Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sermon: Karl Barth

Sermon for December 9, 2014 
10:00 Healing Service
Feast Day of Karl Barth (obs)
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
For online access to the readings click here
I speak to you in the name of One God:
Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. Amen

“Don’t look where you don’t want to go
Look only where you want to go”

This was the only advice my mountain biking coach offered 
as we turned our bikes along the steep downhill 
single-track path on this Colorado mountain.

The trouble was, I was constantly looking at either the rock or root that was sticking up and in the path, that I had to ride over, or
I was looking at the steep canyon to my left that gave me a fright just considering how I might fall.

“Look only where you want to go
Not where you don’t…
And your bike will follow
The wheels will simply roll over whatever it is.”

Look only where you want to go.

To me, this example (while relatively benign)
captures the essence of what Paul was saying
in his Epistle to the Romans,
“I do not do what I want
I do the very thing that I hate…
With my mind I am a slave to the law of God and
with my flesh a slave to the law of sin…”

And this is the essence of Karl Barth’s “dialectical theology” – that God’s relationship to humanity is both grace and judgment.  He called this the paradoxical nature of the Divine truth.

Karl Barth - a Swiss reformed pastor and professor
of the early 1900s.
What do you know about him?

Karl Barth was a giant of theology…
We hear that he was
·        Born in 1886 in Switzerland
·        Studied in prestigious universities
·        Pastored in Geneva and Safenwil during WWI
·        The experience of which
o   informed him in his writing a commentary on Romans in 1918
o   where he addressed the doctrines of
§  God’s sovereignty and
§  Human Sin
o   (which he believed had been excluded from theological discourse of the time)
·        In 1934 he was instrumental in the Confessional Church, the faith leaders who confessed Christ as Lord, not Hitler (The Barmen declaration)
o   That the church’s allegiance to God in Christ mean a moral imperative to challenge the rule and violence of Hitler
o   This led to his resigning professorship at Univ of Bonn
·        Continued in his writing until 1968 the 13-volume “Church Dogmatics” which reassessed the entire Christian Theological Tradition
·        Pope Pius XII called him the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas

Barth articulated three main theological notions:
1.     God’s Word as the definite source of revelation
2.     Incarnation as the bridge between God’s revelation and human sin
3.     The election of the creation at God’s great end

Clearly, Barth was gifted with intellect, a strong sense of justice, a deep faith and had a way of
doing theology that comes out of experience.
But what does that mean, “doing theology”?
Webster defines theology as : 
·        the study of religious faith, practice, and experience;
·        especially :  the study of God and of God's relation to the world

So Barth, I believe, modeled a curiosity for God’s relationship to the world.  With his gift of articulation, he was able to influence many people with imaging God’s presence and God’s relationship to humanity and the world.

And so, let’s take a moment to consider
the notion of “doing” theology. 
What does this look like for us, today? 
Think of an experience you had – what was God’s relationship to that experience?

One of my supervisors while working as a chaplain used to invite us all to consider WIGIAT. Where Is God In All This?  or

In today’s gospel, Jesus offers that
“everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.”
Is that what happens when I rely on my own
strength to push away the temptation
to look at the rocks and roots in my way?

Today’s good news is that Jesus makes us free.  Jesus has a permanent place in God’s household.  Jesus frees us and empowers us
to look at where we want to go,
not where we don’t.

In this season of Advent, sometimes “little Lent,”
In the watching and waiting for WIGIAT,
In the anticipation of incarnation and joy,
We give thanks for grace in our lives, so that we may “do theology” and recognize Love
in the face of each other.  Amen

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