Remission

What comes to mind when you hear “remission”? Most of us probably think of cancer. When cancer is in “remission,” it isn’t active, but we don’t know, it might still be there. If someone is “in remission,” as we say, for a number of years, then we don’t expect the cancer to come back. So we think of “remission” as something in the background, perhaps temporarily defeated, perhaps more than temporarily—but there, probably, as an ongoing threat.
 If, however, you are a Rite One person, you might think, instead of cancer, of “one baptism” which, according to the Nicene Creed in the traditional language, is “for the remission of sins.” Here the word “remission” must mean something quite different from the way we use the word with cancer.
 Its root is mittere, the Latin word meaning “to send, to cause to go.” The prefix “re-” means “again” or “back.” The Creed’s assertion is about the “sending back” of sins, the “causing to go away” of sins. When sins are remitted they aren’t around any more. They’re not like cancer, which might still be there; nor is a sinner “in remission,” in some sort of in-between, maybe-okay state. The sins have been turned around and discharged: they ain’t here.
 It’s a bit old-fashioned, but we do sometimes speak of money that is sent to pay a bill as a “remittance.” When the remittance is sent, the debt no longer exists. Indeed, there is biblical warrant for speaking of sins as “debts,” and some versions of the Lord’s prayer have it so: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” May it please God to remit all our sins!
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 May I be playful for a bit? When we see the word “remission,” there’s “mission” in it. And there’s “mission” in God’s own being. The Father sends the Son into the world with his mission: in order that the world might be saved. And the sacrifice being accomplished, the Father through the Son sends the Spirit whose mission is to speak of what the Son has done.
 God’s mission is what we can participate in: and we may do so when we plant churches, instruct believers, build communities of forgiveness and truth, seek the healing of the world. In these ways we join in the divine mission to overcome sin, to remit it, to banish it, to send it away.
 We thereby partake of the “re-missioning” of the world: to turn the world from its false mission (the advancement of sin) to its true one.
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 Out & About. I will be preaching at Incarnation in Dallas on December 2. The “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar will not meet in December; on January 13 (Sunday, 6 p.m.) I will lead a discussion of C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. This also is at Incarnation and anyone who reads the book is welcome.
 Looking further ahead: the spring theology lecture by yours truly will be on the theology of suffering. We pray it will not be a painful experience! Sunday, March 24, at Incarnation at 6 p.m.

 

It is Hard for the Rich

It Is Hard for the Rich --or so Jesus says, to enter the kingdom of God. But why is it hard? Methinks it is because wealth—and here “wealth” means basically what we call middle-class life—protects us from many unexpected disasters. If I get ill, I have access to doctors and insurance to cover much of the cost. If I lose my job, I have savings to live on, at least for awhile. No authority, or thug, can come to my front door and order me to move out into the street. If I get arrested, I can get a lawyer, and so on. We have the rule of law, we have assets, we have social supports. That’s what it means to be rich.

Many people today don’t have it this way, and most people through most of history didn’t. They weren’t rich. Why is entering the kingdom of God easier if you aren’t able to cushion life’s random blows, hard knocks, and catastrophes?

It’s because you know: at any time, I could lose everything.

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Of course it’s an illusion, this sense that we rich middle-class folk have the means to fend off the random blows of life. In one of the recent heavy rains, I was driving home from talking with a church group in Lewisville about (ironically?) Losing Susan, my reflections on brain disease and “the God who gives and takes away.” I was not far from home on the interstate, going about 40 (most everyone was going about 40) when, at a curve and gentle dip in the road, a pickup passed me on the left at a much higher speed. As he did so, he covered my car with so much water that I could not see anything. I didn’t dare brake or try anything else, and in a couple of seconds, I guess, it cleared enough for me to see. But for a brief bit I was literally running blind, a ton or two of steel moving at 40 miles per hour (60 feet per second).

What I felt then is the truth that the poor feel regularly. We’re running through life exposed to such dangers as could abruptly change everything. And we have no defenses against them.

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To enter the kingdom of God is, in part, to let go of everything that is not God, which is to say, to recognize that God is the one who holds us in being. We have to give up everything else to follow him. To a few select people, that means selling everything now. For everyone, it means letting go at the moment of death. For most of us, it’s something we think about from time to time.

I’m grateful for that reminder in the rain on the interstate. I’m also grateful to be here to tell you about it.

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Out & About. Sunday, October 28, I will deliver my fall theology lecture. The topic is moral rules, particularly how do we know when, if ever, to make personal exceptions to rules. I will be looking particularly at assisted suicide (or aid-in-dying) as a case that’s not only interesting but something, I believe, we need to be thinking about Christianly. Free, open to the public, with a reception following: Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas, at 6:15 p.m. (You can come early at 5 p.m. for Evensong.)

Sunday, November 4, as we all are celebrating the return of Standard Time (the best kind of time is Standard Time!), I will be preaching at All Souls’ Church, Penna. Ave. and 63rd St., Oklahoma City, at 8 and 10 a.m. The week following I’ll be teaching two classes there. On Mon., Tues., and Wed. (Nov. 5-7) from noon to 1 p.m., a class on the book of Esther. And on the same days from 6 to 7 p.m., on Christian bioethics. No registration; all open to the public.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."