Thursday, March 18, 2010

there's nothing so good as a good bs session

Reconciliation statue at Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, England
And by that I mean bible study, of course. Our bs group is tackling a series published by Cokesbury called Jesus in the Gospels. The women who attend this bible study are hungry to know the gospels, and hence the Gospel. The workbook we use makes a point to draw the distinction between what is written (the gospels) and the message conveyed (gospel). But that's a technical point. Still, the fact that this study plunges into details is part of what makes it equally rich and annoying.

Yesterday, however, was rich day. The workbook suggested that Paul sums up the Gospel in a section of 1 Corinthians (15:3b-8). According to one translation this text reads, in part: "...Christ died for our sins... was buried.. raised on the third day... appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve..." I was stopped in my tracks.

Wait a minute. Yes, yes, yes, all those things are true, but this confines the message of the gospel to the climactic conclusion of Jesus' life without even tipping the proverbial hat to the ministry that was at the heart of his life. Paul makes it sound as though the action of God is all that is important. What about the messages of compassion, love, forgiveness, mercy and justice that Jesus preached? What about healing? What about the sinners and women at wells? What about the commandment to love, and the commission to go and make disciples? What about the kingdom of God?

We began to address the question--what, then, IS the message of the gospel? In the midst of weighing ministry versus divine action we queried the purpose of Jesus dying for our sins. His ministry emphasized what is true for Judaism in this day and is celebrated at the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: God desires that we treat each other well and deal rightly with each other and that we forgive one another. Until then his forgiveness is of little value.

So then we shifted our focus to forgiveness, and our understanding that the point of the resurrection wasn't forgiveness as much as it was reconciliation. We then raised this question--if one practiced forgiveness but didn't work toward reconciliation, is there limited value to forgiveness? Is forgiveness more like a down payment toward the fullness of what reconciliation is all about? Questions, ponderings, possibilities...

I can't begin to do justice to the substance of these questions, or their significance, here. And a day later the particular of the questions we asked and the subtleties of the points raised as we responded are not exactly available for recall this morning! I offer it here as grist, and invite you into the exchange.

In the meantime I adore both of these artistic expressions of reconciliation and want to share them with you.

Blessings on your day, your Lent, your journey, your life.

Reconciliation, by Ellen Lindner, Quilter


Mary Beth said...

Wonderfully well said. The suggestion that the Gospel is summed up in that phrase is, I think, what causes people like Glenn Beck to say that "social justice" isn't Christian.

Um, really? I think they are missing the point.

Nancy, Near Philadelphia said...

My friend, you have hit on something that has mattered to me for a very long time. Lutherans used to have a post communion prayer that said, in part, "Almighty God, you gave your Son both as a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life...." That BOTH seems to have been overlooked so often, so much. Taught in the Lutheran seminary that we can't earn our salvation, I've never been one to focus a whole lot on that, if you know what I mean. What we CAN do, though, is look at the model of the godly life piece. And heal, and forgive, and listen, and hug, and all that other wonderful stuff . . . . I'm so glad you posted this.

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