Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Difficult grace

A couple of things that happened recently made me a bit sad about the apparent inability of some Christians to show acceptance and care to the people who most need it. For a bit of inspiration, I returned to Philip Yancey's great little book What's So Amazing About Grace? My favourite quote: "Fortune magazine annually lists the five hundred richest people; no one knows the names of the poorest". I also love the idea of forgiveness as an "unnatural act". So provocative.

I like Yancey's book because his vision of grace resonates with my own understanding of it. Like him, I am drawn to the Gospels, which offer us a portrait of a Jesus who goes far beyond what is reasonable in his acceptance and inclusion of people that nobody would touch, literally and metaphorically. The grace of God is not only lavish, unlimited and all-embracing, but it is downright disturbing in its utter refusal to demand anything in payment or to declare anybody off-limits. This is the irrestible logic, not just of the Gospels, but the whole story-arc of the Bible. God calls us just as we are, whatever we have done or wherever we have been - and he asks us to apply the same principles to each other. To me, this has always been obvious. Why can't people in the church just *see* it?

And then I realised that's the point. The problem with grace, if I can call it that, is that it's easy to grasp the concept but so hard to put it into practice. When other people let us down, we all react in different ways. My initial reaction to the disappointment I'm feeling now is to get up and preach a fiery sermon on Sunday about acceptance and inclusion (like I said, we're all different - just bear with me). But this would probably be just as graceless as the behaviour I'm complaining about. I'm not going to get the message of grace across by standing up and lecturing everybody about their attitudes. Grace is the love that is undaunted by the unloveliness of others, but carries on loving despite everything. The only possible way to convey grace is to model it - something I need to work on right now.

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