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The Charter of Grace

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Jesus Lays it All Out

The text for this All-Saints Sunday is Matthew 5:1-12.  This is the start of the Sermon on the Mount.  This portion is known as the Beatitudes.  Or as a priest I heard once put it, the “Be Attitudes”.  This text played an enormous role in the theological thinking of Lutheran theologian and martyr to the Nazis Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It was from this teaching that he developed the idea of “cheap grace”, that he developed in his seminal work The Cost of Discipleship

The idea of cheap grace is a life lived “in faith” without that faith changing you in any substantial way.  As Bonhoeffer put in on page 30 of The Cost of Discipleship: Cheap Grace is “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”  This contrasts with the costliness of what God gave to humanity in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son.

Jesus in this passage lays it all out as to what living a life fueled by grace look like.  The language of this text is powerful precisely because it touches the depths of what it is to live a fully human life.  This is something we know instinctively.  We know how we are to treat one another in any given moment.  We know the kind of world we are to try and build.  We also know, as Jesus points out in Verse 11, what the cost of this discipleship is.  This is what makes all this so hard for fallen creatures such as us.

What’s A Wretch To Do?

Knowing what to do is not the same thing as being able to successfully accomplish it.  All we really know for sure is that we will fall far short of the glory of God, as Paul reminds us.  This means that all we can really do is to try.  Make the effort, keep on keeping on, using the words of Bob Dylan.  When we inevitably faceplant, pick yourself up, ask God’s forgiveness and try again.  Not being trapped by a theology dependent upon “earning our salvation” frees us to know that we, as humans will fail, and that God still loves us and will always forgive us.  We seek to live a life of grace precisely because God has given us everything.

Therefore this is such a powerful passage.  This shows us how we are to live.  This becomes the charter for a life lived by grace (I think this this the way Bonhoeffer put it explicitly).  The soaring language can give us strength and hope to persevere in our discipleship.  This can be a beacon of light in our dark days as we struggle as all fallen creatures will.  It is a text that we should turn to time and again when we need to remember who we are and to whom we belong.

We should also realize why this passage is placed on All Saints Sunday.  We are all called to such a saintly life of discipleship.  This passage reminds us of that fact, as well as the fact that every saint needs a charter to help guide them.  This is then the charter of obedience for those who already believe.

Praise Be to God

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