“Perceptions of Grace”
19 February 2017 St. Andrew’s Military Chapel Singapore
Growing up, if you asked me about how much leniency and grace was given to my younger brother I could regale you with tales of unfair treatment. He got later curfews. He was rarely if ever to blame in any argument or fight that we may have had with each other. Not only did I have a perception that he never was punished for his wrong actions, and I would tell you all the wrong things he did without punishment, it appeared to my young mind that he received far more grace than I would receive.
I mean, why would this innocent face not get any leniency and grace in the face of parental judgement. Why would I always get the blame and the punishment whenever there was a split decision on whom was causing the frustration and trouble for our parents? In my mind, my little brother could evade the long arm of parental law with skill beyond my comprehension and well outside my understanding of justice and grace.
Anyone else have a sibling to which they felt that way (or maybe you still do)? What about how you may feel regarding those in your workplace? Those you may see in the news and the acts for which they may or may not face justice?
So, I’m not alone in my righteous indignation at how I can feel I’m getting the smallest slice in life’s pie of forgiveness and grace am I?
It’s a weird quirk of human nature that we are always assuming that others are getting the good deal. Someone seems to receive a larger portion of the world’s finite good karma. And it always seems to us that the person receiving a large portion of grace, love, and forgiveness doesn’t deserve such a gift. Well, that isn’t just a modern problem. Nor is it a problem confined to Christianity.
We see that not only is grace available for all but it is given freely because it is a renewable and unlimited resource. Grace is also given in proportion to the need. If I need a truckload of grace one day, Jesus is backing the dump truck into the loading bay. But, if I only need a small amount of grace the next day, Christ is giving me the spoonful of relief required. This story also shows us that the attention and care of God is available to us all regardless of how society, or we, view ourselves and others.
The fact that everyone is eligible for unlimited grace and attention from God can be quite difficult to comprehend and digest. In our day to day lives, most of us long for and know we need the lavish grace offered this nameless woman. Yet, like Simon the Pharisee, we mentally judge the amount of grace others should receive.
What Jesus says is logically sound. But we don’t usually like that logic. Maybe that is our free market training and upbringing speaking. Maybe it’s just our human sense of fairness that we should all be given gifts equally and evenly regardless of our circumstances and need so that we all have a level playing field. But is there really an even playing field in anything surrounding our lives.
Everyone’s circumstances are different. Just look around at the stories in this room. We all came from different places growing up. Different circumstances, countries, and cultures. Some of us, like my younger brother needed a bit more grace from our parents. Some didn’t need much grace to make it through life. What is important is that Christ offers the grace we need.
Sometimes we walk away from the grace offered us because we don’t think we need grace. And when we are of the mind we don’t need grace we don’t show much thanks when it is offered. Mostly because we can’t see just how beautiful a gift is being offered us. When we realize the precious, life-changing quality of the smallest amount of grace, we bend down and wash feet to acknowledge just how unworthy we are to receive such a priceless gift.
We are at times both Simon and the woman. Occasionally we recognize grace and forgiveness not only for what it is, but also for how precious and priceless such a gift truly is. However, we more frequently don’t sense the value of grace and forgiveness because it comes quietly into our homes and we fail not just to honor and give thanks for its presence in our lives, we fail to acknowledge grace and forgiveness when it is standing right in front of us, its eyes sorrowfully looking into our soul for just a flicker of recognition.
We should strive to be a church full of people like this woman; people who recognize even the smallest portion of grace and forgiveness as the life-giving and soul-altering gift it is. A congregation where we point out grace in the lives of others so that they don’t miss out on what is right before them. Our concern shouldn’t be so much on the fact that a sinner is in our midst, for we are all sinful, but rather that grace is there for the taking, as much as we need. And when grace is received we should celebrate and give thanks for what God has done not just in our lives but the lives of others.
A congregation like that serves two purposes. First, we become more honest with our own walk and where we can improve. This will also allow us to encourage each other to seek out, recognize, and give thanks for the grace that we individually and collectively need and desire. It will prevent us from looking at the distribution of love and grace less like how I viewed the “unfair” benefits for my younger brother. We’ll more likely realize we receive the same amount of grace as everyone else, measured not by some scientific scale but a one unit measurement called needed grace that we all receive from Christ.
Secondly, a congregation that treats grace and forgiveness as an unlimited resource freely given to all provides a place for the woman in this story to go. Christ tells her to go in peace, but to where? Jesus’ words and actions changed her soul, gave her back her confidence and life. But, it didn’t change her social circumstances, nor did it stop the whispers about how she became labeled a sinner.
If we are truly a congregation that accepts grace and forgiveness for all, then we must first accept that we are all in the same situation as the brave woman in this story. We needed a large measure of grace, received it, and are now supposed to go in peace along a renewed and changed life. This gathering of people we participate in each week has to transcend the division society will try to impose.
God’s grace and love erases the line between the godly and the sinner because we realize those two words are one and the same. For this reason, the church must welcome everyone because this is the place for forgiven sinners. We are all both sinful and forgiven, at times needing more grace and forgiveness than we may care to admit. When we approach the world from a posture of acknowledging our own need for grace and forgiveness rather than looking at the sin of the other then we will truly become a hospital for sinners rather than a museum for saints. And that is a place where forgiven sinners like us not only want to go, but one in which we thrive and see the Kingdom of God at work.
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