Thursday, July 12, 2007

To Stand in a Crucified Place

The Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Rector
All Saints Church, Pasadena
Rector’s Forum: June 24, 2007

We have a responsibility in our words, our worship, and our actions to articulate a theology that does not glorify violence, does not perpetuate poverty, disease, occupation, and genocide, and that does not exclude, denigrate, or sacrifice those who are less powerful in society or in the church.

This means a return to Jesus’ understanding of the nature of God, forgiveness, the Reign of God, salvation, the cross, the community we now call the Church, and the resurrection. [It is] an understanding of God that is much more vast that the old man in a beard. That God usually is depicted in art and in our imagination as so angry at the human race for its sin that the only way forgiveness can come our way is to have the perfect sacrifice of Jesus crucified paid as our penalty. No to all that misunderstanding of how we are made at one with God. God’s grace and power to forgive is in the very nature of God, Godself as Jesus illustrated in the parable of the
Prodigal Son.

There is no gulf between God’s creation and God that has to be spanned. We are not in the need of that kind of salvation -- salvation from the wrath and punishment of God. We do not need that kind of salvation or savior. What we need is someone to embody revealingly God’s compassion to us whose life says, “This really is NOT too good to be true.” And lest we calcify God as a father -- even a compassionate, forgiving, love and grace-based father -- Carroll challenges us to understand God as Meaning. It is meaning -- to live a life of meaning -- that saves us from hell on earth. Heaven after death is already taken care of in the love and forgiveness and compassion of God.

We must put an end to any portrayal of God that says that without Jesus and the crucifixion we are left standing condemned. And that God’s way is to crucify Jesus and us. That is not what it means to claim that the way of the cross is the way of life. The way of the cross is the way of life means that when we offer ourselves in love for the sake of the life of another -- like loving parents do and loving friends do and compassionate neighbors like Good Samaritans do. That is the way of life.

This theology is deeply needed by the church as an antidote for making denigrating sacrifices of other people. Just two weeks ago, Bill Moyers interviewed our beloved and brilliant Presiding Bishop, but listen to her response to the practices of denigrating LGBT Christians:

BILL MOYERS: You've even been criticized by some of your liberal colleagues in the American fellowship because you have called for a moratorium for a season on ordaining more gay Bishops. Why did you do that?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: It was a very painful thing to do. My sense was that there might be hope of some kind of broader understanding if we were able to pause. Not go backwards, but pause.

BILL MOYERS: Is it fair to ask some aspiring gay or lesbian person who wants to become a Bishop, like Gene Robinson did in 2003, to wait?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Is it fair? No. It's not fair.

BILL MOYERS: But it's necessary?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: It's a crucified place to stand.

--From the Transcript of Bill Moyers Journal, broadcast June 8, 2007

There is no doubt that we all from time to time must stand in a crucified place. Jesus certainly did. Any follower of Jesus certainly will from time to time have a crucified place in which we must stand. But that place in order for us to take the place Jesus stood in that crucified place as opposed to the place the Roman empire stood in that crucified place is the place of self-offering as opposed to sacrificing someone else. When we sacrifice someone else, we are standing in the role of the Empire. When we offer ourselves, we are standing in Jesus’ place. That is why bishops cannot sacrifice someone else and call that act “Christian.”

All of this will call on us to claim with joy, peace, and power our intellectual and historical identities as children of Galileo. To use the story James Carroll used here last week, Galileo’s scientific observations led him to believe that the earth revolves around the sun rather than the opposite. The church said that Galileo had to be wrong because the Bible said the earth was the center of the cosmos. Galileo said, “No, that doctrine is wrong. Observation and scientific experience trumps doctrine.”

This means that we must tell the truth about biblical research. The Bible is not a stenographic record of God’s speaking to 66 different authors. The Bible contains the truth as well as a great deal of destructive, violent, and fear-based bigotry. We must sift through the wheat and the chaff and join the critics of religion coming from the “new atheists” now writing in the service of ending sadistic and masochistic religion and promoting religion that saves lives, promotes resistance of every dehumanizing force and idea, and turns the human race into the human family.

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