Thursday, February 19, 2015

Will you?

For several years, every day’s email brings “Days of Praise,” a free online devotional from the Institute for Creation Science, Dallas, Texas. I like having some devotional thought, but’ve never really gotten into my own Episcopal Church’s “Forward Day by Day” publication although I’ve always found it excellent, good writers, thoughtful people, always heartfelt, often moving, sometimes scholarly. No, I enjoy having a different take on things as long as it isn’t downright stupid like the utterances of pseudo-religious politicians who are so desperate to blend with their intended electorate that they go out of their way to embrace ignorance. Sadly, they have become the tail wagging the dog of my political heritage.

See, it’s so easy in writing to wander down a thorny trail. But I was talking about “Days of Praise” and their writers. Even though I seldom to never entirely agree with them, they are scholarly and educated, with, as I’ve mentioned before, Greek and Hebrew that far exceeds anything I hope ever to equal. I can and have and do learn from them. My chief difference is my view that their “research” is not to “seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will,” but to prove their own beliefs, like so many who are captive of their own certainties. Which means it’s not research but like a difference between exigesis and eisegesis in Bible study. Yet, now and then I enjoy them anyway, and I highly respect their knowledge.

At any event, I was taken with their essay of February 11, 2015, and’ve had it sitting on my computer desktop in a folder titled -- well, I won’t tell the title, because it’s a barnyard word for what male cattle of the field may leave behind, somewhat irreverent and marginally inappropriate for a man of the cloth, let the reader understand. Not to mention moving myself out onto the precipice of heresy. Anyway, here’s their Feb 11 essay, titled “For Our Justification.” 

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February 11, 2015
For Our Justification
“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)

We rejoice greatly in Christ’s resurrection, knowing that He has promised that “because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). But it is also very important to realize and remember that if He had not been raised from the dead, we would still be lost sinners, separated eternally from God. He was raised, Paul reminds us, “for our justification.”

The immensity of the load of sin which Christ bore with Him on the cross is beyond comprehension. He had to “taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9), for He was the offering “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), were it not for the infinite power, as well as the infinite love, of both the Father and the Son, such an infinite weight of sin would seem impossible to overcome, so Christ would die forever, and we would be lost forever. How could we ever know that we had been forgiven and that He had paid the awful price that would suffice for our salvation? How could we ever be acquitted and declared righteous before God?

That is exactly what the resurrection of Christ assures! “By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18). His infinite righteousness has more than balanced the terrible weight of “the sin of the world,” and He was able to take it away (John 1:29). Although the wages of sin must be death, “the free gift is of many offences unto justification” (Romans 5:16).

This gift of total and eternal justification is free because of His love, but even a free gift must be accepted before it can be possessed. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). HMM

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It’s a very good homily or short sermon, it’s just that I disagree with it. It seems entirely orthodox, so much that if I were to preach it on a Sunday in Lent or Good Friday I would see heads nodding all over the sanctuary and get compliments as people made their way out after. I just don’t agree. Coming upon me at the start of Lent, it’s the difference in what the Church has taken from Saint Paul and what I believe likely to have been the mind of the elusive “historical Jesus.” 

The distance between Jesus of Nazareth and the Jesus of Paul’s teaching is a chasm, not a crack in the sidewalk. The subsequent writing, teaching and dogmatizing church notwithstanding, I do not believe the Man on the Cross understood himself as HMM’s essay visualizes. He would have been astonished. 

And HMM is a far distance from what my father used to say -- in response to the question “Are you saved?” -- that “We have a religion to live by, not a religion to die by.” My father was right, at least as I understand Jesus Christ who came to show us the values of God for living a human life on earth, not a check list for getting into heaven. 

Still, scanning our eucharistic prayers, and reading our Collects for Lent (BCP pp. 217-221) where bits of Anglican theology are embedded, I reckon I need to give this a lot of thought this Lent, because I may be wrong as usual.

Although I believe the mind of Christ is far better found in the "Will you?" questions of our Baptismal Covenant than in anything the Church has read out of Saint Paul.



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