Tag Archives: Law vs Gospel

Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 22, 2019) in Year A

Faithfulness and Creativity: Robert Saler reflects on the example of Saint Joseph.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 
(originally written by Robert Saler in 2013)

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

The readings for the fourth Sunday in Advent continue the theme of God’s grace rupturing our quotidian ways of being in the world, and the ways in which the coming of Christ provides a new angle on God’s revelation. This way of framing the matter is important: while Christians affirm that God’s revelation was and is uniquely disclosed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the entire plausibility of the gospels’ narrative framework depends upon Israelite religiosity. This is particularly true in the story of Joseph: while Christians regard Joseph as a hero of the faith for abiding by God’s plan, the entire theological underpinning of Joseph’s encounter with the angel depends upon the rich tradition of Israelite encounter with the divine.

Striking for our purposes, though, is what we might call Joseph’s creative and even “faithful” disobedience to the Hebrew Bible. Much has been made of the fact that Joseph, having discovered seemingly indisputable evidence of his wife’s infidelity to him, could have exposed her to shame, legal punishment, and even death as revenge against her; instead, he chooses simply to end the betrothal without compromising her integrity. This, in and of itself, is an action of what Peter Rollins might call faithful infidelity to the law—by refusing to abide by the letter of the law, Joseph embodies its spirit. Too much Lutheran preaching has occluded the fact that the “law” as the nation of Israel encountered it was in fact a gift of grace from God, a gift that fashioned God’s people and bestowed upon them an identity in a world in which they would be perpetual underdogs. Joseph, by his action, embodies a kind of virtuosic inhabiting of that spirit of grace, but does so precisely by going against his rights under the “law.”

The notion that God’s grace is a kind of deconstructive force that undermines the letter of the law in order to disclose the fundamentally benevolent and life-giving structures of God’s interaction with the world is, of course, a foundational Lutheran premise. Grace does not cancel the law, but it operates in a kind of faithful infidelity to it in order to save sinners. If the law condemns sinners to death, then grace—bestowed by the same God who gives the law—removes the law’s penalty in order to demonstrate God’s redemptive love for what God has made.

A theological maxim that undergirds much of what happens at this site, Lutherans Restoring Creation, is that Christian theology is in need of a “new Reformation,” one that will gradually but permanently shift the center of Christian theology away from understandings of the faith that breed apathy or even hostility towards creation to those that highlight earth-honoring and care for creation as essential aspects of Christian vocation. Those of us who work within that maxim do not view that theological work as entailing the introduction of unprecedented novelties into Christian discourse, as if earth-honoring faith requires a wholesale abandonment of what has come before. Instead, we look to the richness of the tradition in order to discern the paths not taken, the potential conceptual resources, and the places within the core of the faith that can support an earth-friendly practice of Christianity. This lack of fidelity to the tradition as it has been conventionally lived out in many Christian circles is, in fact, a way of honoring what is best about the tradition.

Similarly, the task of preaching Advent hope is not a matter of introducing wholesale rupture into the lives of those listening; rather, it is an invitation to all of us to review where we have been and what God has done for us with fresh eyes, and to consider whether the call of newness that comes with Advent is a call to be creatively unfaithful to that which has held us back from life abundant. All of us have lived lives in which the Spirit of life and our own resistance to grace have intertwined and determined our course; thus, the homiletical opportunity to create a space of honoring what has been life-giving about the past, even as we “betray” those assumptions that have held us back from the life that God would have us receive, is a genuine gift of the preacher.

To live faithfully as Christians in a time of ecological danger will require creatively betraying the assumptions under which many of us were raised. It will require the confidence that comes when we realize that the same God who disclosed the shape of grace in Jesus Christ continues to work deeply within the structures of creation, redeeming that which God has made. And it will, most of all, require the sort of love that wages all on the notion that God’s justice is superior to (and more merciful than) our justice and that seeks to remain faithful to that wager against all odds. Inviting the congregation into that wager of love is a powerful Advent opportunity for Christ’s body on this day.

For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288

Sunday June 5-11 in Year B (Schade15)

Act, and Do Not Lose Hope!Leah Schade reflects on living in a house divided against itself.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 

Readings for Sunday June 5-11, Year B (2015, 2018, 2021, 2024) 

Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1
Mark 3:20-35

“If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand,” (Mark 3:25). So notes Jesus when answering accusations that he is in league with demonic forces and drawing on them for his power to exorcise those same spirits. The readings today can be explored through an eco-hermeneutic with the following question: What does it mean to live in a house divided against itself?

It is worth noting that the Greek word for house is oikos, from which we derive words such as “ecology” and “economy.” When we think of the “house” in expanded terms to include the very Earth itself – the household we share with our Earth-kin—we can see that there has been a disconnect between humanity and God’s Creation. Human beings are spiritually alienated from the soil, the water, the flora and the fauna of the planet we call home. A rupture in the relationship has divorced us from those with whom we share this oikos. Whence began this rupture that has so divided the house? The iconic story in Genesis 3 provides valuable insights.

Most people see this story as the explanation for the concept of Original Sin—the doctrine that all human beings are born into a sinful state because of the fall of Adam and Eve due to their decision to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. But there is another way to view this story. The preacher may want to shift the traditional interpretation of the story of “The Fall” from mere anthropocentric sin to that of original anthropogenic sin—humanity’s first crime against nature. The myth of the “fall” of human beings has specific application to the current environmental crisis. This story shows us that God set out limits for human beings in how they were to exist in the garden. For the good of Adam and Eve, for the good of the tree, for the good of the entire garden, God essentially said: “This far and no farther.” God established a boundary for the mutual protection of the relationship between humankind and the created world.

But the original humans neither respected these boundaries nor obeyed the limits God set for them. They ignored the warnings, flouted the rules, and crossed the line. There’s almost a feeling of entitlement we sense from Eve and Adam’s rationalization of their disobedience. It’s as if they’re saying, “This is our garden after all. God gave it to us. We should be allowed to do anything we want with it. Look, the fruit is good to eat. It will make us smarter, better, richer. God just doesn’t want us to be like God. God’s afraid we’ll know what God knows. And why shouldn’t we?”

And because of this arrogance, there is an immediate cascade of events that shatters the relationships of paradise. The humans hide from God, and are not honest with God or themselves. They blame each other, and they blame one of God’s creatures for the temptation. They refuse to accept responsibility for what has happened, but the consequences are unavoidable. The house is now divided. From that point on, their relationship with the earth is cursed: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:17b, RSV). All because of human beings’ insistence that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it, no matter what the cost or the consequence.

And now this house that has been divided against itself is collapsing. Our preaching must honestly name the truth that we see around us by pointing out the ways in which our anthropogenic sin is polluting the air, water and land. In Lutheran theological terms, this is the Law we must articulate in order for the mirror to be held up to what is really there. Only by honestly confronting this reality can we open ourselves to Jesus’ power and begin to counteract the demonic forces at work. In the words of Tom Ravetz in the Journal for the Renewal of Religion and Theology, we “can accept the reality of the situation without flinching because we see its place in the development of the world. We see, too, where we can help to redeem it, letting its deeper meaning shine forth. We can accept the reality of the dying earth, because we know that we are engaged in its re-enlivening” (Tom Ravetz, “Reenlivening the Dying Earth,” Journal for the Renewal of Religion and Theology, December 2006).

Rather than speak about this rupture in a general way, the preacher would do well to refer to a context-specific environmental problem that will concretize the message for listeners. For example, what is a local waterway or abandoned lot or brownfield site or air quality issue that has an impact on the hearers’ lives and community? In what ways has this issue caused a rupture in the oikos and harmed the kin of the household?

Take care that the sermon does not end with guilt-inducing Law that leaves the listener without hope. Rather, our preaching must proclaim God’s intention and action to heal and restore the oikos. For instance, what are things that are being done, or have been done, to address the problem? What local groups are pulling trash out of the river? What legislation is being proposed to address the air quality issue? What faith communities have come together to plant community gardens to help feed their neighbors? Knowing that this work is being done—and inviting listeners to join in those efforts—helps to proclaim the Gospel so that the faithful recognize the “sisters, brothers and mothers” of Jesus doing the work to repair the ruptures, heal the wounds, and set the house aright.

By lifting up these instances of hope, we realize that, in fact, Jesus is not aligned with the demonic, but with the divine. All of his miracles, exorcisms, teachings, and walk to Calvary clearly demonstrate his commitment not to dividing the house, but to uniting it under God’s healing love. It is that love that enables us to wait, as Psalm 130 entreats us, and not to lose heart, as Paul encourages us.

Originally written by Leah Schade in 2015.

Read more by Leah Schade at www.patheos.com/blogs/ecopreacher/