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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gospel before the Law and sandbagging

In our never-ending quest to add to the theological knowledge of our readers, we present Karl Barth. (Admittedly, not a theologian I use a lot, but as he may have been the single most important theologian in the first half of the 20th Century, he should at least have a mention in one blog!) Anyhow, Barth is credited with switching the order of law and gospel to "gospel" and law, and for better or for worse we live in that legacy.
What this means for you and I is that God speaks a word of grace before God's law, and if you think about it, that makes sense. Creation itself is a gift (i.e., grace), and only after creation "is" can the law be offered. It just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to make a law, and then make something that has to follow that law. So, we see where Barth was coming from on this idea....
But, and this is a pretty big "But," what if the laws were first? For example, what if gravity came before dinosaurs? (By the way, this is why Barth was not a big fan of natural theology, it could get in the way of hearing God's Word of grace.) That is, what if a law--say "To love your neighbor" comes before the neighbors who do the loving? Here's where Barth was smarter than us...
Barth saw a phrase like "To love your neighbor" as a gracious word, not a law word. We don't have to love our neighbors...it is not a law...we get to love our neighbors...it is grace. It is a gift to be able to love our neighbors...
Up here in Prairie Table land we have had a lot of opportunity recently to love our neighbors. The flooding (Bismarck was the place that used dynamite to blow up an "ice dam" on the Missouri river...great way to make national news...and Fargo keeps getting more and more snow on an already flooded river basin...) But people band together, love their neighbors, and help out as they can. We don't help out because we have to, but because we want to...that's grace, not law.
For example, a few of our senior adult couples, most of whom cannot shovel or sandbag much anymore, have opened their homes to extended relatives so they can have a place to stay. Some have put off a vacation, others, just gave them the keys to the house...again, not because we have to, but because we want to...
There is never a convenient time to have a natural disaster, but there is also never a more convenient time to show how much grace you have...and how little the law constricts your heart...The grace of God in Jesus Christ is all about outstretched arms and bleeding hearts...we call that love. We call that the gospel.

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