As Though It Were Not -- Because God Is

My job on September 11 of any year is not materially or formally different than my job on any other day of the year -- and neither is yours. Our job is to live and preach the gospel. It, and not world-historical events, dictates reality.

I am not called to follow the Johannine reaction -- to say that world-historical events usher in a new age of the gospel, and even to say that this new age of the gospel is the only true age, and that we are only now fulfilling it. I understand this reaction -- as though their destruction and our survival meant something in the long run. As though massive, world-changing events happened for a reason. But world history has no eschatological significance. We are in it; it happens to us; but it does not constitute any eternal judgment of God, even when it is the terrible consequences of our actions "coming home to roost." It is penultimately real, but ultimately unreal. Even if they are punishments, God walks with us through them. God never leaves. The quintessential attribute of God is fidelity in relationship. Every other attribute, every other name of God, serves this one. Only in this way is God worthy of our proclamation -- because only in this way is God worthy of our trust.

And so my job on this day is to preach first as though this day were not. To do theology first on the presupposition that it is not, and the gospel is. Only then to proceed to speak the gospel to this day, because today simply happens to be as it is. And it certainly is, in all the hominum confusione into which the provision of God always arrives. Because today is a day full of sin, from a history of days full of sin -- like every other day has been, and will be, on the earth. But that is not the truth! The truth is that today is a day full of the glory and justice of God shown in grace, set within a grand history of days full of the gracious glory of God -- like every other day has been, and will be, on the earth.

How, then, should we struggle against the saved? And how, seeing that this God is so graciously and expansively faithful, that this is the ultimate reality of our lives and all created life -- how should we declare any impediments to the gracious salvation of God? How should we take back what has been given us to proclaim? How hold in and stop up the Word of God, on our own terms?

How should we divide up and square off against our fellow creatures as though sin were the determining reality? And how should it be possible for us to believe that our fellow creatures are only what they are because of sin? That we should say of another person for whom Christ died and rose again, that we love them in the abstract -- but hate their particulars? That we would love them, if? Much less that God would love them, if!

God loves them, because -- just as God loves you, because. Because of no penultimate reality of sin or obedience, but only because of that first ultimate reality: that we are all God's good creation, the fruits of God's unending providence and faithfulness. For what do we have, that we did not receive from God, however indirectly? This is the ground of justice. This is the basis of righteousness. This is the reason for salvation, for redemption, for reconciliation. Both before and after you were a sinner for whom Christ died, you are a creature for whom Christ lived. You, and your sister, and your brother, and your cousin, and the resident alien in your midst -- without exception. We have all been unwitting recipients of God's grace, long before we ever became witting participants in that grace. And we will be so, long after we have ceased to be witting participants in this world in any sense. God does not lose or abandon any created thing. The end is as the beginning.

I beg you to live as though this were so -- because it is. Forgive and receive one another in love, as God in Christ has forgiven and received all of you, and all the world. But don't try to do it on your own -- be witty participants in this grace. Wash in and eat and drink and hear the sustaining grace of God, and lean on one another in love. God is here to help you, and so are we.

Comments

  1. On the other hand, our burden of pastoral care is different today -- as the line drawn between that grace and the changing world is always a new line today.

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