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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

At the end of a week when we got to watch on national television a Black congregation celebrating God’s grace even while mourning the murders of nine of their members, a week in which our Black President led the congregation — led all of America! — in singing “Amazing Grace,” I have just noticed these words of Bonhoeffer. They were written while he was in prison and were part of a homily intended for the baptism of the newborn son of Eberhard and Renate Bethge. The baby was named Dietrich. (He grew up to be a professional cellist with an outstanding musical career in England.)

Bonhoeffer expressed his hope that God’s people would emerge from the awful War with a renewed trust in the Lord. “Then, not in embittered and barren pride, but consciously yielding to divine judgment, we shall prove ourselves worthy to survive by identifying ourselves generously and selflessly with the whole community and the suffering of our fellow human beings.”

These words echo what he had written just a few years earlier in which he said that we have “learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short from the perspective of the suffering.”

Some watched the funeral service in a spirit of judgment and a sense of superiority. After all, those people were “just Blacks.” But most (I hope) watched the maturity of faith and graciousness of those whose not-so-distant ancestors were held as slaves in a brutal and heartless “economic system” bolstered by the White churches. Those who were not grateful for America’s progress — our Black President blessed the congregation! — and who sat in judgment against those “other” people know nothing of God’s grace. And that means they know nothing of God.

Bonhoeffer was right: We must identify with the suffering of others. To whatever extent we are able, we all need to carry within ourselves some sense of the weight borne by those whose families were enslaved and who are reminded daily of how much they are resented by hard-hearted, immature folk in America.

It was a privilege to share (if only by television) in that worship service. It was America at its finest.

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In our customary self-centered Christianity, we tend to think of confession — if at all — only as a way to gain absolution, the removal of our guilt. Forgiveness does do that indeed but it leads to something far more important.

Bonhoeffer (Ethics, DBWE 6:136) wrote:

Christ conquers us never more strongly than by completely and unconditionally taking on our guilt and declaring it Christ’s own, letting us go free. Looking on this grace of Christ frees us completely from looking at the guilt of others and brings Christians to fall on their knees before Christ with the confession: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Confession does open us to forgiveness, yes. It also opens us to being conquered, claimed by Christ. As he takes on our guilt, he takes us on! We do not drink forgiveness as if from a tap, then turn and go our way. Like blind Bartimaeus, when freed by Christ to go our way, we follow him to Jerusalem. His way is now our way.

And confession protects us from the awful tendency, fostered and nurtured to perfection by many in the church, to concern ourselves with the sins of others. We seem to enjoy the feeling of superiority that comes from becoming judges of other people. None of us is totally free of that temptation but it seems to be especially strong in those who live with a strong sense that right and wrong are defined by rules and regulations, laws and traditions . . . as were the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

Instead, confession simply drives us to our spiritual knees in humility and full awareness that we live solely by the miraculous grace of God. The one who does not live with “Thank you, Lord” on the tip of his or her tongue, has no right to look down at others.

Bonhoeffer adds another dimension to our need for confession and forgiveness:

. . .the quite personal sin of each individual is acknowledged as a source of poison for the community. Even the most secret sin of the individual soils and destroys the body of Christ (I Corinthians 6:15).

Sin is toxic. Sin is contagious. It is a poison which seeps from one to another to the whole, if not by causing others to fall into the same sin, then by dampening the sense of openness to and rejoicing in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

By the grace of God, we are called to confession, cleansed by forgiveness, and restored to freedom and joy in following Jesus Christ, bringing others along with us in our devotion to Christ.

What does an atheist do with his or her sin? Simply try to atone and/or dismiss the sin or its consequences. And remain alone at the deepest level. And that is very sad.

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