I usually don’t do this, but today’s lectionary reading is Romans 9:1-5, and I discovered that I’ve already blogged about this passage, and this post is one of my favorites. It’s also unusually timely, considering all the Ebola outbreaks in the news (Lord, have mercy!). Enjoy!
Last night my wife and I had some friends over to play board games. The first game we played was “Pandemic.”
The premise of the game: 4 diseases are infecting the planet. You’re a CDC team (all the players playing), who must work together to build research centers, travel to infected cities, and cure these 4 diseases before one of the diseases reaches critical mass, or before too many cities experience disease “outbreaks” into neighboring cities. It’s a devastatingly difficult game, where you all work together really well and the game will still win. It’s also a lot of fun.
And then this morning, I opened up Barth on Romans 9, where he launches into a detailed description of the Church: “Here breaks out the veritable God-sickness.” Praise be to the Spirit, who “works all things together.”
Romans 9:1-5 | “The Tribulation of the Church: Solidarity”
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Okay, I admit I was a little lost when I re-read Paul — Why is Barth writing about the Church if Paul is writing about Israel? — until I understood that Barth sees Israel as the Church, as the original “called out ones.” His treatment of the Church is cataclysmic and over-the-top, but I will definitely have to return to it when I begin studying “ecclesiology” with more attention.
The Church…is the place where the eternity of revelation is transformed into a temporal, concrete, directly visible thing in this world…In the Church, faith, hope, and love are directly possessed, and the Kingdom of God directly awaited, with the result that men band themselves together to inaugurate it, as though it were a THING which men could have and await and work for…To sum up: the Church is the endeavor to make the incomprehensible and unavoidable Way intelligible to men.
What an amazing and weighty thing to say of the Church.
[note: Barth is “not here concerned with some debased form of religion, but with the ideal and perfect Church.” I’m not sure that this distinction is possible from a pragmatic view, but then, Barth, a dialectical theologian, takes on “impossible possibilities” all the time.]
What if we (local churches) gathered together Sunday morning expecting “the eternity of revelation” and banding together to “await” and “inaugurate” the Kingdom of God? What if we lived our day-in, day-out lives seeking “to make the incomprehensible and unavoidable Way [Jesus Christ!] intelligible to men”: with our words, with our time, with our bodies, with our credit cards, with our whole lives?
Last night, we had cured 3 of the 4 diseases, and were sure we would easily defeat the 4th within the next 4 turns. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the game turned on us and wiped out all of Europe with a disease we had already cured. The frustration and defeat was palpable. Barth writes: “The God-sickness of men will always tend to break out in new forms.” Barth’s vision of the Church seems to be another “impossible possibility.” But what if we saw the Kingdom of God — this “God-sickness” — to be just as inevitable as one of these fictitious plagues: overrunning city after city, spreading from continent to continent so rapidly and fully that no cultural obstacle or human stubbornness or political legislation could turn it back? Would we not be eager and excited to stand in solidarity with the Church, because “here breaks out the veritable God-sickness”?