Today is Yom Kippur, Judaism’s day of atonement. It’s a day for fasting, repentance, and healing. Atonement is a concept that Christianity inherited from Judaism. Jesus’ cross is our Yom Kippur for our sins. The Hebrew word kippur means most literally “to cover.” In English, atonement is a compound of three words: at-one-ment. So what is being made “at one” with atonement? And how does being “covered” by something make us “at one”? Continue Reading
I have been reading Margaret Farley’s Just Love: A Framework for Christian Ethics, the book that got the Vatican in a tizzy over renegade nuns several years ago under the grand inquisitor pope. To be fair, Just Love is more a feminist critique of Christian sexual ethics than it is a Christian sexual ethics, but the critique is apt and worth listening to. While Farley doesn’t fortify herself with Biblical chapter verse citations, her perspective makes sense to me when I consider sexuality under the lens of “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”
I’ve often told the story of how I discovered the verse that became the basis for the title of this website. It was the summer of 2008 and I had been working at a summer camp in east Durham. The lectionary gospel readings I had heard over the previous months included Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7, both of which involve Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” I had been tossing this phrase around in my mind, trying to understand what it meant. Then one morning at the camp, I was given the task of waking up a homeless man in our parking lot and sending him on his way. He was very belligerent, and I was worried for my safety, so I turned to walk away. But then the homeless man said, “Where’s your fucking mercy, man?” It was the only time in my life I ever heard God drop the f-bomb, and it definitely got my attention. Continue Reading
Today’s Monday Merton is a chapter in Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island that talks about “pure intention,” which is the term Merton uses for coming to a place where our will is synchronized with God’s will. Continue Reading
A basic principle of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What exactly this statement means has increasingly come under debate in our time. For most of the modern period, Protestantism has almost exclusively understood Jesus’ death on the cross as a punishment that pays a debt, or “penal substitution.” Added to this has been the assumption that the primary problem resolved by the cross is God’s anger about our sin. These are two separate issues. I believe that penal substitution has Biblical support, but it has been drastically over-weighted; I do not believe that a view of the cross as an appeasement of God’s anger is Biblically faithful. One way of exploring this phenomenon (imperfectly) is to look at all the references to Jesus’ blood in the New Testament to see what the Bible says that the blood actually does.
Many Christians today misunderstand the ancient Israelite practice of sacrifice. The ancient Israelites did not think they were “punishing” the sacrificial animals for their community’s sins, nor did they think that they were placating a capricious God as the pagan religions around them understood sacrifice. The purpose of sacrifice was to purify the community of sin with the life in the blood of the animal (Leviticus 17:11). The reason Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice is because He is the source of all life as the Word of God. Thus His blood is the purest life there is, having the power to remove the curse of sin from our world.
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Is Jesus saving the world from us? It’s a different way to talk about salvation, but honestly it’s the gospel that I’m hoping to be true as an evangelical afflicted by what Rachel Held Evans calls “the scandal of the evangelical heart.” When did we become the Pharisees Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being? How many of us have been secretly asking that question in our minds? How many of us need to be saved from a toxic salvation? I really feel that we are in the midst of a great awakening. The legion of demons that poisoned our gospel for so long is running off a cliff in a herd of hateful pigs, leaving us to wake up in the graveyard where we chained ourselves. We are discovering that Satan is our accuser and oppressor, not God. We are realizing that our need to be right and justify ourselves has kept us inside a tomb whose stone was rolled away by Jesus. So I wanted to share five things God has been teaching me over the past few years about what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us for. Continue Reading
Isaiah 1:10-20 is a sobering prophetic passage in which God reams out the Israelites for thinking that they can honor Him while mistreating the most vulnerable of His people. We play the same game the ancient Israelites did. So many Christians today abstract their vertical relationship with God from their horizontal relationships with their neighbors and even pit the vertical against the horizontal. This is why I’m very suspicious of people who make a big fuss over glorifying God in the abstract as an act of zealous piety without exhibiting the generosity and mercy towards others that shows their genuine deliverance from the self-justification that Adam brought into the world. The abstraction of God from the creation He loves is the root of a particular immorality that afflicts God’s most zealous cheerleaders.
Jerry Sandusky was on the TV at the gym this morning, since his sentencing is today. He made a statement continuing to deny all the allegations against him. As I saw the words in his statement on the screen, it occurred to me that hell must be something like that: to spend eternity in denial of the mercy from God that makes facing the truth possible. What would have to happen between now and the time that Jerry Sandusky dies for him to get into heaven? Here’s the problem: he was already a Christian. He already said the sinner’s prayer and got baptized. Does he have to do it again? Do his actions retroactively make his “decision for Christ” insincere? Or do they prove that he was born reprobate and should enjoy life on Earth while it lasts because his eternal fate is locked in? Or does he have to make confession and receive penance from a priest? (Surely not, because we’re justified by faith, not works, right?) The resources of popular American evangelical theology fail us at this point because they rely on a hackneyed and caricatured reading of the book of Romans. But the epistle reading from yesterday’s Daily Office — Hebrews 4:12-16 — offers new cement to patch in the quickly crumbling Romans Road of our theology. Continue Reading
This past weekend, I preached on Ephesians 2:11-22. It’s one of my favorite passages because it talks about how Jesus tears down the walls between us. And at first glance it would seem like a great opportunity to talk about how important it is for the church to fight racism and take on all the “us vs. them” conflicts in our day that build walls between people. But there was a line that confronted me in the passage that I felt like I couldn’t just treat as a rhetorical flourish as I’d so often read it before. I needed to be able to explain it. Paul says, “You who were far have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That line doesn’t make any sense unless you read it with some understanding of the central purpose of sacrifice in the community of the ancient Israelites. Only through the lens of sacrifice can we understand how the blood of Jesus can tear down the wall that had kept the Gentiles out of the Jewish temple. Continue Reading