I’ve been a pastor for what feels like a ridiculously long time at this moment. I’m 40 approaching 41, but it feels like I’ve been a pastor for a couple of centuries. I’m pretty sure I remember pastoring a church without electricity, running by lanterns and heated by a wood stove. Of course, it also feels like I’ve lived about a decade in the last 4 months, so that might be part of it.
Before we get too far, let me define grace. I mean this: unmerited favor. The disposition of love, kindness and goodwill to benefit or serve someone. That practice that exemplifies what we have received from God in his divine favor towards us, showing us kindness and forgiveness when we do not deserve it. Also, something beautiful and elegant.
Every election year gets billed as the most important election in recent history. Which I’m pretty sure is just a way of excusing horrible behavior. It’s a way of saying: “I probably shouldn’t be saying this or sharing this, but this is an important year and it needs to be said.” Maybe not. But maybe.
This year has been the most divisive years of my life. I’m not talking about any single issue. In fact, it’s the same in every issue from many on both sides of the debate. I’m talking about our response to them and the response of the media and our leaders. I have never heard or seen such vitreal on a constant basis.
But that’s not really even the point. At this moment in our culture, we seem to have any sense of grace. No matter the good someone may have done, if they make one misstep, they are going to get slaughtered. This is especially true for our leaders. We expect them to live perfectly at times in all situations. We expect them to live to every expectation of every person. And when they don’t, we take them to the curb and give them a pretty good lashing along the way.
Here’s the thing: There is no perfect leader. There is no perfect person. You are not perfect, I am not perfect. We are a bunch of imperfect people doing our best with the skill set and knowledge that we have acquired up to this point in our lives.
In fact, intuition is really only acquired by making mistakes. The reason a 14 year old doesn’t have any intuition about life is because they haven’t made enough mistakes to be able to start sensing when something bad is coming. The more mistakes we make that cause us pain in one way or another, the more developed our intuition will become.
That’s a problem when you’re not allowed to make mistakes. If there is no grace for mistakes, we will never be able to learn from them. There is an expectation of living to a standard that we haven’t been able to learn how to live yet.
“But, they should know better!” People will say. Maybe. Have you ever done something with good intentions that had a bad result? I have. Several times. My intent was to help, but people received it the wrong way. Whether it was a poorly worded sentence I said in person or in an email/letter or if it was a decision I made.
We have completely lost any concept of grace. Unmerited favor. The disposition of love, kindness and goodwill to benefit or serve someone.
It’s what the church is built on. The Grace of God poured out on us because of the cross of Christ. It’s the foundation of the commandment Jesus gave in the upper room to love one another as He has loved us. How did He love us? He gave his life for us? How do we love one another? Well, we’re supposed to lay down our lives for one another. Except, there’s not a whole lot of that happening anymore.
The community of Christ is supposed to be marked by selflessness, serving one another out of love. But, it’s hard to lay down your life when you’re fighting for your own rights.
My question is: How has an institution built on grace moved so far from it?
I get it. The church has made mistakes. Leaders have made mistakes. Some leaders have done awful things. But, what makes those leaders less deserving of Grace than ourselves?
What’s really challenging is that not only have we stopped giving grace to people and leaders within the church, we seem to have lost all ability to show grace to people and leaders outside the church.
We didn’t do anything to earn Jesus’ death on that cross. Our ability to have a right standing with God is purely a gift. Not, even 1/1000th of a percent of it has been earned. God didn’t give it because we deserved it. He gave it because he wants us to be his people. He gave it because He loves his created ones. He made us in His image and He wants us to experience the fullness of that image inside and out.
And he has us here on this planet for the purpose of shining his light. How are we to shine his light if we don’t give grace.
I’m not concerned about those outside the church being graceless. I’m concerned that we inside the church seem to have lost touch with our founding value. Ironically we seem to be reverting to some form of Justice driven religion. We sing out, overwhelmed with God’s grace for ourselves. But where is the grace coming out of our lives to the people around us?
Jesus was being crucified and while he was hanging on the cross he was interceding for the people who were killing him. Would we do that? Or would we be like the other criminal who joined in hurling insults, hanging on the cross for our own sins, needing a mountain of grace for ourselves and still incapable of expressing grace for another?
Jesus said to His disciples that the world would know we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love one another. A key component of love is grace. When you love someone, they’re going to need grace at some time. Even though they may doing the exact opposite, we give them grace. Could the world tell that we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love one another and show grace to one another? If non-believers watched your social media feed, would they know you’re a Christian by your love? Or would they assume you’re a Christian because of all the judgmental posts?
Should we just let everything go? No. That’s not grace either. But some of us run so quick to judge that you’d think the ice cream truck was coming.
What if we were first overly gracious? What if we were as gracious as we could possibly be with one another in the church and with our leaders? What if we gave our governmental leaders grace, understanding they have an incredibly difficult job, that they live in the age of a 24 hour news cycle, where every move gets dissected before you’ve even finished the sentence.
What if we were known for being gracious? What if we gave people favor long before they could do anything to earn it? What if we had a general disposition of love instead of hate? What if our default position was kindness? What if we sought to be perpetrators of good will for the benefit of others, serving people no matter who they are, what they look like or if they believe something totally different than we do?
What if I told you that you’re ability to be a gracious person wasn’t dependant on someone else’s belief system lining up with your own? The belief system of the Jews or the Romans didn’t line up with what Jesus taught. But that didn’t stop Him from showing grace.
Maybe we could be more like that?