Did you ever notice the sign that warns you that the speed limit will soon drop? In some states it says "Reduce Speed Ahead." In other states it reads "Reduced Speed Ahead." What a big difference that one little "d" makes.
The sign that says "Reduce Speed Ahead" is giving an order. It is the one with the power telling everyone else what to do. "You there, SLOW DOWN or else."
On the other hand the sign that reads "Reduced Speed Ahead" is giving a friendly warning, a kindly suggestion -- "If I were you, I'd slow down, the speed limit's lower up ahead and you don't want to get a ticket."
Law and gospel
Is it too much to give these a Lutheran reading and say that one is law and the other is gospel? I don't think so. Often the difference between law and gospel in the Christian life is as small as one little letter; more a matter of nuance, inflection and emphasis than anything else.
Too often we in the church carelessly turn opportunities to speak gospel into occasions of more law-giving. Stewardship, church attendance, morality, etc., frequently become occasions to make rules and give orders rather than provide openings through which people can commune with God and neighbor.
I had two grandmothers. They both loved me (and all their grandchildren) dearly. They both were good to us and were generous to us from within their limited means.
One was what Mark Twain called, "a good woman in the worst sort of way." She lived by a rigid, somewhat Victorian, code of behavior and expected her grandchildren to comply with that code. She sternly gave us instructions on how to behave.
The other was what I came to call my "grace place." She had a similar understanding of moral behavior but she encouraged it through conversation and questions and by the way she treated us and others in her life.
We are signposts
I believe we, both as individuals and as the ELCA, are called to be a "grace place" for the world. It may require for some of us a tiny shift in perspective, a shift as small as the letter "d."
We are called to think about how we say things to others, how we tell them about the goodness and love of God, how we live before others the life God has called us to.
We are called to be signposts on the road of life, like John the Baptist pointing others down the road to Jesus. What does our sign say? Is our sign law or gospel? Does it demand and repel? Or does it invite and welcome?
Originally posted June 29, 2011, at ELCA Southeastern Synod Blog. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Delmer Chilton’s entry at ELCA Southeastern Synod Blog at Lutheran Blogs.