Not long ago, Philip Gulley, author and theologian, spoke in our church on the topic of grace, God’s grace. His talk was engaging, humourous, and filled with both current and ancient examples of grace in action. While I will not quote specifics of Gulley’s talk, I did have a visceral reaction that caused me to consider a negative side of grace when applied to our self-centered society.
At the current time we seem to be a fear-based nation. We say “In God We Trust“, but I wonder. This world is confronted with a massive humanitarian crisis, and countries throughout Europe are reaching out, and welcoming displaced persons. Here at home, in this country, founded on Christian principles, we hear Governors and Presidential candidates declaring that no displaced person or family may settle in this country. When other voices speak up and welcome those persons, offering help, then the voices of the fear mongers (candidates?) rise and foretell dire consequences. Where is that Christian principle? Where is grace?
In Luke 19, we have the conversation between Jesus and Zaccheus, a hated tax collector, saying “I have come to stay at your house”. And just that quick, an act of love and grace becomes the source of derision from Christ’s many critics, but for Zaccheus it was life changing and he became a disciple named Matthias. Amazing grace in action.
As I listened to Gulley, it occurred to me that there are times when expressions of love, of grace, can be pretty annoying to the skeptic. Those do-gooders, those tree-huggers have no sense of reality. Annoying Grace? How can that be? What is wrong with that picture? How can one person’s act of love toward another become the stuff of which conflict is made? Then my mind turned toward times when I had negative feelings about acts of grace initiated by others and realized that much of that was a mix of guilt and jealousy. “Why did I not think to do that?”
The grace expressed by our country in reaching out to those in need or those who are struggling is under attack. We hear congress talking about cutting this program and that because “they are just handouts.” “If we continue to give handouts, they will never become productive members of our society.” “We need to do away with Social Security and don’t even talk to me about raising the minimum wage to poverty level!”
As voices are raised in opposition to such draconian cuts or helpful actions, those voices themselves are under attack. “Those people are annoying, they want money out of my pocket to go in the pockets of those who refuse to work!” Annoying grace? Huh.
When did we decide that generosity and love were counter to economic development? When did Christ’s words ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’” become fighting words? We tend to ignore St. John’s words: But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Then there are Paul’s words to us and the Corinthians “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Seems to me, we have a surplus of “clanging cymbals” and “noisy gongs”.
Yet, grace, love, charity are all key parts of the religions of the world. We seem to get all tangled up when we actually work to show that grace. Reaching across the aisle, or the gap between religions is part of grace. Yet pettiness, politics and zeal present imposing obstructions.
Of course, if the meaning of the stories and words of the Holy Bible, the Torah, and the Quran that speak of peace and grace mean nothing, well, then, I guess I must be part of grace that annoys.
What I believe with all my heart is that God is in charge, God loves us and that God’s grace is never-ending.
Just a few ideas for what it’s worth. Don’t be annoyed, have Peace.