ought to exhibit grace more than talk about being just on certain issues that we cannot claim a moral ascendancy on because as humans we are after all imperfect.

LTallon said...

A few comments regarding your response to Shane:
I agree that Jesus Christ is that to which Scripture bears witness and that the crucifixion and resurrection are the sine qua non of his history. However, the way in which you portray the relationship between text (Shane’s Bible-brick) and event (“the biblical event”) is rather problematic. It appears to assume that we can extrapolate the event from the texts, possess it (epistemologically) and then use it to judge the texts from which we originally wrestled it. Yet (to rephrase the question I asked Scott a few days ago), is it really the case that we see the cross and resurrection so clearly and understand it so comprehensively that we only have a secondary problem to solve, that of finding the relationship between these problematic texts and this event we already know? All too quickly, crux et resurrectio probant omnia can become ego probo omnia. Surely we should not claim more than the eyewitnesses of the crucifixion and resurrected life of Jesus Christ, who allowed the Old Testament to help them judge what had happened in this event and who the crucified, resurrected and ascended is. I am not denying that the Old Testament needs to be read in the light of Christ, but simply affirming that theology operates in a hermeneutical circle in which Christ must also be “read” in light of the Old Testament. Thus, a question like Shane’s need not be either unintelligible nor hermeneutically unintelligent, so I ask, is it proper to say that “God is non-violent, and in him there is no violence at all” when passages like Isaiah 53:10 (“it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer….”) press us to see both the crucifying and the being crucified as an act of God? More difficult on many levels, but more true to God’s self-revelation would be to undertake the work of explaining how any hatred and violence in God are always in service of his love and peace and how the cross and resurrection render negative judgment on all subsequent attempts to undertake hatred and violence in service to God. Indeed, I expect nothing less from someone who revels in the difficulty theology causes preaching!

Anonymous said...

Hi John,
Generally speaking, the church is too generally speaking: preachers must be specific, like the newspapers they have in their left hands. And what you get here in my written sermons are blasts from the blue; the people who actually hear my sermons preached - I have ministered to them for over twenty years, i.e. the sermons are embedded in the life of our local community. Correspondingly, of course, they got a UK supplement - Blair, Brown, etc. - to this particular sermon: tua res agitur!

Of course I agree that the practice peace is about more than politics, but it cannot be about less.

The phrase about forgiveness and judgement that you like - its substance is profoundly Barhtian, but I am not aware of pinching the precise phraseology.

Btw, when you drive by Huntington High - hush: peace - you are passing my "field of dreams"!

And Richard,
Thanks for your psychological take on the politics - personal and collective - of vengeance. You are a most empathetic reader and understand me perfectly. I always appreciate your comments here at F&T, always getting us to consider things from the angle of your own expertise. Discipleship is indeed a call to a counter-psychology.

And Bruce,
Darn! Now I wish I'd remembered to consult Alison's essay "Contemplation in a World of Violence" in On Being Liked before writing the sermon!

Shane said...

The Bible-brick. What a felicitous phrase!

It's been a while since anybody accused me of being a Bible-thumper. I don't mind it, actually. I think most preachers could use a good Bible-brick-bat-beating.

As far as 'throwing' the Bible at you--I'm not proof-texting, I'm trying to mention synoptically the whole witness of scripture. The cross and resurrection are important, but you can't interpret x to mean not-x. Does the cross fundamentally change God's nature? If so, then you're a sabellian or a marcionite. If not, then presumably God's character in the OT tells us something, namely that you don't want to fuck up by him.

More when I return . . .

Anonymous said...

Hi Itallon,

Thank you for pinpointng the difficulties of my "hermeneutic". It looks to be dismissing huge swathes of the Old Testament and many apolacyptic passages in the New Testament, and opens me to the charge of Marcionism (which Scott may be bold to embrace; I am not, because from a revolution in our understanding of God as non-violent it does not follow that the Old Testamen is simply otiose). Texts like Isaiah 53 are a particular disturbance. Even here, however, I follow an expositor like Herbert McCabe:

"Well, then, did the Father want Jesus to be crucified? And, if so, why? The answer ... is No. The mission of Jesus from the Father is not the mission to be crucified; what the Father wished is that Jesus should be human... the fact that to be human means to be crucified is not something that the Father has directly planned but what we have arranged. We have made a world in which there is no way of being human that does not involve suffering...when we meet love we kill it."

Jesus said, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Do you see any violence or vengeance in Jesus? I'm afraid I don't. None. Zilch. Therefore I deduce that there is none in the Father. Is this ego probo omina? Perhaps. Am I being simplistic? Perhaps again - or perhaps just childlike.

Yeah, Shane, we'd better not fuck with God - or he'll die for us.

Richard Beck said...

The Sunday after 9/11 I was teaching our adult bible class at church. Obviously, I set my lesson aside and we just sat there, together, shell-shocked. We just processed all that we were feeling and shared concerns about friends and family in the NY area.

Finally, I decided to have us speak about our feelings concerning the perpetrators. I asked the class, "How many of you feel right now, deep in your gut, 'Let's get those bastards.'"? This was stiff language for our church. But no one was shocked. Everyone looked at me with perfect comprehension. And most nodded yes.

It seems to me that if the gospel doesn't seek to neutralize this poison of the 'Let's get those bastards' instinct then I don't know what we are all doing here.

Politics, theology, pacifism, and hermeneutics aside, when the Bush administration calls up the ghosts of 9/11 they are seeking to reactivate those 'Let's get those bastards' impulses. And those are not the better angels of our nature. To keep those feelings alive, as natural and human as they are, just doesn't move us toward the Imago Christi. True, many will counter, the goal of the government isn't to form us into the image of Christ. Fine, but if so then it becomes vitally important, as this post does, to make very sharp distinctions between the calling of the church and the activity of the Powers.

Anonymous said...

Hi again Richard,

It sounds like a great adult Bible study class you've got. Here in Swansea, the reactions to 9/11, after the shock and disbelief, were more of anger morphing into sympathy with the people of the US (and for me personally, as a New Yorker, from those who know me) than an immediate desire for revenge. However if I were ministering in the US at the time, I would no doubt have done what you did, probably through using some of the Psalms of vengeance (e.g. 58, 83 - and 137 - being among the most visceral) for reflection and catharsis. As a chaplain at Swansea University, I preached within days of the atrocity to a large gathering of mainly American students, recently arrived on their exchange programmes. From the scriptures we read a Psalm of lament and Romans 12:9-21. I reflected in a homily on Romans 12:21. It didn't take a prophet to anticipate the shitstorm that was coming from Washington.

Richard Beck said...

Yes, thank God for the psalms.

That bible class is a great group. It's also the class that allowed me to use Bob Sutton's (Stanford business prof) wonderful book The No Asshole Rule to approach 1 Corinthians 13. Sutton's book is about how businesses should adopt no tolerance policies for workplace assholes. I've been trying to get my church to adopt it as an ecclesial practice...

Shane said...

@Richard, Kim

I have just returned from Pennsylvania Dutch country (for the non-Americans this is the area of the country that was inhabited by German anabaptists). I've actually been thinking about pacifism for most of the weekend, because I got to go to an Amish store and see them there peddling their wares. Not far from where I was there was a horrific school shooting a few years back. The people of the town publicly forgave the shooter the day after the attack.

There is something holy about this. Something amazing and wonderful and good in their act of forgiveness. Genuine forgiveness requires more strength than bloodlust. On all of this, I'm sure we agree.

But the Amish way of life requires the protection of government and the government requires the use of violence.

Kim, I think you were right to preach to your students that we should forgive those who wrong us and have the strength, like the Amish seem to, to overcome our own personal desire for retribution. But, the apostle adds just a few sentences later:

"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."

The apostle Paul seems clearly to say above that the government has a divine mandate to do violence at least sometimes.

So, yes, regarding 9/11, say to the American Christians: "Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you." But what you should say to the soldiers is "Good hunting."

The Amish can, should and did forgive the man who killed their children. But the state of Pennsylvania cannot, should not and will not. If it is good that the state punish the wicked, then there is no reason that a Christian cannot be a soldier or police officer.

What will God do to the man who shot those children?

God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and will punish those whom he wills to punish. I don't see any good exegetical reason that anyone could confidently say more than that (at least about those outside of the Church). If you want to claim to know the further fact that you know God definitively will not damn anyone you will need to do some pretty good exegesis to try to establish this claim as the vast weight of Church tradition does not support your interpretation.

I'm not ruling out it out a priori that there's a solid case to be made for universalism, but until you actually spell out the argument, I have pretty good reason to doubt it.

Anonymous said...

I guess the real question is whether what America did can be construed as 'payback'. I'm not so sure. I don't like the war in Iraq, but I think it was always waged as a 'preventative' measure, a way of preventing the terrorists from increasing in strength and from finding safe haven. But I sympathise with the point Kim is making here, and there is something to it I think. I just think it operates on a category mistake, or at least a specific interpretation of what America is doing, an interpretation that I suspect would not be verified by close inspection

Richard Beck said...

Hi Shane,
Hey, Amish country! I grew up in PA.

To be honest Shane, I don't know much about the debates surrounding Constantinian Christianity and Christian pacifism. I don't know a lot about the ontology of peace versus the eschatology of peace.

But I do know a bit about people and how, given the slightest justification, they will gravitate toward the path of least resistance. As I read Kim's sermon I read it as him troubling the waters, denying us an easy and quick exit in the face of an event that many see as, well, (self-)righteously straightforward.

True, we can immediately rush into Kim's sermon with objections and counter-arguments. And these, perhaps, have merit. I cannot judge. But it is, rather, the speed of our objections that worries me. Not you, I’m thinking of how these conversations go on my campus and in my own church. The sheer, unreflective speed of the objections, as good as they are, is theologically diagnostic.

For if we move too quickly against Kim’s sermon I wonder if we are not, at root, letting ourselves off the hook. Theology and hermeneutics, I’m guessing, I am no theologian, can be as self-serving as any enterprise.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a little off topic, but can you elaborate a bit on what you're thinking in the comment about God not intending Christ to be crucified? If Christ had lived the ordinary life of a fisherman and died of old age, would he still have 'finished' what he was sent to do?
Someone has some very good links on univeralism - anyone?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ann,


God sent Jesus to be (in Luther's phrase) "the proper man", (in the language of Aquinas), the complete friend. Further, God knew that in fulfilling this mission through his perfect obedience, Jesus would meet a violent end (not die in bed of old age!), because that is the inevitable result and conclusion when non-violence confronts violence - each does its thing. In the sense that the life and death of Jesus is this package deal, one can speak of God "willing" the crucifixion of Jesus. What makes me wary of this language, however, is the way it is often deployed in various theories of the atonement - particularly the model of penal substitution - where God is envisaged as having a psychology of volition like ours only infinitely larger, as if God has certain conditions that have to be satisfied, certain issues that have to be resolved, in order for the world to put to rights, such that, "needs must" (as we say in Wales), God wills the death of Jesus.

Let me add some Rowan Williams to Herbert McCabe (from the second edition of his great Arius [2001]). After suggesting that God is not a "person" or "individual" like us, Williams continues: "If God is not an individual, God does not compete with us for space; if God is not an individual, God's will cannot be adequately understood in the terms of self-assertion or contest for control in which so much of our usual discourse of will is cast. The implications for theology, for ethics and for prayer and spirituality are enormous; and we are still discovering them." Indeed.

I hope I have not answered an obscure point by an even more obscure point. Both, it seems to me, are extremely important.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. I agree that we pretty much have say God the Father 'knew' what would happen and so in that sense willed it. I don't like the language of God sent his son "TO DIE" - as if that was the only purpose. I was wondering about this because of being Catholic, and the sense in Catholic theology that somehow, some way, Jesus needed to die "as grapes crushed, as grain grinded" because there is a need for him to die "at the peak of his own strength" so that that very vitality is captured in the bread and wine. Weird? Maybe...but there is something to it if we think of the Eucharist and Jesus dieing of old age instead. It doesn't seems to work then.
I very much like the Williams quote - thank you for that. Even the early fathers knew we had to understand scripture as 'through our human lens' and not to take it too literally, but as a sort of vector towards that which is just beloved and mystery.

Anonymous said...

Hey Shane (and others)

I suggest reading Augustine's "City Of God" to answer these deeper questions of man's law vs. God's Law and how the two not necessarily "co-exist" nor are diametrically opposed to one another, but somehow, in a mystical way, function "together" - and ultimately, which is the better choice. ;)

Very Best,


Unknown said...

That's a terrible sermon. Shame on you. Why do people feel that Easter is a time to talk about American foreign policy? The resurrection of the Lord is good news to ALL who believe, not just those who "don't pay back".

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

I am sorry you think the sermon is terrible. This Easter (my 26th Easter sermon), the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, with 4000 American soldiers dead and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, it seemed both timely and responsible to preach on American foreign policy in the context of the resurrection of Jesus. But I think you underestimate the breadth of the good news, which is not just for all who believe, but for all who don't believe as well, because the resurrection constitutes an ontological reconfiguration of the world as cosmic shalom. However the risen Christ meets no one without commissioning them for service: the ministry of reconciliation and peace. Why should I be ashamed of this message?

Anonymous said...

*chuckles* There will always be someone who takes issue with something that someone says. Isn't free will great?

Anonymous said...

An absolutely lovely piece, Kim. Simply brilliant. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

First let me say that I agree with everything of consequence that the preacher has said in this sermon.

My only concern is that the sermon draws straight lines between the events of Good Friday and Easter and the events of the past seven years. It's a bit too didactic. I think that this is a problem because it leaves no room for the worshippers, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, to arrive on their own where the preacher wants them to arrive. When the interpretation is done for the congregation, rather than the preacher acting as a helper, it's too easy to angrily reject the sermon, or to accept it for simply reinforcing one's own previously-arrived-at conclusions.

I hope that you'll take this as a sympathetic critique. I struggle with this quite a bit in my own preaching. And I say this with no knowledge whatsoever of the congregation that heard this sermon, so I may be speaking out of turn.

Obviously we want to open our congregation's eyes to the political and social implications of the Good News, especially in an age which still consigns religion to the "private" world of values. But a too heavy-handed approach can be counter-productive. At the same time, a too-subtle sermon might not lead them far enough down that road.

It's a fine line, I'll admit.

Anonymous said...

yes, you know you have succeeded in persuasion when someone wants to claim it was their own idea. Which also why 'selling' Christianity as the way to avoid afterlife torture doesn't produce conversions of the heart. I would love to have all preachers ask their congregations if there were just 'this life only' - no heaven or hell, would they still cling to Christ? I have asked some Christians that question and gotten the answer that "No, I'd be out partying."
No payback needs to be worthwhile and attractive for its own sake, which if we really identified everyone else's salvation as part of our own, it would be.

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