Benediction Online

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Jesus is God's Peace offering to Us

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

Today we start Jesus’ journey to the cross and beyond. Our gospel reading is a familiar one about taking up our cross. The other two lessons put this in the context of a discussion of faith and being reconciled to God. The first lesson told us that even in the face of death, Abraham believed God’s promise of a son and it was “reckoned to him as righteousness” and in the second lesson Paul parallels that with our faith: Abraham believed in God who fulfilled the promise: Christ-followers believe in God who raised Jesus.[1]

Righteousness is a word which is sometimes misunderstood because we talk of someone who is smug and hypocritical as being self-righteous and sometimes shorten that to say “she’s very righteous”. That’s not at all what the Bible means. God is often described as righteous, because he does what is right – in fact he is the epitome of what is right. So when we are made righteous we are reconciled with God – we are made to be at peace with the one who exemplifies righteousness. We do not make ourselves righteous – our participation is through our believing in God’s willingness to make God her promises, and in God raising Jesus so that we might have a way out of the sin-system.

During Lent we are re-examining ideas about how that reconciliation between God and man was facilitated by Jesus’ death and resurrection – how we are made one with God – which is often called the atonement – the at-one-ment. So the last few sentences of the second lesson are important for us to think about in more detail.

“Faith will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”

We are so used to hearing words like these and interpreting them as the Church has interpreted them for the last thousand years that we have to work to see them in a new way. But the Holy Spirit is constantly opening our eyes to new possibilities and challenging us to get out of our ruts and think about things from a different perspective. A literal translation of the Greek puts it in slightly different words: “Who was handed over for the trespasses of us and was raised for the justification of us.”

“Who was handed over for the trespasses of us” does not actually mention death but it makes it very clear that God is the one taking the action. Jesus and the atonement that comes through his life death and resurrection is God’s initiative. Earlier in Romans (3:25) Paul uses the unusual word hilasterion. He says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a hilasterion by his blood, effective through faith.”

Hilasterion is often translated sacrifice of atonement – in less pompous language we could call it a peace offering. But what’s amazing about this is that the hilasterion is being offered by God. In Jesus God is making a peace offering to humanity. Because we have become mired in the sin-system which perpetuates violence and oppression we also see God as violent and oppressive. But God has brought us a peace offering and in accepting that offering, in believing in the loving and powerful God who raised Jesus from the dead, we are freed from that system.

Going back to that literal translation of Paul’s words, “Jesus was handed over for the trespasses of us and was raised for the justification of us.” God gave Jesus to deal with our sin and raised him from the dead. In his resurrection we are vindicated and justified, just as he is. He is victorious over the sin system which tried to eradicate him – yes he died but it didn’t stick. So too we can be victorious over the meanness, the bad habits, the sins which drag us down and sometimes seem so powerful that they will suffocate us.

Before I end I do want to offer some thoughts on taking up the cross but let me just mention parallelism; in Jewish poetry there are frequent parallels – we see them especially in the psalms. A quick example from our psalm this morning: “For kingship belongs to the LORD; *he rules over the nations.” (Ps.22:27) – there’s not a great deal of difference between “kingship belongs to the Lord” and “he rules over the nations.” There is a subtle difference which enhances our understanding.

I think Paul is using a similar rhetorical devise when he says, “Jesus was handed over for the trespasses of us and was raised for the justification of us” – those are not two entirely different and opposing things but very similar concepts.

There seems to me to be parallelism in the two parts of the gospel reading too. In the first part Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be killed and raised. Peter pulls him aside to say that this is outrageous and he mustn’t even consider putting himself in such danger. Jesus has a strong reaction, “Get behind me Satan!” I am sure that Jesus had had similar ideas to Peter’s – it would have been much easier not to go towards Jerusalem, not to head towards that painful encounter with the darkest forces of the sin-system. But to turn back would have been to follow his human nature and inclinations not his divine calling. In order for God to hand Jesus over “for the trespasses of us” Jesus had to be obedient and willing.

In the second part of the reading Jesus says to the crowd "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” If we think of this as paralleling the conversation with Peter then it is amplifying or adding in some way to what he just said. So he’s saying – if you want to be my followers you also get to take up your cross.

It’s not the same cross that Jesus had. But each one of us if we are truly to be Jesus followers get to play our part in opposing the forces of the sin-system. That’s what it means to be followers of Jesus – we can no longer be unconscious participants in the kingdom of this world which is caught up in power plays, greed and violence – we have to take our own stand against it.

The sin-system is so pervasive that there are a million different ways to oppose it and we all get to resist on several fronts at once. There is the pain and difficulty we experience within ourselves as we grapple with the residue of traumatic and painful experiences – yes we all have them – and seek healing so that we can be serene in the face of adversity. There is the temptation in our personal relationships to be critical, to complain and make jokes at other people’s expense. This is a huge temptation in faith community where we are constantly living with each other’s beauty and grace AND each other’s failings. Adjusting our expectations and behaviors to accommodate the broken places in each other without being critical but rather unconditionally loving and at the same time maintain healthy community – that is standing up to the sin-system.

And then there is the temptation to believe that we are powerless and so to do nothing in the face of oppression and exploitation in our society. It has been said that “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” Needless to say I would expand that to include good women. We are called to take up our cross and oppose evil in all its insidious and subtle forms in ourselves, in the church and in society.

The good news is that Jesus rose again! In doing so he completely and ultimately broke the hold of the sin-system, so we are not fighting a losing battle. God has provided a peace offering so that we may be reconciled with God and enroll in his kingdom. We can choose to be on the winning side.

Jesus was given for our trespasses - to break the hold of the sin-system – and he was a peace-offering given by God so that we might become righteous – at-one with Her. In our eucharist we are invited once again to participate in that meal of coming-together-oneness with the divine. It is God who invites us into her presence to become participants in the kingdom , members of the Body of Christ, daughters and sons of the most high God!

[1] Frank J. Matera, Romans


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