The Astonished Heart

The late Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon is well-known for his books on the parables. Always one to push the theological envelope, late in his life he penned a little treasure called The Astonished Heart: Reclaiming the Good News from the Lost-and-Found of Church History. (Eerdmans, 1996). Every open space at the front is filled with delicious quotes from the small tome that I have collected, evidencing it’s deep resonance with me. I’d love to simply share them with you, in hopes that maybe you’ll want to stop by and talk about them, or better yet borrow the book or buy it and see for yourself. Here we go!

“The Church is not a transactional agency through which God designs to reward the cooperative with his cooperation; rather, it is a simple fellowship of trust in the universal work of God who has promised to include everybody.”

“Faith is not a gadget by which I can work wonders. It is trust in a person who can– and who has promised me he already has.”

“The Gospel, at its root is immoral, not moral. It lets scoundrels in free for nothing. It’s an outrageously unethical offer not to count anybody’s sins at all, because the Lamb of God simply stopped counting when he drew everybody to himself on the cross.”

“Religion is always a transaction— always something that people do for God in order to get God to do something for them. But since the Gospel is the proclamation that God has once and for all done everything that needs doing, Christianity as a religion is always at odds with the Gospel…this is one of the biggest problems we now have. Christianity is not a religion; it’s the proclamation of the end of religion. Religion is a human activity dedicated to the job of reconciling God to humanity and humanity to self. The Gospel, however — the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — is the astonishing announcement that God has done the whole work of reconciliation without a scrap of human assistance. The essence of any religion is the promise that, if it is followed diligently, God will smile on its practitioners. But the Gospel with which the church is entrusted says that God has already smiled on the whole world in Jesus.”

“Defending the boundaries of a religious institution is the church’s fastest way to forget that the God it represents is genuinely concerned with the world beyond the institution.”

“The world has long been convinced that the church’s main business is sin prevention, and that the salvation we proclaim is a matter of getting people to straighten up and fly right. We ought to think two-hundred-times twice before we risk throwing salvation by grace alone into the angelic trash more than we already have. Our two thousand-year love affair with excommunication — with the expulsion of sinners, heretics, and troublemakers– has been a disaster for the Good News of free grace.”

“The common life of a people is defined not so much by their doing the same thing at the same time (20 million Americans watching a rerun of ‘NYPD Blue’ are not a community) as it is by bearing in their bones the astonishing story of who they were and what they are.”

and the book’s concluding words:

“The church is not a club; it is a divine Mystery — the body of him who fills all in all and who, when he is lifted up, draws all to himself. We are in dance of desire over which we have no final power to throw a wet blanket. The thirst of the astonished heart lies at the root of all thirsts, however trivial, and it is the thirsty, therefore — and the hungry, the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead — who are the sacraments of the church’s hope. Only fools, of course, willingly embrace these conditions. But the Divine Fool who dies and rose needs only one of them — himself– to bring the dance to its wild conclusion. Even if all the rest of us are tripping over our own feet to the end of time…. even if we never get the dance of desire right, God never gets it wrong. Resurrection reigns wherever there is death; and with it comes the joy of the really Good News: the dance into the New Creation in Christ will always be alive and well. Desire, however we manage it, can always explode into astonishment.”

Love from here, to you wherever you are, and however you are!

Peter Hawkinson

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