Friday, 15 September 2017

Who’s in and Who’s Out

King Lear Act 5 Scene 3: Lear to Cordelia

Who’s in and who’s outthat is the question (with apologies to Prince Hamlet).   That question has been resonating with me recently.   I have had three encounters with that question in the past couple of weeks.  The first, and most timely for today, was in an interview with American theologian and Episcopalian Diana Butler Bass on the CBC program Tapestry.  The subject of the talk was Religion and Spirituality.  Bass noted that she first truly realized why people were turning their backs on organized religion was on the tenth anniversary of 9-11 which fell on a Sunday.  She was hesitant to attend church as she was fearful it might turn into a celebration of nationalistic triumphalism.  She was assured by the priest that the service would have very quiet, reflective liturgy.  She decided to attend and was reassured when the liturgy was all the priest had promised and quite appropriate to the solemn occasion.  The preacher, who was not clergy, but rather someone, who had been working at the White House that day spoke in his sermon of the four thousand people who had lost their lives in the decade following that event.  She was at first incredulous and thought, it is fifty thousand; it is a hundred thousand!  Then she realized he was referring to the American lives lost in Iraq.  (Note: a Google search puts the actual count has the loss of life at of up to 190,000 people including 134,000 civilians).  Bass walked out of that service and when her husband texted her and asked if she was coming back to church, she replied, “I don’t know.”

Another example of who’s in and who’s out was in an article in the Globe and Mail on September 2nd which was entitled, Hell and High Water.  It was addressing the seeming resistance to actually preparing for the ever increasing ‘floods of the century’ which are occurring with increasing frequency.  The article noted the example of the Mississippi River’s Great Flood of 1927.  The article noted the official death toll was 246.  However, that was only the people that officially mattered.  It didn’t include the lives of African AmericansNegros as they would have been classifiedwhich brought the death toll to over one thousand.  Who’s in and who’d out; who’s counted and who doesn’t; who’s lives matter and who’s lives don’t.

The last example was inspired when I read the article and I recalled the passage in the Gospel of Matthew regarding the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus, “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children”.   Oh by the way there were women and children but we don’t need to mention how many.  That is a recurring situation in the bible where women are often not named e.g. the Syrophoenician woman or the woman at the well.  People in the bible are often not named in the bible even when they are central the story.  This is true for men as well as women e.g. the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal son.  However, perhaps we should be thankful for all the people who are named and bring life to the stories.

However, the question I place before you today is, when does a person count and when do they fade into the background of the story of our lives?  We have made progress in recent years to address this question.  The response of Black Lives Matter is addressing the frequent impunity with which the police treat people of colour non-people who don’t count.  This is not restricted to the United States. In Canada deaths by police action is much rarer, thank God.   However, we still have police insisting that ‘carding’ is necessary for them to do their job.  People carded just happen to be mostly non-whites.  In Canada we have the hopeful move of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which reviewed the institutionalize mistreatment of aboriginal Canadians.  The institutions of the people who were ‘in’ treated aboriginal people as objects rather than as people.

Of course it is easy to sit back and point fingers and judge events and attitudes of actions of the past by today’s standards and values.  How do we examine culture, our governments, and our institutions including the churches, and above all ourselves, in how we view others?  Who do we hold as being in and who is out. Who counts and who doesn’t?   Some years ago I attended a conference on a group of mostly white men who were trying to deal with white middle class male privilege in ourselves and in our society.  Unfortunately the group tended to look mostly at society and not at ourselves.  The conference was attended by two Inuit men from northern Canada.  One of them noted that in their culture they believed that, “no one was bigger than anyone else.”   At resonated with me then and it still does. 

How do we treat no one as bigger than anyone else; everyone as the same importance as everyone else?  As a Christian, how do I treat each person as a child of God?  How do I relate to each person as someone who is “in” and not as someone who is “out”?  If I do not I truly am in the prison that Lear and Cordelia are going tohowever they are aware of their prison walls unlike the rest of us.   I know I am going to fail; in a state if sin; I am going to miss the mark.  Fortunately I am offered forgiveness and can start again.  That is the mystery of things indeed. 


Thank be to God. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Sermon August 27, 2017 11th Sunday after Trinity

My sermon today is based on something I don’t normally do.  Now don’t get nervous and worry I am going to preach on some heresy or far out idea.  No, rather than base my sermon on the scripture passage – either the Gospel or the epistle, I want to explore the collect.  I will read it again to bring it once more to your attention:
O God, who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There is much packed into a relatively short prayer.  We have concepts of grace, mercy and heavenly treasures, not to mention the commandments.  So, there is much to unpack.  Let’s begin by looking at grace and mercy.  What actually is grace and what is mercy?

One simple way of looking at them is that grace is receiving what we do not deserve.  Mercy is, you could say the opposite, not receiving what we deserve.  When I think of grace I think of the opening of the service of Holy Eucharist; the Gathering of the Community in the Book of Alternative Services; “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all”. The response is, “And also with you”.  Let’s try it…

The grace is the Grace of the Lord.  It does not say that if you have been good Christians and done certain things you have the right to wish for God’s Grace on the gathered community.  God’s Grace is offered to each of us; it is offered freely and without condition.  Think of that; we do not need to earn it or be someone we are not; it is there for the taking.  However, that is the rub.  We must be willing to receive it.  We must be open to it and not throw up barriers to that Grace working in us and in the world.  So how do we do that?  Well I did touch on that last Sunday.  We need to be open to God’s gifts in the Holy Spirit.  We can certainly not receive the Grace if we do not pay attention to what God is offering us.  We need to learn and practice understanding God’s Forgotten Language in the Gifts of God.  That is another part of the B.A.S. which I appreciate.  At the Eucharistic prayer after the concretion the bread and wine, now the body and blood are presented to the congregation as, “The gifts of God for the people of God”.  The response is, “Thanks be to God”.  That is the proper response to all of God’s giftsthanks. 

It is important to understand in our hearts as well as our minds that these gifts are freely offered and given to us.  We do not need to earn them or do the right thing; isn’t that wonderful.  Think about it for a moment…We do not need to earn it.  We are the people of God as so it is offered to us without precondition.

However, that does not give us a free pass.  The Grace of God is freely offered.  However, it doesn’t mean that we have no part in it.  This is where God’s mercy comes in.  I noted that we are to receive Grace there are no preconditions, however, we have to be open to it.  I’m sure it is not a surprize to you that we are not always open to it. 

We live lives that are often not in relationship with God.  We do not live the lives that God intends us to live.  This is where the commandments come in.  Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength; the second it like it, to love our neighbours as ourselves.  Well, I certainly struggle to do that one.  I am taking a wild guess but probably you do as well. 

This is where we give thanks to God that we have the mercy of God.  We do not receive what we deserve.  If we were to be judge on our actions and even our thoughts there would be no hope for us.  However, we do have the mercy of God.  God’s mercy is also freely given.  It is given to us in the forgiveness which was offered to us in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross when he forgave those who had murdered him.  We have the mercy that is offered to us in the confession and absolution in both our prayer book and the B.A.S.  We confess that we have not lived as God has intended us to live.  We are in a state of sin.  We ask for God’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness is granted to us in the absolution.  Again this is freely offered to usit is ours for the asking.
 
There is another part of the B.A.S. which I find helpful.  The baptismal covenant asks all present, “Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord”?  Note it states when and not if for being imperfect we will fall again into sin.  However, we will again be offered forgiveness.  The answer is, “I will, with God’s help”.  It could state, I will with God’s Grace. 


In the collect we ask to partake in God’s heavenly treasures.  That is what we are offered through God’s Grace and Mercy.  Let us be open to receive them.  Amen.    

Grace and Mercy

Sunday I was doing something I usually don’t do; nothing radical or heretical.  Rather than preaching on the epistle or Gospel appointed for the day, I based my sermon on the collect. We were celebrating the 11th Sunday after Trinity and the collect for the day addressed the themes of grace and mercy.  I believe that these concepts are important so I want to reiterate and expand a bit on my sermon.  Not because anything I said is radical or new but grace and mercy is key to our relationship with God and each other.  For those of you who do not follow the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, here is the collect:
O God, who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 As I noted in my sermon there is much to unpack in that short prayer.  First, let’s look at what grace and mercy mean.  One simple way of looking at them is that grace is receiving what we do not deserve.  Mercy is, you could say the opposite, not receiving what we deserve.   This is not original to me, I heard it some years ago and I’m sure it has been around longer than that. 

That needs some clarification.  When I say “deserve”, I mean they are not something which we earn or is based on our efforts or actions either good or bad.  Grace and mercy are offered to us by God unconditionally because we are God’s children and they are expressions of God’s love for us.  Growing up in the fifties and sixties there was a lot in the ether and culture about unconditional love.  It was something that everyone was supposed to desire in their heart of hearts.  It, unfortunately, became something of a cliché in part because I believe people realized it seemed to be impossible.  It is unfortunate because I believe it is true.  We do desire it; we want to be accepted and loved for who we truly are and not on the basis of having to earn it.

It is indeed hard to truly believe in our heart of hearts—or I could say souls—that we can be loved unconditionally.  Our experience does not generally support this idea.  We believe that we need to earn the love of others.  As I write this a song came up on the media player on my computer (which is set on shuffle).  The song is “Outrageous” by Paul Simon.  The chorus is, “who’s going to love you when your looks are gone”?   After that chorus is repeated a number of times the answer is, “God will”; thank you Paul and thank you synchronicity.  That is exactly the message and meaning of grace and mercy.  God does love us unconditionally no matter if our looks are gone or what kind of a life we live. 

That does not mean we have a free pass.  It does not mean that it doesn’t matter to God what kind of a life we live.  Grace and mercy are freely offered but it is up to us to accept them.  We need to be in relationship with God.  Often our lives can be out of relationship with God.  The grace of God is freely offered.  This is the love of God.  There are many things in our lives which prevent us from being open to the love of God and sharing it with others; past experience of being hurt by others and receiving conditional love to name a two.  We learn to put up walls to protect ourselves and those walls can seem to be almost impenetrable.   
That is where God’s mercy comes in (thank God).  God' mercy is also offered unconditionally as it is also God’s love in action.  When we are not in relationship with God we are in a state of sin.  However, God’s mercy offers us forgiveness.  We can come to God and seek to re-establish our relationship with God; it is two sided—God and each of us.  We have the assurance of God’s forgiveness when we do that.  As I noted in the sermon, we have the mercy that is offered to us in the confession and absolution in both the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Alternative Services.  We confess that we have not lived as God has intended us to live.  We are in a state of sin.  We ask for God’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness is granted to us in the absolution.  Again this is freely offered to us—it is ours for the asking. 

If we were to truly believe in our hearts and souls that we are unconditionally loved by God think how different our lives and the world would be.  It is hard to imagine but it is worthwhile imagining it.  That is the first step to living it.  I will close with a quote from Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediation (more synchronicity) for today which speaks of the mystery of forgiveness and the possibility of an infinite ocean of grace: 
The Spirit within us creates an unrelenting desire toward forgiveness and reconciliation. The entire Gospel reveals the unfolding mystery of forgiveness; it is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Gospel’s transformative message. The energy of being forgiven—in our unworthiness of it—first breaks us out of our merit-badge mentality. The ongoing experience of being forgiven (when we don’t even think we need it) is necessary to renew our flagging spirit and keep us in the infinite ocean of grace. Toward the end of life a universal forgiveness of everything for being what it is becomes the only way we can see and understand reality and finally live at peace. 

Blessings and love on your journey.
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11
Which Spiritual Gift have you been given?  We are told in the Epistle today that there are diversities of Spiritual gifts which are given to every manand I would add every woman in today’s inclusive language. 

We are also told the form in which these gifts can take:  the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues.  That is quite a list.  Do any of them resonate with you?  Surly you have one of them.  After all the scripture does say the Spirit is given to everyone.  You may be saying to yourself, well I certainly don’t think I have received any of those gifts despite what the scripture says. 

Here is what I believe.  I believe that each of us is given the gifts of the Spirit.  However, we have not been taught how to recognize them.  Let me tell you a secret.  I believe that we are given gifts of the Spirit every night.  We are given the gifts in our dreams.  You might say that I don’t dream.  Well, what if I told you that science has confirmed that we all dream every night and if we don’t dream, due to disruption of sleep patterns, for a while we will become mentally disturbed.   You could reply, well I don’t dream very often and anyway when I do, I they don’t seem to be about anything that makes sense.

That is true for many people but the problem is that our culture have for a long time not believed that dreams are important or meaningful and we have believed what our culture has taught us.  Here’s the thing, we often do not remember our dream because we do not believe they are important.  When we start to pay attention to them you will be surprized that you will remember many more of them.  And when we ever work with them by writing them down and considering them we remember even more. 

I believe that dreams are God’s forgotten language.  We have consequently never learned the language of dreams.  Dreams will usually occur in the native language of the dreamerEnglish for us.  Not always as in the case of King Nebuchadnezzar.  You may remember the story in the bible where he had a dream of a hand writing a message on the wall in the plaster; mene, mene, tekel, parsin.  Daniel was able to interpret the meaning for himhe translated the language of the dream:
Mene[e]: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 Tekel[f]: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 Peres[g]: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

With a few exceptions, dreams are usually in the language of the dreamer. However, that doesn’t mean that we will naturally understand them any more than King Nebuchadnezzar.  We need to learn how to interpret and understand what the message is in the dream.  Dreams speak to us in the language of symbols and we need to learn how to discern the meaning of symbols which is often not easy. 

Dreams can tell us if our lives are on the path that God intends for us or if we have gone astray.  In the same way I believe that God speaks to us in many different ways.  I work as a Spiritual Director primarily with theological students at Huron University College back in Ontario in London.  My goal with my directees is to help them identify how God is working in their lives—speaking to them. 

Here are a few other examples of how God speaks to us.   One way is through what we are naturally drawn to, for instance are there ways in which you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?  It may be when you are in nature, I must admit that is not a big one with me but I know many people that feel that connection.

God speaks to us in prayer.  I find it works better if it is a two way conversation and not just talking to God; although that can also be effective. 
One way that I’m sure all of you are aware of is through scripture.  The regular reading of the bible is a way many people connect with how God is speaking to them.  There are ways in which it can be even more meaningful.  Reading a passage out loud is more effective that reading it silently.  Also there are methods such as Lectio Divina (which is just a fancy of saying Holy Reading) which help us to find the meaning for us in our lives at the present moment.
I believe that we have generally forgotten how to understand the Language of God.  We need to learn and relearn how to listen to those many different ways and to learn how to understand them as we would a foreign language. 

I invite you to pay attention to where you find God connecting with you.  The most important first step is to be open to the possibility of God in any and all aspects of your life.  St. Paul tells us that the manifestations of the Spirit are given to all of us.  Try it out and see what happens.

I will close with the prayer that I use at the beginning of my Spiritual Direction sessions.  Let us pray:
Bless this time, in the name of the Three who are over us.
Bless this time, in the name of the One who guides us.
Open our eyes to see how our lives
Can reflect something of You.
Aid us in understanding Your will
With our hearts as well as our minds
Give us the wisdom to discern Your intention for us;
The strength to follow the path You prepare for us;
And Your comfort on the journey You offer to us.

Amen  

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Discerning the Work of the Holy Spirit

Yesterday I preached on spiritual gifts based on the Epistle reading of 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.  A copy of my sermon posted as usual.  St. Paul declares to the church in Corinth that everyone has spiritual gifts.  The question I posed to my captive audience (actually the two congregations) is what spiritual gift they have received. 

I believe that Paul was correct (no surprize) and each of us is given spiritual gifts.  He lists a variety of gifts that are possible;
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
However, we often do not recognize them as gifts in ourselves and others.  I believe we have problems with recognizing them because we do not recognize them as spiritual gifts and perhaps if we do, we do not know what to do with them.  I would add that there are other gifts not listed by Paul—he didn’t say the list was comprehensive.  One I find particularly helpful is the gift of dreams.  The challenge we have with all these gifts is to learn the language of the gifts; they are God’s Forgotten Language.  We need to learn the language that God is speaking to us in these gifts.

These spiritual gifts are by definition the gifts of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  However, one of the challenges with such gifts is to know when it is actually the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and not other forces whatever they may be.  They can be the power of suggestion or emotions which can overwhelm us or other forces, some of which can be negative and led us astray.  Just because it ‘feels’ right doesn’t mean it is the right path to follow.  The question is, then how do we know if it is the Holy Spirit working in our lives?
As Paul notes in his letter, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  So that is a primary key to knowing if it is the Holy Spirit; it needs to be ultimately for our good and the common good.  However, it is still often hard to know if a particular action is for the common good.  The religious authorities who wanted Jesus done away with certainly believed they were doing the right thing, “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 

What we ultimately must turn to is the another gift; the gift of discernment.  Before we rush to embrace something we believe we are being directed or encourage to do by a divine source of any kind, we need to stop and consider carefully what the consequences are.  It is helpful in this process to have some guidelines which we aid us in discernment.  Some work has been done in this area in understanding dreams.  There can be many messages we receive in our dreams.  However, the language of dreams is in symbols which can often be challenging to understand.  Below are some guidelines which have been developed for working with dreams.  They can be helpful in discerning is what you believe is the Spirit actually for your good and the common good:
How are we to be sure that we know what God is telling us in our dreams?  The following questions can provide guidance in discerning if our dreams are guiding us to follow the will of God[1].
·         Is the course of action legal?
·         Is it in any way harmful?
·         How will it affect those I love?
·         Can I live with the repercussions?
·         Is the action impulsive?
·         Is the message persistent, presenting itself in other aspects of life?
·         Will the action lead me closer to God?
·         Will the action benefit others?
·         Will this make me a better person?
·         What does my spiritual tradition say about this?

Anglicans do have the three pillars of our faith to guide us which points us in the same direction on our journey; scripture, tradition, and reason.  I hope and pray that we all will be guided by the Holy Spirit on our journey.  Blessings,
Greg



[1] Svob, Connie Dreaming for Christians in ‘The Rose’ Summer Fall 2006

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Sermon: August 13, 2017 9th Sunday after Trinity

Luke 16: 1-13

The Gospel passage for today has probably given preachers headaches since people have been delivering sermons.  It certainly is not one of the more straight forward Gospel passages – like the lesson of the lost coin and the lost sheep.  That is a parable that makes sense and all the preacher has to do is make it come alive and meaningful for the congregation. Those who hear the sermon only need to be given a perspective on the lesson which will be meaningful for them.  Of course I shouldn’t say ‘only’ because that is not such an easy thing.  However it is a lot easier that finding meaning in today’s Gospel lesson that makes sense. 

Here we have what seems to be a lesson that teaches that it is all right — actually commendable to cheat.  It is entitled in some versions of the bible “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager” which is quite apropos.  The manager, on finding out that he is being dismissed, decides to swindle his master and colludes with some clients — who have accounts payable to the master’s business — to discount their bills and have them pay less than the master is owed.  We are told his motive for doing this, “I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses”.  He wants those people — the co-conspirators — to be in his debt so he can call on them for help his after he is shown the door.  Seems like a good plan on his part and pretty straight forward; probably not that unusual even today. 

However the surprize — the twist — comes next.  Rather than calling the police and having the dishonest manager thrown in jail and perhaps suing his co-conspirators — the master commends him, “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.” 
Not only that but the narrative changes and we have Jesus seeming to agree with the Master, “for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I say unto you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”  Rather a shocking statement from Jesus. 

Does this mean that everyone is free to swindle and steal from their employers because money is after all the root of all evil so there is no sense in trying to be honest about something that is evil – just go out and be shrewd and get whatever you can? 

However, there are a couple of parts of the statement that can put a different light on this.  First we are told that the Children of Light are not as shrewd as the children of this age.   What Jesus is saying here is that the Children of Light i.e. Christians are not intended to place our priority into worldly things.  Our focus and goal in life is not to be on the financial and the material success of this world.  We are to put our focus on following Jesus, in loving one another as Jesus loves us. 

Jesus also tells us to look to the worldly as examples:
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.  If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?
Jesus is telling us that the worldly are exemplary in the devotion they give to worldly things.  They focus their energy on being successful in making money and accumulating possessions.  They do it well; as we should - only giving our devotion to God and not mammon.

The punch line of the lesson really says it all and brings it into focus.  Who are we going to serve, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”.  Are we going to be like the children of this age and serve mammon—make money and material possessions our god —or are we going to be children of light and follow Jesus? 
As I addressed in last Sunday’s sermon, which wolf of our nature will we feed; the good one or the evil one?  This question is based on a Legend of the Cherokee people; in effect, we have two wolves inside us; a good one and an evil one.  The question posed is which wolf will win?  The answer is the one we feed. 
Which master, God or mammon, will you follow – which wolf will you feed? 

Amen 

The Meaning of the Cross

This week I want to continue my exploration/musings on theological issues.  I know it is the dog days of summer and my mind should be on a murder mystery or other cottage reading rather than a theological mystery.  However, that seems to be where I am there days.  Perhaps it is because I am writing a sermon regularly as I help out in the parish here.

In any case rather than a murder mystery by Sue Grafton or Agatha Christie, I would like to explore the ultimate murder mystery of the cross i.e. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  One of the principle ways of understanding this event is “substitutionary atonement” i.e. Jesus died for our sins.  In effect, God required ‘His’ only begotten son to be sacrificed on the cross as a way of redemption for humankind.  God’s greatest creation, made in ‘His’ own image could only be redeemed by sacrificing ‘His’ son in the most horrible way imaginable. 

This has not been the only way of understanding the events of Good Friday as noted by Richard Rohr recently drawing on Marcus Borg:

Theologian Marcus Borg (1942-2015) points out that the substitutionary understanding of Jesus’ death “was not central in the first thousand years of Christianity.”  Borg explains:
[The] first systematic articulation of the cross as “payment for sin” happened just over nine hundred years ago in 1098 in St. Anselm’s treatise Cur Deus Homo? [Why Did God Become Human?] Anselm’s purpose was to provide a rational argument for the necessity of the incarnation and death of Jesus.
Unfortunately, this became the primary lens through which the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament were read. The substitutionary atonement “theory” (and that’s all it is) implies that the Eternal Christ’s epiphany in Jesus is a mere afterthought when the first plan did not work out.
The “substitutionary atonement” understudying of the cross is not one that I can accept.  It makes no sense on so many different levels and one I cannot resolve with my belief in a Loving God.  I must concede that I have no assurance that my particular belief is the absolute truth any more that we can know that the “substitutionary atonement” theory is correct.  It is one in which makes sense within my overall understanding of God and my relationship to God, who in case you didn’t pick up on the earlier hints I do not understand to be solely a masculine father figure. 
So I’m sure you are now eager to know what my understanding of the crucifixion is.  First, I believe that it was a willing sacrifice by Jesus as shown in the Garden of Gethsemane.   Jesus did ask his Heavenly Father (which admittedly the way he primarily thought of God) to remove this cup from him.  However, that was not a question of God demanding the sacrifice.  Jesus throughout his life became aware of who he was created by God to be.  He was for us a model of a person, indeed the Third Person of the Trinity, who showed us what it means to live fully and completely the life he was created to live. 
For Jesus to fully realize who he was and is i.e. the person he was created to be meant that he would inevitably be murdered by the authorities of this world.  To be true to who he was meant that he could not do anything else.  As he told his disciples he must go to Jerusalem that knowing that meant he would be executed by the Roman authorities with the collusion of the religions authorities.  He did this willingly knowing he could do nothing else if he was to be true to who he was—the unique person fully human and fully divine. 
That is my challenge and calling i.e. to discover and be as fully as possible the person God created me to be.  That is something I know I will never fully succeed in doing or being but it is my lifelong quest of my journey; Blessings on your journey.