Archives For Leaving Left Behind Behind

image001This past Sunday for our Leaving Left Behind Behind series we thought through the ‘rapture,’ the (un)biblical notion when the Risen Christ comes again believers will ‘meet him in the air’ and then…go somewhere else.

The problem with the rapture isn’t only that it’s a willful misreading of 1 Thessalonians 4 on which the idea is purportedly based, the problem is with its understanding of the someplace else to which we’ll be raptured.

The bigger problem with the rapture is heaven.

Our everyday notions of heaven do not come close to the hope the bible gives us.

Heaven it should be said straight away is not a place.

Heaven merely names God’s presence in its fullness.

So heaven isn’t a place because God isn’t a place.

When it comes to heaven there’s no ‘there’ there to which we can be raptured.

So the Christian hope is not of heaven as a destination of souls; it’s for the consummated reign of God. The God who made us to desire God and God’s Kingdom ultimately gets what God wants.

The Christian hope is for the creation declared ‘good’ to be renewed (Rev 21). This New Creation is finally what the Garden of Eden could not be: a place where God and God’s creatures dwell together. It’s as if what God wants is for us to join him in the life of the Trinity but there’s not enough room- New Creation is the space required for God’s desire.

     The Christian hope then is not for the rescue of the few worthy souls left after Armageddon.

It’s not escape from a swiftly sinking planet.

It’s the fulfillment of God’s original creative intent.

It’s the completion of Cross and Empty Tomb: the reconciliation of all things.

For ‘Heaven’ as in God’s fullness to come once and for all to Earth.

All things; so that, what was done at Eden is forever undone.

Communion with God is restored. Communion with one another is restored. Communion with creation is restored.

For this reason, all the imagery scripture uses to speak of heaven is profoundly communal: a new heaven and earth, a new Jerusalem, a marriage feast, a choir of countless people from every language.

Again, the Risen Jesus is our grammatical rule when speaking of eternal life. Whatever eternal life is it’s like what we find in the Easter Jesus. His bodily self is somehow restored. His life in the goodness of creation is renewed. His communion with the Father is consummated. His broken relationships (with Peter and the disciples) is reconciled.

As John Polkinghorne says, the old creation contained sacraments in it (ie, signs pointing to God). The New Creation is a sacrament. As Paul says, God will be ‘all in all.’

     As Robert Jenson says, ‘the End is music.’

To summarize:

Heaven = God’s presence in its fullness

Therefore in the immortal and slightly redacted words of Belinda Carlisle: Heaven is not now but will one day, on the Last Day, be a place on Earth.

Which makes this bit from comedian Louis CK all the more prescient:

Warning, his language makes me sound like Rev Dimmesdale.

image001I continued our Leaving Left Behind Behind series this weekend by talking about the rapture. Since the rapture is a topic over which many Christians disagree I thought a faux debate would be appropriate so this sermon follows our Au Contraire Mon Frere format.

I had friends of a theological bent send us eschatological assertions. We spun a carnival wheel and whatever number we landed on we took a pro/con position on the statement.

Facing off against for au contraire was Marco Santangelo, the chief librarian at the George Washington Presidential Library and Princeton Seminary grad. My lemming, Teer Hardy, MC’d the event.

If you like what you hear here, check out Pub Theology this Thursday night at Forge Brew Works when Marco will be our special guest for ‘How Do We Live in American When We have a King?’

You can listen to the rapture edition of Au Contraire below or on the sidebar to the right.

You can download it in iTunes or through the free mobile app.

 

image001I continued our Leaving Left Behind Behind sermon series this Mother’s Day weekend by examining the antichrist. Perfect timing huh?

The text was 1 John 4.1-12. You can listen to the sermon below or in the sidebar to the right. You can also download it in iTunes or, better yet, download the free mobile app.

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh is not from God…this is the spirit of the antichrist.”

     Some churches today will pass out corsages to all the Mothers in the house.

Other churches today will read from a scripture like Proverbs 6: ‘Children do not forsake your mother’s teaching.’ 

Some preachers will use today as an occasion to preach about the holy vocation of parenting and motherhood.

But not this church, not this preacher.

Today, for Mother’s Day, you get to hear about the antichrist.

     I know I’ve been accused of being cynical before, but- let’s be honest- doesn’t this seem like a no-brainer bible verse for Mother’s Day?

I mean, when thinking about their mother who doesn’t have a word like antichrist come to mind?

Who doesn’t free associate a mental picture of their momma with the mark of the beast or the 7-headed Leviathan from the sea?

Just kidding.

My mother and I, we don’t have a perfect relationship, but I don’t really think of my mom as the antichrist- at least most of the time.

And I’m sure none of you think of your mother as the antichrist either.

Nobody thinks of their mother that way.

Of course, many of us have mother-in-laws…that’s a different story.

I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law in 18 months because I don’t like to interrupt her.

Most husbands complain about their mother-in-laws, but not me. Mine is different. Mine even lets me call her ‘Mrs Keller.’

And the love between us is mutual.

My mother-in-law, she likes to say that having me for a son-in-law is liking having the little boy that she…already had, the little boy whose juvenile bathroom humor she already endured 20 years ago.

My wife and I started dating when we were 15 years old. I’ve known my mother-in-law over half my life. I’ve grown up with her as a part of my life.

Thanks to her I was never in any danger of going through life thinking I had no faults.

As you might know, I grew up in a broken home. I didn’t know what a healthy marriage looked like. I got to learn that first-hand by watching my mother-in-law’s marriage to my father-in-law.

Without my mother-in-law, Ali and I wouldn’t have discovered early on what was the source of conflict in our marriage. It’s me.

And it was my mother-in-law who gave me the best marriage advice of anyone.

She said: ‘Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.’

Just kidding.

 

I love my mother-in-law and I’m grateful for her in ways that I’m too cool and emotionally guarded to share. She is a mother to me.

I don’t think my mother-in-law is the antichrist.

But she could be.

She could be.

And so could yours.

And so could yours.

And so could you.

You might be an antichrist. No more jokes, all kidding aside- you might be an antichrist.

You might be.

     If we take St. John seriously, then it’s easier to be an antichrist than Kirk Cameron has led you to believe.

     Identifying the antichrist doesn’t require reading the signs of the times or breaking any biblical codes. It doesn’t even require you to ever turn over to the Book of Revelation.

     It just requires a little self-reflection.

     Because, take it from St John, you might be an antichrist.

You might be an antichrist if…

If you think Christianity is about ‘spiritual’ things- or timeless ‘truths,’ then you might be antichrist.

If you think that salvation is what happens to us after we die, if you believe that our soul leave our bodies and go off to heaven when we die, if you think the goal of Christianity is to go to heaven when you die, then you might be an antichrist.

If you have ever sat next to a bedside or a graveside and said something like: ‘Her body, his body, that’s not really him, that’s not really her. It’s just a shell’ then you might be an antichrist.

If you ever used that poem for a funeral, the one that goes:

Do not stand at my grave and weep            

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on the snow.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. I did not die.

If you ever used that poem at a funeral, then chances are your undertaker was an antichrist.

If you believe that Christianity teaches the evacuation from creation (ie, the rapture) instead of the redemption of all creation (New Creation) then I hate to be the one to break it to you but you might be an antichrist.

If you think God does not care about the Earth or that the physical, material things in your life are not good gifts from God thus means of grace to God and from God then your belief is what St. John calls antichrist.

If you know someone who insists that they ‘can worship God better in nature’ (ie, play golf) then the next time that someone says that just calmly but convincingly call them the antichrist.

Because you could never find something as counter-intuitive as Jesus in nature and God, the fullness of God, didn’t take spirit. It took flesh. And God dwelt not in the mountains or the trees but in Jesus. So don’t be shy call them as you see them, call that someone an antichrist.

Don’t be shy about calling them an antichrist because you might be one too.

If you dismiss Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (love thy enemy, turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you) as naive or hopeless ideals rather than imperatives from the incarnate God, to-do’s straight from the lips of the eternal God, if you dismiss Jesus’ be-attitudes as unrealistic for your life then you might be an antichrist.

If you think religious people are all basically the same because ‘we all believe in the same God after all’ you might be an antichrist. Because that generalized God took very particular flesh and became a very specific first century Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who taught some very peculiar things.

You see, Kirk Cameron with his vacant Growing Pains cuteness has us all fooled. It’s not that hard to be an antichrist.

I mean, if you think Christmas, when we celebrate the immaterial becoming material, the eternal becoming mortal, the infinite becoming finite, the omnipresent taking up residence in Mary’s womb- if you think Christmas is less important than the Cross you might be an antichrist.

If you believe that the ‘Gospel’ is about Jesus’ death and that Jesus’ life- his words and wisdom and welcome of sinners- is somehow extra or unessential to the ‘good news’ then you might be an antichrist.

No, no ‘might be.’

You are. You are an antichrist.

And you are too if you’re uncomfortable with the idea that God ever burped, farted or hit puberty. I know it might sound silly but you don’t really believe that God became fully human if you don’t believe he was at least as human as you or me.

And that way of thinking- John calls that antichrist.

If you spend more time standing up for Jesus in the culture wars than you spend time sticking up for the kinds of people that Jesus stood up for, then I’m sure it will come as a surprise, a shock even, but you might be an antichrist.

Likewise, if you spend more time arguing for the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus than you do actually trying to live a redeemed, risen life then take this as a warning: you might be an antichrist.

Ditto if you think you got right with God because you once came down during the altar call, invited Jesus into your and got born again and now it matters not that in your life you resemble Jesus not at all, then you are an antichrist.

You’ve taken the incarnation and turned into an idea.

You’ve made the incarnation a belief in your head rather than a blueprint for your life.

You see: the more you pick at it, the more you pull on the thread, the more you see that St John is right. The spirit of the antichrist is everywhere.

     You don’t have to read Dan Brown, go looking for black helicopters or study the headlines in the Middle East.

     You don’t have to listen to any street corner evangelists or cable TV preachers.

     You just have to ask yourself:

     Do I think Christianity is about beliefs instead of discipleship, do I think ideas are more important than character, do I think the right doctrines in my head are more important than the cruciform shape of my life?

Because if so…antichrist.

You don’t have to predict any dates for armageddon. You just have to ask yourself:

Do I believe that God is like Jesus, that has always been like Jesus and God will always be like Jesus?

Or do I believe that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New, do I believe the former is angry and vengeful and the latter?

Because the only way to hold the two testaments together is to believe the God of the first took flesh in the Christ of the second.

And if you don’t believe that then you are an antichrist.

But don’t beat yourself up. It’s not your fault. Our culture conditions us to be antichrists.

I mean just think: if St John is right then our caring more about our ‘faith-based’ values or political principles than we care for a brother or sister in Christ who disagrees with us- that makes us antichrists. And practically all of us are like that.

Our culture dupes us into following antichrists all the time.

Just think: If you spend more time bemoaning the decay of American culture than you do pursuing the 21st century equivalent of ‘eating and drinking with sinners’ then you are, by definition, an antichrist.

You’re going against the grain of God’s incarnate life.

If you think the letter of scripture or your political platform deputizes you for ugly, un- Jesusy, Pharsaic behavior towards another (‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’) then you are an antichrist.

You’ve removed the mode of Jesus’ earthly, fleshly life from your message about Jesus.

And, look, pot- meet kettle. I’m guilty too.

    Because honestly, it’ll come as no surprise, I spend more time polishing my theological ideas than I do in prayer. I spend more time preaching the Gospel than I do practicing it. I’m amazed that God is gracious to a sinner like me, but I’m annoyed whenever God does the same for a sinner worse than me.

     And with Christ, in Christ’s life, it all worked the other way round.

     Which means my way goes against the grain.

     Which makes me- you guessed it- an antichrist.

You might be one too. And my mother-in-law? Maybe.

Maybe yours too.

And that surprises us.

It surprises us because Kirk Cameron, with his vapid Huey Lewis-like expression, has convinced us all that the antichrist is an auspicious figure marked out by the number 666, a fantastical, future political leader who will lure people’s loyalty away from God before ushering in a time of terrible tribulation which itself will usher in the Rapture, the Last Judgment and the ultimate- very unJesusy- destruction of God’s creation by God himself.

He seemed so innocent on Growing Pains that we’ve let Kirk Cameron convince us that the antichrist is the one who will wreak all that scary stuff near the end of your bibles.

And it’s true-

The prophetic book of Revelation does foresee a ruler who will persecute God’s People, a prophecy which the Emperor Nero fulfilled a just generation after Jesus.

But what Kirk Cameron and Nick Cage don’t tell you, what the street corner evangelists and the cable TV preachers don’t tell you, what the whole end-times, Left Behind industry doesn’t tell you is that the word ‘antichrist’ does not occur anywhere- anywhere– in the Book of Revelation.

Not once.

The word ‘antichrist’ (which is the complicated Greek word αντί  Χριστός, ‘anti-Christos’) occurs nowhere in scripture, nowhere in the Bible except here in St. John’s first 2 letters.

The word ‘antichrist’ occurs just 5 times in bible in only 4 verses in no more than these 2 letters from John.

And in these letters from John the word ‘antichrist’ is not a title, it’s not a proper name, it’s not a specific individual person who portends tribulation.

In John the word ‘antichrist’ refers to those people, any people, who deny that God had a real blood and bones body, that God took flesh in Jesus, that God became fully human.

You see, it’s not nearly as fantastical as Kirk Cameron would have you believe but it is more damning: the word ‘antichrist’ refers to people who deny the incarnation.

     Who John had in mind specifically were the Gnostics, an ancient heresy that still pops up all over the place today in both pews and popular culture.

The gnostics believed that the physical, material world was corruptible and thus inherently imperfect. They believed that what was eternal was the spiritual.

And therefore the gnostics believed that ‘salvation’ was about your spiritual soul escaping your physical body, escaping this physical world for the spiritual one, for heaven.

Not surprisingly, then, the gnostics took a dim view towards the God of the Old Testament, the God who not only made this physical world and our embodied selves but declared it all ‘very good.’

Even less surprising, the gnostics refused to believe that ‘God’ would ever leave the perfect, spiritual world and take up residence, take flesh in Jesus.

And so the gnostics were left two alternatives, the two alternatives that are still with us everywhere.

You could believe that Jesus was human, as human as you or me, but just human, just another teacher, a teacher you can follow as far as you want but dismiss whenever you want.

Or, if you were a gnostic, you could believe that Jesus wasn’t just another teacher but neither was he just another human. Because he wasn’t fully human like you or me because God would never debase himself to become like you or me.

John pulls no punches. He warns us away. He calls all that ‘antichrist.’

And it is.

     To deny that God became fully human is antichrist because it leads us to stop seeing the world as Jesus saw it, to stop living in the world as Jesus lived in it, to stop heeding the words that the Word made flesh spoke into it.

     To deny that God became fully human is antichrist because it leads us in no time to live our lives against the grain of the way he lived his.

     The bad news this Mothers’ Day is that Kirk Cameron couldn’t be more wrong.

     The bad news this Mothers’ Day is that my mother-in-law just might actually be the antichrist. Who knows?

But you might be too.

I know on any given day I’m in danger.

The bad news today is that it’s actually pretty easy to be an antichrist.

But the good news?

The good news is that the remedies for being an antichrist are many and they’re just as easy.

For example:

Pour a glass of good wine, roast a chicken, hold a baby or have sex. Because the sacred became physical in Jesus Christ and therefore all physical things are sacred.

The remedies for being an antichrist are easy.

Here’s another:

Find a sinner- trust me, they’re not hard to find. Find a sinner, preferably someone who’s wronged you, and say to them:

‘I do not condemn you.’

‘I forgive you you know not what you do.’

‘Even though you curse, I will bless you.’

And when they ask you why you’re doing this or who told you to do this, just say: ‘God himself told me…in the flesh.’

You might be an antichrist, but trust me the remedies are so easy and every day.

Just hold someone’s hand or embrace them even or try thanking your mother-in-law for everything she’s meant to you, every kindness and genuine curiosity, because we believe that God fully human and therefore the people in your lives are not only gifts from God they are sacraments that connect you to him.

 

 

 

Here is the first sermon in the Leaving Left Behind Behind series. Though it’s a sermon about ‘the satan’ the text is from the Easter encounter of Jesus to his frightened disciples in John 20.19-23. ‘Satan’ is a tradition that’s evolved over the course of the tradition so the sermon couldn’t possibly map the entire history. Instead, I chose to focus on the root of the word- which I think yields an insight far scarier than any Al Pacino depiction.

If you’re interested in the treatment below, I highly recommend the Rene Girard book, I See Satan Fall Like Lightening.

You can listen to the sermon here below or on the sidebar to the right. You can download it in iTunes here or download the free mobile app here and listen wherever you are.

My dad had a heart attack a couple of years ago.

I flew up to Cleveland when I got the call. He almost died.

Some of you probably don’t know this about me:

My dad and me- we have a history that started when I was about the age my boys are now. Even today our relationship is complicated and tense and…sticky- the way it always is in a family when addiction and infidelity and abuse are part of the story.

Some hurts never go away and some scores never get settled.

A few days after his heart attack my dad went home.

We were sitting in his garden- just him and me and my stepmom. My dad’s face was black and his nose was broken from where he’d fallen on the street. His chest was sore and his breathing tight from the CPR.

My dad and me, we don’t have the kind of relationship where we know how to just sit in the garden with each other- if you know what I mean.

So we were sitting there, he’d just come back home, he’d just come back from the dead and some of the first words out of his mouth?

He started picking at me.

Picking at old wounds.

Picking old fights.

 

I hadn’t seen him in nearly 2 years. His heart had stopped beating for several minutes. He’d gotten a new chance at life; he’d gotten new life and I’d gotten a new chance at a new life with him. But there in the garden he just wanted to go back at it.

 

There was no ‘I once was lost but now I’m found’ moment.

I thought: Really, you want to do this now? Right here?

But it didn’t take long for me to take the bait, and there I was arguing 20 year old resentments with my nearly-dead-dad.

There we were trading blame and accusation back and forth, blame and accusation.

We didn’t get very far though. A couple of minutes. A couple of raised voices.

And then my stepmom stood up, gestured in the middle of us and scolded: ‘Whatever you think is between you. It’s gone. It’s removed. It’s not here anymore.’

And then she pointed at me or, rather, at the cross on my neck and said: ‘I expect you, at least, to understand that.’

pastedGraphic.pdf

Alright, you may not be wearing a cross around your neck, but you are here today. So, at least in theory, you should understand too.

So here’s my question:

What did she mean?

What was she talking about?

 

To keep it basic, you could say sin- the sins between us, the sins committed on the other, the sins suffered because of the other.

On a basic level, you could say she was talking about sin.

 

To get more theological, you could say she was talking about Good Friday and Easter, the Passion and the Resurrection, the Empty Cross and the Empty Grave.

On a theological level, you could say that’s what she thought I should understand.

 

But to get specific, painfully, dangerously specific, you could say she was talking about satan.

xir185972

     And there’s your question, right?

Satan? What do you mean she was talking about Satan?

Satan is red.

Satan has horns and a tail.

Satan carries a pitchfork. Satan smells like sulfur. Satan slithers on the ground.

 

Satan’s the Prince of Darkness; he rules like a god in Hell, he has dominion over this fallen world especially the House, Senate and Department of Motor Vehicles.

And when Satan speaks, it’s probably in parseltongue.

Sometimes he appears to resemble Al Pacino, but Satan’s a fallen angel, a serpent, a creature.

As in, not human.

Not one of us.

Not like one of us.

Satan’s nothing like us.

So what did she mean? My stepmother, what was she talking about?

 

pastedGraphic_1.pdf

Here’s our problem:

Biblically speaking, Satan isn’t a proper name. Later tradition turns it into a proper name but initially in the bible Satan isn’t a proper name. It’s a noun.

‘Satan’ isn’t a person. It’s a title.

Biblically speaking, it’s not Satan with a capital ‘S.’ It’s satan with a little ‘s.’

It’s not Satan. It’s the satan.

In Hebrew it’s ha-satan (שָּׂטָן).

‘Ha’- is the Hebrew definite article for ‘the.’ Ha-satan is the noun form of the Hebrew verb: שָׂטַן.

 

And the first place you find that verb in scripture is in Genesis 3.

After God has created all that is and called it ‘good.’

After God has created Adam and then Eve and called everything ‘very good.’

After the serpent asks Eve ‘…did God really say…?‘

After Adam and Eve wonder whether God is ‘very good’ and they eat.

After God goes looking for Adam and Eve.

And after God asks Adam what has happened…what does Adam say?

     Eve made me do it.

     It’s because of her. It’s her fault. She’s the reason.

     He points the finger. He passes the buck.

     He finds a scapegoat.

Eve’s guilty too, sure, but that doesn’t mean Adam’s not scapegoating her. Rather than deal with and repent of his own sin and guilt, he takes it and puts it on someone else.

     And that’s the first place where you find that verb satan.

     It means ‘to blame.’

     ‘To accuse.’

When we talk about original sin, we always think of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

When we talk about original sin, we’re so used to thinking of the tree in the garden that we completely miss how the first sin of humanity against humanity is when Adam blames the only other person he has to share this world with.

     Blame and accusation- satan– that’s our original sin, on each other.

Turn the page and our very next sin is murder, when Cain kills his brother- what Jesus refers to as the foundational sin of the world.

Blame and accusation- satan– leads to violence.

Our original sin leads to the foundational sin of the world.

‘Satan’ is not a proper, personal name- at least not initially- it’s our propensity for blame and accusation- a propensity that inevitably leads to violence.

     ‘Satan’ is not a proper, personal name. The blame game is satan’s name.

     I suppose in that sense it’s the most personal name of all.

It’s less about a supernatural, otherworldly god-like character and more about the spirit of blame and accusation and recrimination and judgment that so easily captivates us and so quickly leads to casualties.

When you dig down to the dirty root of the word, it’s no wonder we’ve preferred to imagine Satan with horns and a pitchfork. Because while ‘Satan’ doesn’t look much like any of us, I don’t know about you but ha-satan is the spitting image of me.

No wonder we’ve preferred to make him the Prince of Darkness and put him down in Hell to rule and reign because that’s a lot less frightening than staring at him in the mirror every morning.

You see, imagining a ‘Satan’ who smells like sulphur is just another way we try to convince ourselves that our s#$% doesn’t stink.

 

pastedGraphic_2.pdf

Of course, not wanting to smell our own s#$% is exactly the problem.

The Book of Genesis is the first book in scripture for a reason. You miss what’s going on here in the first few chapters and you lose the plot to the rest of the scripture story.

The original sin of not trusting God’s love and goodness produces the first sin we commit against each other other: satan, blame and accusation.

And our first sin against each other leads to the foundational sin of the world.

Separation from God, blame and accusation of each other and violence, physical and emotional violence.

This is what’s wrong with our world. This is what’s wrong in our relationships, and this is what’s wrong in our communities and nations.

The ancient Jews had a system of dealing with this problem: Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

In case it’s been a while since you read your Leviticus, Yom Kippur revolves around the Jewish high priest. The person who represents all of God’s people, the only person who can ever venture beyond the temple veil and into the Holy of Holies, where the ark and the presence of God reside, and ask God to remove his people’s sins.

yom_kippur_azazel_goats

Because when he enters the Holy of Holies he enters God’s presence, every detail of every ritual matters.

When he’s done with the ritual preparation, the high priest is brought two goats.

Lots are cast so that God’s will would be done.

One goat is sacrificed to cleanse the temple of sin.

The second goat is brought to him alive.

The high priest lays both his hands on the head of the goat and then confesses onto it all the iniquities of the people of Israel.

The priest removes all the people’s sin and guilt and puts it on the goat instead.

It’s a ritualized exchange of satan, blame and accusation, from the guilty onto the innocent.

pastedGraphic_3.pdf

While the high priest prayed over the goat, the king of the Jews would undergo a ritual humiliation to repent of his people’s sins: he’d be struck, his clothes would be torn, the king would ask God to forgive his people for they know not what they do.

When the high priest’s work is done, the goat’s loaded with all the sins of the people. Chances are, you wouldn’t want to volunteer to lead that goat out into the wilderness.

So the man appointed for the task would be a Gentile. Someone with no connection to the people of Israel. Someone who might not even realize that what they’re doing is a dirty job.

That Gentile would lead the goat away with a red cord wrapped around its head- red that symbolized sin.

The name for the goat is ahzahzel. It’s where we get the word ‘scapegoat.’

Ahzahzel means ‘taking away.’

The Gentile would lead the scapegoat to the forsaken place while the people shouted ‘ahzahzel.’

Take it away. Take our sin away.

So that it’s not here anymore.

pastedGraphic_4.pdf

Our first sin against each other leads to the foundational sin of the world.

Mistrust of God, blame and accusation of each other and violence.

This is the dynamic at play in the Passion story too.

When Jesus is arrested, he’s brought to whom?

The high priest.

And what’s the high priest do to Jesus? He satans Jesus.

He accuses Jesus. Casts blame on him.

They satan Jesus of blasphemy, but that’s God incarnate standing there before them so who’s really guilty of blasphemy?

You see, they’re putting their guilt and sin onto him.

They satan Jesus of threatening to destroy the Temple.

They satan Jesus of fomenting armed revolution against the empire.

They satan Jesus of teaching that his followers should hold back taxes to Caesar.

They accuse and blame Jesus.

Even though it’s Pilate who wants to destroy the Temple.

It’s Herod who skims off Caesar’s taxes for himself.

It’s the High Priest who breaks the first commandment when he says ‘We have no King but Caesar.’

And it’s the hosanna-shouting crowds who reject Jesus a few days later because they want their Messiah to be a violent revolutionary.

They satan Jesus with their own junk and put it on him.

Then Pilate’s men ritually humiliate this ‘King of the Jews.’ Mocking him. Casting lots before him. Tearing his clothes off him. And then wrapping a branch of thorns around his head until a cord of red blood circles it.

Afterwards, Pilate presents the crowd with two prisoners: Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Barabbas.

One is the incarnate Son of the Father; the other’s name means ‘Son of the Father.’

It’s like the crowd’s being asked to choose between two identical goats.

And when Pilate asks the crowd what to do with Jesus.

What do the crowds shout?

Not ‘Crucify him!’ Not at first.

First, the crowds shout ‘Take him away!’

Then they shout ‘Crucify him!’

After Caiphus and Herod and Pilate and Caesar and the crowds all put their sin on to Jesus, satanically blaming and accusing him of the very things they’re guilty of, Jesus is led away, like an animal, with a red ring around his head, with shouts of ‘ahzahzel’ ringing in the air- led away from the city by Gentiles to Golgotha.

A garbage dump.

A barren place where some of his last words will be ‘My God why have you forsaken me?’

Our original sin of mistrusting God’s goodness produces our first sin of blame and accusation, satan, and that leads to the foundational sin of the world, violence.

That’s the dynamic at play in every heart, every crowd, every community and every nation.

That’s what the Gospels try to show you.

It’s what John the Baptist meant at the very beginning of the Gospel when he pointed at Jesus and said he’s the one who will ‘ahzahzel the sin of the world.‘

It’s what St John means when he says Jesus was ‘slain from the foundation of the world.’

It’s what Caiphus reveals about us when he decides once and for all to scapegoat Jesus: ‘…it’s better that one innocent man should die…’ than all of us.

We like to imagine Satan as fiendishly red with horns and a pitchfork to go with his tail, but when you look at the Passion story, satan, is found on every face in the crowd.

We like to picture Satan as a mythic, rival to God instead of confronting that satan, blame and accusation, is what we do to each other.

We blame and accuse.

We backbite and judge and gossip.

We find fault.

We point the finger and pass the buck and cast the first and second and third stone.

We satan until we do it to God himself.

ecce-homo-antonio-ciseri

     pastedGraphic_5.pdf

And we still do it.

According to a Pew Survey on Religion in America, those who check ‘None’ when surveyed about their religious affiliation are the fastest growing religion in America.

Surveys have shown that what’s behind the rise of the Nones, in many cases, is an image problem for Christians.

In one survey, when given a list of possible attributes to describe Christians:

81% checked ‘yes’ next to the adjective ‘judgmental.’

85% checked ‘yes’ to ‘hypocritical’ which is just another word for blame and accusation.

Only 70% checked ‘yes’ to insensitive while 64% said they thought Christians were ‘not accepting of those different than them.’

     In other words, when those outside the Church look at those inside the Church they don’t see Jesus. They see Satan, satan.

Blame and accusation.

And that reveals not just an image problem. It shows that we’ve lost the plot.

We’ve forgotten the very first thing it means to confess ‘Christ is Risen Indeed.’

pastedGraphic_6.pdf

When you go back to read Leviticus, about the Day of Atonement, one of the things you realize is that once that scapegoat is loaded down with all the sins of the people and sent away into the god-forsaken wilderness to die, the last thing you want is to have that goat come wandering back.

Cain sure didn’t want Abel coming back.

Scripture says the innocent blood of Abel cries out from the ground.

Innocent scapegoats coming back just leads to more satan, blame and accusation, until it leads to revenge and retribution.

     You don’t want the scapegoat coming back.

lightstock_128163_small_user_2741517

     Think about it- that kind of news would be absolutely terrifying if you were guilty or had had any kind of hand in it.

But Jesus he’s the scapegoat slain from the foundation of the world, the scapegoat of scapegoats.

And he wasn’t just innocent, he was God.

After he’s led away to forsaken Golgotha to die and left in a tomb never to be heard from again, he comes back.

He comes back.

And it’s turn the other cheek time no more.

He throws Caiphus up on a cross of his own and he gives Pontius Pilate a dose of his own medicine and he says to the hosanna-shouting crowds: ‘Pay back time.’

No.

He doesn’t even bother with Caiphus.

He doesn’t give Pilate a dose of his own medicine, he grills his disciples fish.

And the first thing this scapegoat says to them, the first words out of his Easter mouth, the first word of God’s New Creation is ‘Peace.’ שָׁלוֹם

Which is the Bible’s shorthand way of saying ‘I forgive you.’

‘I want to restore not retaliate.’

‘I want to heal our relationship not harm it more.’

‘I want to make all things new.’

      The first word of Resurrection is the opposite of satan.

lightstock_65120_small_user_2741517

pastedGraphic_7.pdf

I’ve been a minister now for 13 years.

I’ve pastored in 4 churches, 1 hospital and 1 prison.

And in at least 1 way, you’re all the same.

All of you could tell a story like the one I told you about my dad and me in the garden.

All of you have someone in your life who might say: ‘I forgive you, let’s move on.’

But the next time a fight erupts, you know, it’s all over again. All the archived animosities will come out.

All of you have someone in your life with whom it’s never done. It’s never finished. It’s never put to rest.

Someone with whom you can try to put it behind you, but next time it’s right there between you again. Like it never left.

All of you have someone in your life for whom what you’ve done is never done with.

Someone for whom the past is only in the past until it comes back tomorrow or next year.

It’s never gone once and for all.

And for some of you, that someone in your life is you.

You’re the one who can’t put it away, can’t send it away, who always brings it back to where or how it started.

You can’t face and repent of your own junk and so you’re always looking to put it on someone else.

     We like to picture Satan red with horns and a pitchfork to go with his tail, but when you dig down to the dirty root of the word you realize that ‘Satan’ is not a proper, personal name.

     The blame game is satan’s name.

And if the first word of Resurrection, the first word of God’s New World, the first word that summarizes everything Jesus did and everything he undid- if the first word on Jesus’ Easter lips is ‘Peace,’

Then there should be no margin of error in the surveys: 100%

Christians should be known as those people who renounce the blame game in Jesus’ name.

lightstock_65120_small_user_2741517

 

image001According to a recent Pew Survey on Religion, those who check ‘None’ when asked about their religious affiliation are the fastest growing religious demographic in America.
In many cases, the Nones are rejecting a cartoonish caricature of Christianity- a Christianity seemingly centered on fear and judgment.

What many of the Nones are leaving is the Christianity popularized by such books and films as the Left Behind series. But if ‘Do not fear’ is one of the bible’s most consistent refrains than that sort of Christianity should be left behind.

Starting this Sunday I’ll begin a new sermon series: Leaving Left Behind Behind.

Join us as we demystify what the Bible really wants to teach us by using words like:

Satan, antichrist, rapture, judgment and hell. duccio_di_buoninsegna_040

Starting with Satan, we’ll unpack the concepts Left Behind tries to make scary and instead discover how they can be put to constructive, life-giving use in our everyday world.

If you’ve got questions about any or all of those topics, I’d love to hear them and have them in mind as we move through the series.