20170410

Costly Grace

Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lenten Reflection: Costly Grace
By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits.

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.

The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

*Excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. Touchstone, 1995. 

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lesson

Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people! — Psalm 3:8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 14 (Listen – 8:11)
Psalm 17 (Listen – 1:58)

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20170407

The Cross in the Modern World (Part II)

Never did Jesus throw any doubt on a man’s health, vigor or fortune, regarded in themselves, or look upon them as evil fruits.

―Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lenten Reflection: 20170406 – The Cross in the Modern World (Part II)
By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

This irresponsibility and absence of bonds has its counterpart among the clergy in what I should call the ‘priestly’ snuffing around in the sins of men in order to catch them out… (See Part I)

From the theological point of view the error is twofold. First, it is thought that a man can be addressed as a sinner only after his weaknesses and meannesses have been spied out. Second, it is thought that man’s essential nature consists of his inmost and most intimate background, and that is defined as his ‘interior life’; and it is in these secret human places that God is now to have his domain!

On the first point it must be said that man is certainly a sinner, but not mean or common, not by a long chalk. To put the matter in the most banal way, are Goethe or Napoleon sinners because they were not always faithful husbands? It is not the sins of weakness, but the sins of strength (genius, hubris.), which matter here. It is not in the least necessary to spy out things. The Bible never does so.

On the second point it must be said that the Bible does not recognize our distinction of outer and inner. And why should it? It is always concerned with the whole man. It is quite un-biblical to suppose that a ‘good intention’ is enough. What matters is the whole good. The discovery of inwardness, so-called, derives from the Renaissance, from Petrarch perhaps.

The ‘heart’ in the biblical sense is not the inward life, but the whole man in relation to God. The view that man lives just as much from outwards to inwards as from inwards to outwards is poles apart from the view that his essential nature is to be understood from his intimate background.

This is why I am so anxious that God should not be relegated to some last secret place, but that we should frankly recognize that the world and men have come of age, that we should not speak ill of man in his worldliness, but confront him with God at his strongest point, that we should give up all our clerical subterfuges, and our regarding of psychotherapy and existentialism as precursors of God.

*Abridged from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison

Prayer: The Refrain

The Lord knows our human thoughts; how like a puff of wind they are. Happy are they whom you instruct, O Lord!* whom you teach out of your law. —Psalm 94.11–12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 10 (Listen – 3:25)
Psalm 11-12 (Listen – 1:59)

This Weekend’s Readings
Leviticus 11-12 (Listen – 7:20) Psalm 13-14 (Listen – 1:43)
Leviticus 13 (Listen – 9:34) Psalm 15-16 (Listen – 2:03)

20170406

The Cross in the Modern World (Part I)

God is being increasingly edged out of the world, now that it has come of age.

―Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lenten Reflection: The Cross in the Modern World (Part I)
By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Knowledge and life are thought to be perfectly possible without God. Ever since Kant, he has been relegated to the realm beyond experience.

Theology has endeavored to produce an apologetic to meet this development, engaging in futile rear-guard actions against Darwinism, etc. At other times theology has accommodated itself to this development by restricting God to the so-called last questions as a kind of Deus ex machina.

When God was driven out of the world, and from the public side of human life, an attempt was made to retain him at least in the sphere of the ‘personal’, the ‘inner life’, the private life.

And since every man still has a private sphere, it was thought that he was most vulnerable at this point.

The secrets known by a man’s valet, that is, to put it crudely, the area of his intimate life from prayer to his sexual life have become the hunting ground of modern psychotherapists. In this way they resemble, though quite involuntarily, the dirtiest gutter journalists. Think of the newspapers which specialize in bringing to light the most intimate details about prominent people. They practice social, financial, and political blackmail on their victims: the psychotherapists practice religious blackmail. Forgive me, but I cannot say less about them.

This irresponsibility and absence of bonds has its counterpart among the clergy in what I should call the ‘priestly’ snuffing around in the sins of men in order to catch them out. It is as though a beautiful house could only be known after a cobweb had been found in the furthermost corner of the cellar, or as though a good play could only be appreciated after one had seen how the actors behave off-stage.

From the theological point of view the error is twofold. First, it is thought that a man can be addressed as a sinner only after his weaknesses and meannesses have been spied out. Second, it is thought that man’s essential nature consists of his inmost and most intimate background, and that is defined as his ‘interior life’; and it is in these secret human places that God is now to have his domain!

You see, this is the attitude I am contending against. When Jesus blessed sinners, they were real sinners, but Jesus did not make every man a sinner first. He called them out of their sin, not into their sin.

*Abridged from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison.

Prayer: The Request for Presence

So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. —Psalm 90.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 9 (Listen – 3:18)
Psalm 10 (Listen – 2:13)

 

20170405

Rats in the Cellar

Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth.

―C.S. Lewis

Lenten Reflection: Rats in the Cellar
By C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case.

When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed.

And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.

On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is. If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul.

Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.

And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act?

But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.

*Abridged from C.S. Lewis’, Mere Christianity.

Prayer: The Refrain

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death light has blazed forth.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 8 (Listen – 5:06)
Psalm 9 (Listen – 2:21)

 

20170404

Evil and the Cross

The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out.

―N.T. Wright

Lenten Reflection: Evil and the Cross

By Steven Dilla

“Theologies of the cross, of atonement, have not in my view grappled sufficiently with the larger problem of evil,” laments N.T. Wright in God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil. Any Christian who can discuss the individual nature of salvation while struggling to articulate the impact of Christ’s death and resurrection on the greater evils of the world can relate.

Dr. Wright believes modern reading of the Scriptures have skewed toward individualism, causing us to read over the full work of Christ. He continues:

Once we learn to read the Gospels in a holistic fashion, we hear them telling us that the death of Jesus is the result both of the major political evil of the world, the power-games which the world was playing as it still does, and of the dark, accusing forces which stand behind those human and societal structures, forces which accuse creation itself of being evil, and so try to destroy it while its creator is longing to redeem it.

What the Gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it’s there, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it. The call of the Gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world.

Once we begin working out the fullness of Christ’s passion, Wright believes, “The cross becomes the sign by which, and by which alone, we go to address the wickedness of the world.” In other words, evil writ large—terrorism, natural disasters, immorality in our field of work, and injustices in government, economics, and every other social system—is redeemed through our daily embrace of the suffering servant.

As Christians we can reject the sacred calling to join Christ in this work by trying to solve the problem of evil apart from God. Wright explains:

The church is never more at risk than when it sees itself merely as the solution-bearer, and forgets that every day it must say “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and allow that confession to work its way into genuine humility even as it stands boldly before the world and its crazy empires.

The Gospels thus tell the story, unique in the world’s great literature, religious theories, and philosophies: the story of the creator God taking responsibility for what’s happened to creation, bearing the weight of its problems on his own shoulders.

Prayer: The Refrain

I will walk in the presence of the LORD* in the land of the living. —Psalm 116.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 7 (Listen – 5:13)
Psalm 7-8 (Listen – 2:58)