The Creature and the Cross

htlc cross 2This coming weekend we will observe a festival day that has been observed for centuries. Since perhaps the early Fourth Century, the Church has observed Holy Cross Day. The cross is important because Christ hangs upon it. This is enough of a reason for us to make everyday, Holy Cross Day. On top of that, however, is what we believe Christ accomplished; what he was doing as he suffered and died in such a grotesque and painful way.

The answer to the “why?” of the cross that most of us learned has something to do with how the death of Jesus paid a debt for us. That he died to pay for our sins to satisfy some cosmic, divine debt that had to be paid. If that is what you were taught and believe, you can thank a man named Anselm (1033-1109) who was Bishop of Canterbury and one of the most influential theologians the Church has produced. His theory about what Christ did on the cross came to be known as the “satisfaction” theory of the atonement.

Oddly enough, his thought on this subject remains a theory. The Church has never adopted his teaching as a doctrine. It sits beside other theories about “atonement” (what Jesus accomplished on the cross). But, this is the one people seem to know best. So, here’s the news flash in all this: I don’t think Anselm really got this thing right. That is not to say his thought has no merit. It does. The cross does indeed address the sin of the world and mine in particular. But that is a small sliver of the story and not entirely helpful in our age.

To say that, on the cross, Jesus died to pay for my sins alone restricts the power of the death and resurrection to, well, just the death part and to forgiveness alone. It fails to unite death with the resurrection, and so, leaves much unaddressed. It also only speaks to one form of suffering – my guilt; and it addresses only the sinner. What about the victims of sin? Those who suffer at the hands of others? Does not a crucified Messiah have something to say about being a victim of the powers and principalities in his cry, “My God! My God. Why have you forsaken me?” 

When Jesus is raised from the dead, does that not change deeply what happened on the cross? The world said a very loud, “NO!” to Jesus and his whole life, ministry, and message. Those in power smugly thought they had put things “right” by killing the troublemaker. Resurrection, however, was God’s “YES!” proclaiming the world guilty and Jesus right; revealing the sin and evil of the powers that be. On the cross Jesus still reveals the arrogance and pride of those who would cut off helping the poor and needy; who would abandon the widow a refugee; who fail to tend to the least and lost of the world. If you are for that which creates victims and counts winners and losers, you are on the wrong side of the cross.

Then there is all of creation. Jesus is a creature nailed to the cross by evil. Jesus, the dali st john crossChrist, is also “the Word” that spoke creation into being; “the Word” that sustains life and light; “the Word” that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). In the mystery of  the Incarnation, both creature and Creator are hung to suffer and die. On that cross is not only Jesus of Nazareth. carpenter, healer and all around “good guy.” On that cross hangs the creator of the world and so, all that is created. When Paul says, “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains…” (Romans 8:22), the agonized cries of Christ on the cross give voice to the suffering of every creature, rock, tree that face the suffering brought by sin.

These are but the beginning of what the cross represents to people of faith. The cross is the lens through which we “live, move, and have our being.” It is right to honor who dies there, who overcame it, and what God did upon that lonely tree.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

 

 

What’s So Ordinary about Ordinary Time?

This season of the church year after Pentecost is the time of green paraments, and a long counting of the Sundays that make up this season.  We sometimes simply refer to it as “ordinary time.”  Now that the 4th of July is over most of us are in the midst of vacation time or have already taken that anticipated time away.  Now life is back to, well, ordinary.

Yet this time certainly wasn’t ordinary for Jesus and it’s not ordinary for us either.  If we look at some of the gospel texts for the coming weeks we find that Jesus is busy.  This coming weekend we hear of a question from a lawyer about how he can inherit eternal life; what is he to do with his ordinary days in order to achieve this goal?  So, Jesus teaches him about love: loving those we don’t want to love, loving those we dehumanize, having compassion for others who we live with in this world.

Sometimes ordinary days become so busy that we can become distracted by many things. Listening to Jesus gets lost in all the other goings on of summer.  We hear of  Jesus’ encounter with two sisters, Mary and Martha.   Martha invites Jesus into their home but is so busy and so distracted that she forgets the beauty and joy of having this guest in their house. Instead she whines and complains.  Mary on the other hand, sat at the Lord’s feet and listened.  Perhaps this is a good reminder to us to listen up, to savor Jesus’ word and meal in worship.  Perhaps it’s time to listen up, to God’s creation, and give thanks for this moment in time and its beauty, for life.  Creation is a manifestation of God’s love. Just listen up to the sounds of creation: from birds chirping, to the babbling streams, to urban geese, and the crackling of corn growing.

Another story we hear in the coming weeks is that of the disciples learning from Jesus how to pray.  They learn that they can trust God as their  parent.  God’s gives what we need.  God forgives our sins, which is an example for us in extending forgiveness to others.  We are reminded that God does not bring us to a time of trial – God is not a tempter or a teaser.  We can come to God in prayer at any time, because God wants a relationship with us and loves to hear from us.  Time in prayer is precious time and can take many forms.

Jesus invites us to live life in the ordinary days; to observe life, listen, see, feel the beauty of this world.  Jesus invites us to live life in the ordinary days; to love those with whom we share this beautiful planet, to have care and concern for those who are cast off by our country or the world.  God’s children are the presence of God in our midst.  We exist for each other.  We exist to live in community with each other. 

Albert Einstein said in The World as I See It; “We exist for each other; in the first place, for those on whose smiles and welfare all our happiness depends, and next, for all those unknown to us personally, who whose destinies we are bound up by the tie of sympathy.  A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of others, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”

As we settle into the rest of the summer, perhaps we can reflect on what Jesus has given us in order to make our ordinary days extraordinary.  We can use the gift of listening, and for that matter, all our senses to appreciate and care for creation.  We can ponder the gift of being connected with every other human on this planet at this time in history.  We can give thanks for the gift of having a God who loves each of us and wants a relationship with us; a God who gives. Our God is extra- ordinary. God comes to live among us and now has sent the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts to life, as we work for God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace for all of creation!  There is nothing ordinary about that!