We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our sermon today was one of the ones I would have liked to have taught/preached myself, had I the ability and the calling.
(It followed one of our missions updates about the prison ministry we support (good stuff indeed, but as a friend said in our Lenten Lunch study group afterwards, "Can we be as sharing of Christ's love to our next-door neighbor with the BMW as we can to the sick, the despairing, and the folks in prison?")
The sermon seemed unusual to me in being a preaching against religion. Our Pastor, instead, held up the vision of the primacy of a personal relationship with God through Christ, bypassing much of what is often referred to as "religion." I suppose it was, in part, a preaching about the sins of piety, spiritual pride, righteousness, pro-forma ritual, and self-righteousness but I cannot do justice to the message.
A personal relationship with God through Christ...that sounds kind of ordinary, but I suppose I was ready to hear the "relationship" part in a new way. Less abstract; more felt. I understand how the "religion" part is meant to be a help in building, guiding, and maintaining the relationship, but it can be a hindrance too. Religion can easily become idolatry.
He spoke about how he has learned to tell when he is out of relationship with God by his reactions to life and people, and mentioned, interestingly, that having been raised and lived all his life as a Christian was a handicap to him as a Christian because he feels that he has never had the experience of being entirely out of relationship.
He was speaking on Luke 18:9:
He spoke also this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others.
"Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this:
‘God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying,
‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Jesus did not found a religion. A religion is man's attempt to get to "god". Jesus, instead, came to man as God to tell us that he loves us. Instead of a religion, it's a relationship between you and your God, Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to take away the sin of the world and to show his power and glory, defeated death and is alive today. He wants all of his creation to worship him and to fellowship with him on an intimate personal level. I don't think that Jesus is particularly impressed with the pomp and circumstances that many churches like to show. Jesus attacked the religious institutions of the day. Read the New Testament, particularly the book of John.
Organized religion has some serious historical problems and not a few modern-day ones. The same is true for all large human organizations, since they are all run by, well, humans.
I have been of many religious minds in reaching middle age. I've put down snotty agnosticism. But even after I got over my snottiness, I still foundered on the "blood price" theory of the ministry of Christ. It's hard to see the New Testament teaching in any other light: our friend Doug described it clearly above. BUUTTT --
I'm a dad myself. I've muttered dire things about my son and my daughter when they couldn't hear me. To this day, I have never sworn at either of my kids. I have never struck them in anger and rarely to discipline them. If they fell utterly, joining a Manson-esque commune and joining in all the depravity, I would weep in sorrow and anger but I would not cast them from me. (I hope not, I've never been tested all that hard by either one.) If I can manage that, I believe God did manage it without having to make a sacrifice.
The closest I can get is that God didn't demand any price for our forgiveness because He already loves us. But people (maybe I'm one and I don't recognize it in myself) have so much trouble forgiving without some kind of price that we can't accept God forgave us without any price. And so perhaps the "blood price" was never a demand of God, but a need of Man's.
Please don't come back with "but of course that's Christian teaching." Maybe at some level, but not at the level most Christians understand or say they believe.