Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dad Had It Right

Rev. Edwin A. Trench 1928-2006
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.  Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
Romans 5:15,18

Dad died ten years ago today. 

It is perhaps just as well that he did not live to see our recent election. 

He might have mispronounced "misogynist," but he would not have been quiet about electing one to the white house. 

To say that he was outspoken would be an understatement. That's not always an advantage for a pastor. But to his credit, he never counted the cost of his witness in personal terms. 

Those who regularly read this blog know that over the past eighteen months I have written frequently about the issues, but I stopped short of endorsing a candidate. 

There are two major reasons for making that choice. First, I believe that although the gospel is an intensely political document, it transcends partisan politics. And although Jesus, like the Hebrew prophets before him, proclaimed an undeniably political message, we should not identify that message with one party or candidate. And second, I believe that I need to be a pastor to everyone, regardless of their politics. Endorsing a candidate would compromise that relationship.

Dad saw it differently.

For him, it was always about justice. He looked for the practical application of the gospel in contemporary life. And he was never afraid to tell you what he saw. In his mind, he had no choice.

His outspoken witness often got him into trouble, but that never kept him quiet.

His willingness to say what needed to be said was impressive, but his greatest gifts were as a pastor rather than as a prophet.

A few years ago, before a graveside service for a distant member of the church, a woman came over and introduced herself. She told me that she belonged to a neighboring United Methodist church and that she was a Lay Speaker, and a leader in that church. “I remember your father,” she said. He was the pastor in Coventry when I was a teenager.”

“He came to visit at our house and he was talking to my mother. And he invited me to come to the youth group. I told him that I didn’t really believe in Jesus, so I didn’t want to come to the youth group.

“My mother was so embarrassed. And she was so angry with me. But your father just smiled. ‘That’s okay,’ he said. ‘You think about it, and if you want to attend, we’d love to have you.’ He didn’t get upset. And he didn’t tell me I was wrong to think that way. I’ll always remember that. 

“And then later I went to the youth group and it was great. But I’ll always remember the way he reacted.”

When the great theologian Karl Barth was asked to sum up his many complex volumes of “Church Dogmatics,” he said, 

Jesu liebt mich, ganz gewiss,
Denn die Bibel sagt mir dies

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

That would also have summarized Dad’s theology, although it sounded much more profound coming from Barth. Dad was not a theologian, but he was a pastor, and he understood the practical application of the faith pastorally as well as politically.

He was convinced that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” And he was convinced that God’s grace, in Christ, extended to everyone, whether they believed it or not. Sadly, Dad’s intuitive response to a questioning teen made a lasting impression in part because it was not what she expected from those who call themselves Christians.

In Paul’s exposition of Christ as the New Adam, his basic assertion is that in Adam we have all sinned and in Christ we have all been justified (forgiven and made right with God).

For two thousand years, the majority interpretation of that passage has been that the first “all” refers to everyone (everyone has sinned) and the second “all” refers only to baptized Christian believers. 

Ironically, this notion that sin is unlimited while grace is restricted, is one more evidence of our tendency to “sin” in our biblical interpretation. So (ironically) it proves the first of Paul’s assertions. We are all self-centered and we want to believe that grace applies only to us and to the people who think like us. We believe in sin, but we have doubts about grace.

Why is that? In traditional language, it’s because we are “sinners.”

But Dad had it right.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

Parts of this post were originally published on November 29, 2010.

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