I wrote this sermon years ago, when I’d first given up theologies which required a subscription to the notion that humans fell from grace and need a Messiah to save them. It’s funny how we cling to ideas about what it means to be human as if centuries of human evolution have no bearing on who and what we are. The illustrations in this story come from an old shoebox of clippings; they do not cite the source, but the name Ed Riegert is scribbled in the margins. Ed was my homiletics professor. He used to encourage us to keep a file of stories that we might tell. That old shoebox has long since been replaced by a hard-drive. But the shoebox still draws me back from time to time. This sermon was a first attempt to move beyond notions of atonement that paint a picture of humanity I no longer cling to. Perhaps it will be helpful to those who are beginning open themselves to a new understanding of who Jesus is.
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There was once a man who suffered from various illnesses for a very long time. This man had seen countless doctors who over the years had performed countless tests on him and had prescribed lots of medicine. But, the man’s condition did not improve. This man even tried home remedies to make himself feel better. He drank herbal teas, and took mega-doses of vitamins along with his prescriptions. But still he did not feel any better. Then one day the man heard about a doctor who was said to be an outstanding diagnostician. So the man called the doctor to make an appointment and even though the doctor was booked for months in advance the man was delighted when the receptionist managed to fit him in. As the date of his appointment drew near the man was excited by the prospect of finally getting to the bottom of his problem. At last, he would find out just what was wrong with him and in no time he was sure that this brilliant doctor whose praises were sung by one and all, this doctor would be able to cure him. The day of the appointment arrived. After the doctor had thoroughly examined the man and had reviewed his tests, she sat down with him and she said, “My friend, you are not a healthy man. But you can be well again if you will only follow my advice. What you need to do is lose about sixty pounds, get involved in a regular program of exercise, and eat more grain, fruit, and vegetables. You don’t need to take any more of the medicine that has been prescribed for you and you don’t need all those vitamin pills.” When the man heard this, he was indignant. He demanded that the doctor prescribe some new medicine for him, possibly some experimental drug not yet on the market, which would cure his illness. The doctor smiled patiently and repeated her advice. “You don’t need medicine,” she said. “You need to change your lifestyle.” The man simply cursed the doctor and stomped out of the office. For the rest of his sickly life, he told everyone that she was a quack who didn’t deserve to be called a doctor. Continue reading