Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The dead body IS the law. . .

There are times when the law is obvious, when sin does not have to be described in detail or when people do not need convincing of it's reality.  The funeral is one of those moments.  Sitting in the chancel of the church or in the funeral home, the body is the unmistakable evidence of sin and of death's claim on us.  The pastor does not need to be creative in describing the reason why we need to here the Gospel and be rescued by hope. The simple gesture of the hand toward the box that holds the remains says it all.  From dust we came and to dust we shall return.  But all of that is changing. . .

We live in an age in which there are great efforts inside the faith and outside the faith to make death normal, to befriend death or at least make peace with it.  Since we work pretty hard to make sin normal, it should not surprise us that many inside the church and those with nothing to do with the faith or the church have the same goal.  Death is normal.

Although you might think that the effort to make death normal begins with the higher critics who have no confidence in Genesis and believe that as things are is as things should be -- it has touched many beyond the realm of academia.  I encounter gray haired ladies and curmudgeonly old men who routinely suggest that there are worse things than death, living, for example.  Living a life less than you desire or living with disability or living after the mind has ceased to recognize and remember those who are familiar is worse than death.

The news with its vivid portrayals of abuse and abasement gives credence to the idea that for some it might be kinder and better if they had not been born.  I hear it all the time -- not from those who have rejected God and the faith but from those who claim to confess it and who say they believe in the Christ of the cross.  That is the scary thing.

For when sin has become normal and death with it, what is left of the Christian message?  If we were meant to die and if sin is an occasional screw up instead of a mark placed upon our nature, then what do we have to say to those who live in the shadow of death and whose sin is excusable and justifiable?

When we get to the point where the box with a body in it is no longer a clear picture of the law, what of the Gospel is left to proclaim?  And who cares?  Who needs hope if you have made your peace with death and if you have decided that sin may not be sin after all?  The world is a different place from that which Luther found or Christianity encountered in its first centuries.  In Luther's day and in the earliest days of Christianity, death was a real problem and morality was still considered the goal of life.  We struggle today with a culture which has moved onto other questions and seeks other answers.  For this reason, we may not be able to presume the law or sin and it's guilt.  It is a new world, not necessarily brave but certainly challenging.  How will Christianity respond?

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