Forward Toward Grace

You can move forward in your life. It may come at a price, in fact, it will, it always does. But, you can move forward. I think I’ve been learning just a little bit more about how grace works in that way.

A typical baby is born with the same anatomy and feature of a full grown adult. However, the typical human baby has a long way to go in terms of physical, emotional, and moral development in order to become that full grown adult human. Even if all things progress as we hope they would and a baby reaches roughly age 25 and the frontal cortex is finished “baking,” a human being can still develop and learn and grow.

What is also part of our growing and maturing is our spiritual development. This is much more individualistic. One may even consider it optional as some people do.

One thing I think we need to name though is that our understandings of spiritual formation are all imperfect. Even for those of us who identify as Christian, we need to step back and own up to the reality our faith understandings are imperfect in their own ways. The glut of denominations and sects within the Christian tradition are testimony to this. As a United Methodist clergy, whose denomination is on the verge of breaking apart, I have watched as the journey to schisms has inched closer over the last few decades. And why? In part, I think we have failed again to acknowledge the true nature of our imperfect spirituality.

A few weeks ago I got an anonymous note after our worship from someone who was offended by our prayer of repentance at Communion. They were turned off by it and said other people would be too. It goes like this:

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I found it interesting this person would share their feelings in the way they did. You see, I once had someone profess faith in Jesus Christ who had left church years ago precisely BECAUSE of this prayer. For him, it was because ALL the people, including the pastor, were willing to own our imperfections and confess them.

Simon Tugwell writes, “The first work of grace is simply to enable us to begin to understand what is wrong. It is only when God, in his mercy, gives us knowledge of the truth by means of the scriptures that we can even begin to struggle against evil. Grace does not immediately drive out sin, as we have seen, neither do our sins drive out grace, at least as long as we are in this life.” (50. “Ways of Imperfection”).

We human beings have struggled with power grace has allotted to us. Why do I say that? Because we seem to so selectively apply it. We give plenty of it to ourselves and those of like mind but fail to offer near so much to those who we deem to be our enemies even when the Scriptures make plain our fight is in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6).

While I grew up in the UMC, what kept me here was a deep and rich theology of grace, that God was - is - and will always be - on our side in the war for our souls. As John says, “The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out. (JOHN 1:5,CEV)” We must not be confused by the appearance of outward virtuous words and actions in some who may be inwardly corrupt than those who struggle with outward sinfulness but who are inwardly repentant, humble, and trusting. Beware those whose cup is clean on the outside only, warned Jesus (Matthew 23:25-26).

Each of us walk with wounds and weaknesses. I’m convinced we all belong in some 12 step program because we all need to admit we are helpless and in need of a higher power. The church of Jesus Christ needs to get back to that - back to grace. We need ,a spirituality in Christianity that gets back to greatest commandment, to love Jesus first and love others always. And the world needs the message of grace that the Wesley’s so ardently preached because it is that grace that believes we actually can love Jesus and others, even if we do it imperfectly.

Getting back to grace is our way forward.


Pete said...

As someone who was given a burden that prevented me even starting to heal b4 I was 40; the Lord guides and gives grace even when we don't see it. And has more patience than he gave Job!!!

Jedi Pastor Ken said...

Hey Pete, that is so very true. The grace God gives is there even when we can't see it.

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