Friday, August 7, 2009

A religion like no other

As the story goes, C. S. Lewis happened by a room at Oxford where a group of theologians were deep in discussion. To Lewis' query of, "What are you discussing?" they replied, "We talking about what is the greatest difference between Christianity and all other religions?" Lewis answered with, "Oh that's easy. It's grace."

If you're like me you will be confronted day in and day out with the option of reacting to other people's annoying behaviours with either punishment or love, retaliation or grace, anger or forgiveness. Jesus knew, and He wants us to know that grace and only grace is effective in getting past the layers of leathery self-protection that wounded people wear.

I heard an entertainer say once, "When we're young, we punch our fists into the air and holler "Justice!" When we're old, we bow our heads and whisper, "Mercy."

Mercy and grace can be defined this way.
. Mercy is when we don't get what we DO deserve.
. Grace is when we do get what we DON'T deserve.

Grace is, I think, what most of us would like to be filled with. Grace is what we envision when we speak of tolerance. In Christianity, both grace and tolerance acknowledge the gritty, painful, ugly side of sin, the reality of sin. Yet, both grace and tolerance are able to see the valuable human being beyond the sin. Grace accepts the person, not in spite of, but because of the hard, sometimes repellent exterior. Grace is a gift to the one who sees h/herself as your enemy. That is why true grace is counter-intuitive in the extreme.

Just as retaliation begets retaliation, sometimes for centuries on end, grace also begets grace. Grace is profoundly attractive. In fact, Jesus' grace attracted to Him the absolute worst that society has to offer. It still does. Oddly enough, His grace also pushed away from Jesus those who were the most self-righteous; those who saw no need for God's grace and forgiveness. It still does. For those who have experienced Jesus' love and forgiveness, His grace holds them to Him like super-glue. Like the opposite pole of a magnet, grace repels those who for various reasons need to deny the sin that dwells within them.

In the fifth chapter of a letter that Dr. Luke wrote to a person called Theophilus, the doctor recalls a night when Jesus was accused of "eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners." Sadly, the people accusing Jesus of this "offence," the religious elite, didn't care one bit about Jesus' restorative relationship with these people. In fact, they would have been surprised to find out that God was annoyed with THEM for this attitude. And isn't that the way it always is? Regardless of whether we consider ourselves religious, it's our pseudo-piety and jacked up vision of our morality that steps in between us and God. Again, as C.S. Lewis has said, It isn't prostitutes who are in danger of thinking that this world offers everything they need. That is why Jesus said to the Pharisees who were finding fault with Him, "It is not those who are well, who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners to repentance."

Is that you? Do you recognise your need for help? Or are your hands so full of things that the world has to offer that you think you've got it made? Do you see yourself as "good enough?" If not, if you know that you are spiritually sick with sin, God longs to provide for you all the things that the world promises but stands no chance of providing. The “arms of grace” are always open and willing to bring us home; to formally recognise our real identity as a child of God.

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