Last week I concluded that God’s mercy (hesed) lies at the center of his relationship to all who are born into our sin-damaged world. God’s mercy alone can restore our “irreconcilable differences.” The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in relationship, thus in community, because of their eternal love. We were made in this very image, made for love and to thrive in community.
I grew up in a kind of Christianity that treated the sacrifice of Jesus in his death as God’s provision for meeting justice. I now call this idea Plan B. Plan A was the Temple and the sacrificial system of the Hebrew people. But they failed under this system and the New Testament became Plan B, an alternative way back to God without the rituals and legal requirements of the first plan. But this is quite simply not so. God’s plan all along was ekklesia (a great gathered congregation). The Jewish Messiah came for the restoration of God’s people and for “the whole world.” This congregation was to be a web of human relationships rooted in relationship with the Holy Trinity.
Richard Wineland writes: “This paradigm is not primarily a concern for atonement (”fixing what is wrong or broken”), but for the renewal and the restoration of what was lost. It is a subtle yet important theological shift” (The Anglican Digest, Summer 2018). Jesus came “ to seek and to save that which was lost.” This difference is subtle for sure but it is important. In our present grace-less world we will only understand our divine calling if we grasp paradigm deeply. The church is called to restore shattered lives, to heal broken people, to welcome all into the kingdom community of love by affirming their value to God and to us. This is divine mercy. All the proof-texting in the world should not be allowed to undermine this divine quality of mercy, of grace, and unconditional blessing. This planet has been visited by grace and it is held by God in radical mercy (cf. Colossians 1). Let me unpack this briefly.
Abraham and Sarah were blessed in order to “be a blessing” to the nations. If our emphasis is rightly placed on incarnation, not on theories of Christ’s death (and they are theories) ,then we should follow Jesus and not our view/theory of his death. This means we are called to stay close to him, walking in his way, sharing in acts of merciful love and humble service. We are to be a blessing to the cosmos. Anabaptists thus refer to the ekklesia as “the upside down kingdom.” We turn the world upside down by becoming “all things to all people” and then by going down into the muck and struggles of broken people.
Sara Miles was a deeply convinced secularist who later came to faith in Christ. This happened by her coming to the eucharist. She writes of her encounter with the divine:
"What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice (a message) that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely; that upsets the established order and laughs at certainty. It proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and the pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn’t promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the espoused or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God’s” (quoted in The Anglican Digest, Summer 2018).
Now is not the time to spend all our time trying to save the fortress we call the Christian church. We must go out into the world, touch people and show mercy. Now is the time to go into the world with this message of God’s radical mercy, thereby sharing the good news with the vast order of distracted and disordered secularists. Do not lose heart, friends. We have a great calling and an even better message. And we have the Holy Spirit providing wind in our sails as we go.
NOTE: On September 1, 2018, this mission will legally become The Initiative. Please take note of this when giving on and after this date. Further, this ACT3 Weekly will come to an end on August 27. You need to sign up for mailings from The Initiative at http://eepurl.com/dA5GqH
ACT3 This Week, August 20-26
- I am home this week meeting with various leaders and friends and writing. I also have a teaching ministry for a church staff this Thursday.
- As ACT3 becomes The Initiative in the next few weeks (September 1) we face growing financial pressures. Slowly our giving has declined over the last year, Unless we receive more financial support we will soon run out of money. We are praying our Father provides. Please consider helping us by sending a generous gift to ACT3 at P.O. Box 88216, Carol Stream, IL 60188. You can also give at www.act3network.com.
John H. Armstrong