Good Morning! It is a bright, cool day in Binghamton–a welcome change from the humidity of the entire month of August. We finally climbed back onto the internet with a podcast about all the things we were happy we didn’t have to talk about all month. Things like Kenosha and Mr. Falwell and how the whole world is burning down. It’s epically long, and we round it all out with a plug for the Joel Osteen Inspirational Cube, which only costs 39.99$ plus shipping and handling. Hope this makes your whole week bearable!
Here are some links, first, but scroll down for what I wrote yesterday but was unable to post for unknown Patheos technical reasons.
Here is the Joel Osteen cube.
This is important.
I meant to clean out my whole house but I read this instead.
If you didn’t know anything about Jerry Falwell Jr.
Honestly, I don’t have any other links, I spent the whole month trying to read books. Consider this my virtue signal of the day. Read my blog post below instead:
What Kind of Person Would Try to Prevent Grace?
Well, let us see if I can remember how to blog on a Sunday morning. A lot of lovely texts floated by me this month, and I sat in the pew sometimes and wondered if I would have had anything to say about them, and then my mind floated elsewhere. Mostly around the always strange reality that God, who could do anything really, would choose to come and argue with people like Peter, or the Pharisees, and would, in getting the upper hand, somehow accomplish the salvation of the world—a salvation that often feels miserly and perilous, and yet so necessary, encompassing, as it does, the healing of the sick, the feeding of the hungry, the calming of the howling and destructive wind and rain.
Anyway, here we have endured through the whole month of August this long saga in Matthew of Jesus being always at odds with the Pharisees and Leaders of Israel, of doing mighty works and yet never being enough for anyone. And today, of all days, it is more contentious and exasperating than ever.
I say of all days because the collect hearkens to the name of this blog. In the new 2019 ACNA book, it says this:
O Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow after us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Now, this is a very nice prayer, and one worth praying every day. And it might remind you of this one:
Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sometimes people read this blog and look at the name and understand that I am a bad person. What kind of person wants to “prevent” grace? Only bad people would want to stop God from doing the nice things he is going to do. And that’s true. We are all bad people, all of us, both individually and all together, and we are generally bent on stopping—hindering—God. Look at the dreadful little interchange between Peter and Jesus in the gospel for this morning:
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
It seems, at first glance, like a nice thing to tell someone who has explained to you that he is going to die, brutally, that he is, in fact, not going to die. Don’t die! That’s the nicer thing to say. In fact, if someone feels like he wishes he could die, and wants to bring it about, it would be beyond cruel not to try to “prevent,” to “hinder,” to “stop” him. But Jesus isn’t an ordinary person. And he isn’t articulating a death wish, as any one of us might, no matter how bad things are in the year of our Lord, 2020.
Jesus is speaking prophetically about what is certain to happen. He will suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day be raised. He has already explained why this has to happen. He has spoken both plainly and in parables. He has performed mighty works that authenticate his divine nature. He is God. He has come to save you and me and Peter and everyone. And Peter, who just made that extraordinary confession—”You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”—hears only the word “killed” and not any of the other ones, and doesn’t even begin to glimpse the implication of “on the third day be raised” and gets right in the way to declare that this must not be so. Peter would like to “prevent” Jesus. And so Jesus likens him to Satan and says he must get out of the way. Jesus will not be hindered or prevented from doing what he came to do.
The word “prevent” is key, in this case. As I said, now it means to stop someone from doing something bad, to prevent disaster, to prevent someone from saying something or going somewhere or doing something. Prevention, in fact, is a good part of medicine. If you can have certain kinds of screenings for certain illnesses, you can prevent them from causing certain death. Similarly, most of my job as a parent, at least it was in the early years, was preventing certain tragedy. I prevented my children from running across busy streets, prevented them from eating garbage, prevented them from putting their hands on the hot stove…the list is endless.
And yet, when I look at God, I never want him to prevent me from doing anything I want. When I desire something, I do not want to be prevented from attaining it. Any hindrance that stands in my path is an annoyance. Why I can understand this when it is a small child but not when I am mindlessly scrolling through the internet as a middle-aged adult and irritated by some small delay in the page loading, is a great irony.
Anyway, “preventing” didn’t always mean to stop or to hinder. It used to mean “to go before, to anticipate.” Etymology Online says, “to go come,” and “anticipate to hinder,” which I think is a very nice circle of expressions to describe how it is exactly that God keeps us from wandering into the darkness of hell.
Because that’s really what this is about. “Preventing” Grace is regenerative grace. To quote myself on my blog explanation:
…preventing used to mean to go before. It was the word Christian thinkers used to describe God’s work of regeneration, the changing of stubborn, hardened, grumbling stone cold hearts into slightly less stubborn and moderately less grumbly hearts of flesh. This Preventing Grace is how the Father draws sinners to repentance and faith in his Son Jesus. And it is also how God continues to carry us throughout our lives, preventing us by grace, so that we, despite our efforts to prevent him, remain with him to the last day.
Though we would, like Peter, hinder God, would stand in his way, would stop him from being God, would explain to him how he is wrong, yet he is the one who anticipates our destruction, who goes all the way into the pit of hell to pull the sinner out of the mire of everlasting destruction and set him on dry ground.
Jesus turns to the rest of his gathered disciples after his stinging rebuke of Peter and makes it worse, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Not only will Jesus go to the cross for the sake of those he loves, he will bring each one along with him.
What kind of a grace is this? This death dealing invitation to come along with Jesus, to throw down every hindrance and pick up the most shameful, violent, hideous instrument of death—not to deal it out to others, but to die shamefully and painfully to the self? That is what the believer learns so painfully, stumbling along in the wake of Jesus, seeing over and over again how deep was the pit out of which he was drawn, how great is the darkness that Jesus eradicates from the soul, how cruel the words and actions of the human heart that Jesus over and over again stops, forgives, mends, and ultimately heals. Jesus is a “continual help” with his “most gracious favor.”
So anyway, it’s good to be back! Hope to see you in church sometime!