The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
The Gospel in Chairs Sermon by the Rev. Daniel W. Hinkle August 26, 2018
(Props Needed: One White Folding Chair and One Black set up in front of church facing each other)
This morning I want to share with you something called “The Gospel in Chairs.” This version came from an Eastern Orthodox priest in Colorado named Fr. Anthony Carbo. A Canadian theologian named Brad Jersak, and Brain Zahnd, an American pastor from Missouri, adapted Fr. Carbo’s original presentation and I base my sermon on their adaptation.
“The Gospel in Chairs” compares two versions of the Gospel that we have learned over the years. The first version we call the Legal Version or the Penal or Juridical Version of the Gospel. In this version we have the metaphor of a courtroom drama where sin is law breaking behavior and God is a judge who needs to punish sin.
Jesus comes as an Advocate to free us from the wrath of this judge. The second version we might call the Therapeutic Version or the Restorative or Curative Version. It’s also known as the Patristic Version, a much more ancient version of the Gospel associated with the Desert Fathers, Patristics, and even the ancient Celtic Christians.
In this version, the Gospel is not so much a courtroom drama but more like a hospital where sin is actually much more serious than lawbreaking behavior. It’s a fatal disease which causes a suffering in our soul which produces all that bad behavior. So, rather than needing a judge to come and punish us, what we need is a great physician who will come to heal us at the very deepest levels of our pain. 1st Version The Legal Version of the Gospel in Chairs So, here we have the Gospel in Chairs.
The first version, the Legal Version looks something like this. In the beginning, God set Adam and Eve, Humankind, in the garden of Eden. Humankind was meant to be representing God in the earth, his image, his likeness mediating the love of God, the will of God in creation. (Turn Black chair away from White)
But at some point, Adam and Eve sinned and they turned their backs on God. And in sinning they became sinners. And because God is holy, righteous and pure and cannot look on sin, he turned his back on them and expelled them from the garden. (Turn white chair away from black, too)
And they lived in our creation as a place that was cursed and caused them to have to labor. (Turn Black back toward White, but White remains turned away from Black.) And no matter what they did in trying to turn to God through religion, through self righteous acts, through rituals and sacrifices,.. none of that was able to reconcile them with God.
But thanks be to God, he sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, into this world to live in our stead. And he related to God in full surrender and perfect obedience in every way. He lived his life in this way. And at the end of his life, the unthinkable happens. His own people take him and crucify him on a cross. (Turn black chair away, too.)
They turn their backs on him and murder him. In doing this, the Father himself imputes the sin and the guilt of the world on his own Son. He turns his back on his own son and allows him to go into the grave for us and condemns him in our place. (Collapse down the black chair and lay it flat.)
Well, thanks be to God, he raised this Christ from the dead and has restored him to the heavenly places. (Raise up the black chair and turn both chairs towards each other.) And now anybody who believes that Jesus has done this in our place, that he has taken the full punishment of God and has suffered the full penalty of sin, can live in fellowship with him and be restored. All those who believe can walk with Jesus. And some day, when we go to be with him, we will enjoy eternity forever.
But for those who have turned their backs on this Gospel, (Turn black chair away) who have not received the love and forgiveness of Jesus,.. God, in his wrath, must allow them to go their way. (Turn white away) And finally, in the end, (Collapse and lay down the black chair) they enter the grave and experience eternal, conscious torment forever apart from God in hell. (Pick up black chair, open and turn toward white chair, which is now turned towards black)
All we need to do is respond to this Gospel to receive eternal life. That is the juridical or penal or legal view of the Gospel as we’ve learned it. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It is the quintessential American view of the Gospel. We hear it preached by both Protestant and Catholic radio preachers and in our churches all the time. But it’s only been around for about 500 years, since the Protestant Reformation.
Some say it goes back further to Anselm, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th Century. The Bible is used to support this view, and many have come to salvation through this message. 2nd Version The Older, Therapeutic or Patristic or Celtic Christian View of the Gospel But we have been rediscovering this older, more ancient message called the Restorative, or Therapeutic or Curative version of the Gospel. I think it’s truer to the Gospel texts. It goes something like this.
Once again, we have God and he sets humankind, Adam and Eve, in the garden, created in his image and likeness, meant to be his representatives on earth, meant to walk in perfect fellowship with God. (Turn black chair away)
And one day, Adam and Eve, through temptation stumble into sin. And in stumbling into sin, something much worse than personal guilt happens. They become subject to futility and death. They receive in themselves the full penalty of their actions which is going their own way in a self-destructive trajectory. (Move white chair around to face the turned away black chair.)
And what happens is God comes, and he says, “Adam, Eve, where are you? What have you done?” And he realizes that they must leave the garden and go into this world. (Turn black chair out.) When they do, what does God do? He comes with them. (Move white chair around to face the black again.) He cloths them and he protects them. He gives them a life.
They have children, Cain and Abel. One day Cain decides in his jealousy to plot to murder his brother. (Turn black chair away) And what does God do? He comes to Cain. (Move white chair around again to face black) And he says, “Cain, what are you planning? What have you done? Where is your brother?” And he sends Cain East of Eden. (Turn black chair away)
And he needs to go into the cities and suffer the danger of one who has been known as a murderer. And what does God do? (Move white chair around to face the black) He puts a mark on his head and he protects him for as long as he lives. And this is the history of the People of God that over and over again we turn from him in our rebellion… (Turn black chair away from the white) and what does God do? He comes looking for us. (Move white chair around to face the black)
He warns us, he chastises us and he makes a way to reconcile us. And even as Israel went off through their period with Abraham, with Moses and with David, we see all sorts of sins, all sorts of wickedness. (Turn black chair away from white) And what does God do? (Move white chair around to face the black yet again.) He comes and finds Abraham. He comes and finds Moses. He comes and finds David. He comes and finds his people and he offers a way to repentance and reconciliation. Here is a man who in his greed, in his insecurity betrays his people and becomes a tax collector and works for the Roman oppressors. (Turn black chair away from the white)
He loses all his friends and he steels from his neighbors. He is despised and rejected and loses his community. And what does God do? (Move white chair around to face the black) God becomes man and walking under a tree one day, looks up and says, “Zacheus, come down from there. I want to have dinner with you. I want to be your friend. I won’t reject you. I will restore you.” (Turn black chair away)
Here is a woman who in the brokenness of her heart and in the longing she has for love, she moves from marriage to marriage to marriage. And after divorcing five men is now living with another. And what does God do? (Move white chair around to face the black.) He comes and sits beside her at a well, and he says to her, “The very thing you are longing for is the waters of life. And I can give that to you. And when I give that to you, you will never thirst again.” This is the Gospel of Reconciliation, the Gospel of Restoration where the Great Physician comes and finds us. But you know, in this story, too, the unthinkable happens. Humankind takes this Christ and they crucify him, and they turn from him, and they die to their own conscience. (Collapse black chair and lay it down.)
And even in that death, what does God do? He says, “I forgive you.” And he says even if you make your bed in Sheole, I am there. And he follows us into the grave. (Collapse the white chair and lay it down on the black) But this is also the God who says, “I am the one who was dead, but I am now alive!” (Set back up the white chair) “I am the one who holds the keys of death and Hades.” And the question for us today is if Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades, what do you think he will do with them? (Stand the black chair up, too)
And for those who turn from God (Turn black chair away) and say “I don’t want that love.” What does God do? (Move white chair around to face the black yet again) In his wild passion for us his people, he pursues us like the hound of heaven. And the fire of that love will feel like hell. That love will feel like torment as long as we run. (Turn black chair around) And as long as we run, God will run,.. (Move white chair around to face the black) chasing us because his mercy endures for how long? Forever.
And so this one who conquered death, who conquered the grave, who took the keys and led a host of captives out of the grave, and now pursues us forever. He wants you to know something about this second version of the Gospel, and that is this. He is always towards you. And when you run from him (turn chair away, move white around to face black), he is always towards you. And when you ignore him (turn chair away, move white around to face black), he always comes and speaks.
And when we try to flee from him (Turn black chair away) – don’t you wish you could? – (Move white chair around to face the black) God is perpetually there, always wanting to love us, always wanting to welcome us, always inviting us home. And so, this is the Restorative version of the Gospel, the Gospel of Reconciliation. It truly is Good News. Amen?!