Two things struck me yesterday. Two very, very important things.
The first happened sitting in the barber shop. I had just finished visiting one of my shut-in members and decided to get my hair chopped before the events of Christmas. A very, very interesting conversation happened in the barber shop.
During the visit, I commented on a particular issue and let slip the word "d@mn." I then said, "I shouldn't have said that."
The lady barber said, "Aww, this is a barber shop. That's allowed."
I said, "It has nothing to do with the location. It has everything to do with my profession."
Of course, I was then asked what I did, and I responded that I was a clergy.
"You're our kind of clergy," came the reply.
Maybe, but as the conversation evolved, maybe not.
For as we visited a very interesting dynamic started concerning justice.
"I believe that if a person commits a murder or rape or something like that, they are going straight to hell," the barber said. "I don't buy any of these priests or pastors who visit with someone on death row and proclaim them forgiven. I was taught that if you do good things and are a good person, you are going to heaven. If you do anything to the contrary, then you are going to hell."
I responded, "I think there is a difference between God's forgiveness and the necessity for justice."
"I don't think so," was the reply.
"And so, is Moses in hell? Because he committed murder."
Silence for a moment. Then a half-hearted joke, "Maybe he should be."
"Don't mess with a pastor who knows the Bible. God operates differently than we do. God offers forgiveness."
It's called grace.
The second piece of note was an article in this month's The Lutheran Magazine titled, "Is the word returning empty? Biblical fluency puts life into the word for daily use."
The article itself is quite intriguing, and the arguments are quite cogent. However, I would argue that we clergy desperately try to help people with biblical fluency. We just haven't been doing a very good job of it. In fact, I would argue the reason we primarily haven't been doing a very good job of it is because we have become consumed with dictating the law.
Now, this is starting to get into some heavier theological concepts, but let me try to keep it relatively simple by saying--instead of focusing on the proclamation of what God has done for us by reconciling the world and us unto himself, we do much more talking about what we should be doing.
It matters not which side of the Christian spectrum one falls upon. The "right" side tends to focus on individual morality. The "left" side tends to focus on community responsibility. The "right" focuses on individual righteousness. The "left" focuses on communal justice. Both emphasize the law.
Sure, each side will say that such emphasis is a response to God's grace; however, I have come to realize that much of the preaching and articles I read from both standpoints give very, very little time to what God has done and why we respond as we do.
In short, we minimize grace--God's action, and emphasize the Law--our action or even inaction.
From a Lutheran perspective--an even I would say an orthodox Christian perspective, this is backwards.
We are pretty fluent in applications of the law and how it relates to our lives, but we aren't so good about being fluent in Grace.
It's awful hard to be fluent in the language of God's love. It's awful hard to be fluent in the language of forgiveness--even for that S.O.B. who murdered a little child. It's awful hard to be fluent in the language of reconciliation--especially if that so and so did something I don't like or voted for the "other guy."
The language of grace; the language of love takes us to a different reality. It takes us to a different place. It leads us to a place of humility and compassion and service--simply because we realize how much we need Christ and His action on the cross.
For that is the ultimate language of love: a willingness to die for your enemies. That's grace. And most of us aren't too fluent in it at all.
Perhaps, God will give us the desire to learn.