Thursday, March 25, 2010

Which comes first

In his recent address on the Day 1 radio program Rev. Dr. Robert Dunham of University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, N.C. used the idea of the radical nature of the parable of the Prodigal Son to recount something he said to one of his parishoners. After "another" sermon about grace, the man said he was ready for Dr. Dunham to "stop preaching about grace and start preaching about repentance. After all", he said, "repentance is always the precursor of grace". Dr. Dunham's response was:

"There is not a single instance in the Gospels," I said, rather assertively, wondering even in the moment if I were right, "when Jesus requires repentance before he extends grace or healing or hospitality. Not one! Repentance is a response to God's grace, not a prerequisite for it. Grace always comes first."

I've always heard we can't grasp how culturally radical some of the parables were because to us it's, for example, no big deal for a child to want his inheritance and leave and do bad stuff and come back and have a feud with his brother and then the dad throws a party.

That's a standard show for Jerry Springer. But if the grace before repentance thing is true. Now that's radical.

If if that's how we have to offer grace in order to receive in that way; then I might have to "watermelon, watermelon"* over a couple of lines of the Lord's prayer this Sunday.

*When I sing in the choir, the director usually encourages me; rather than voice the words, to mouth "watermelon, watermelon," because it looks like I'm singing along, but no one can hear me.

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