July 2017 Devotional Thought
The Mystical Glove of Grace
Has it really been 20 years since Harry Potter came on the scene? It seems like only yesterday that I learned what a muggle was (and that I am one). Quiditch is a household word now, with a muggle version played with brooms rather than on them. These many years later, it’s not even that strange to think that Bertie Bot’s Every Flavour Beans would come in liver, tripe and earwax flavors. And the books introduced the most revolutionary of fashions—the sorting hat and the cloak of invisibility. I really wanted one of those cloaks! That was a fashion accessory that opened up all sorts of possibilities.
The other day I needed to loosen a pipe connection that had seized up. Even with pliers the connection didn’t want to give and the access was awkward enough that a wrench was not an option. With limited alternatives, I resorted to putting on a pair of work gloves. Surprisingly, that made the difference! The gloves protected my hand just enough that I could squeeze a little harder on the pliers to apply the force that was needed to loosen the connection. Handy little fashion accessory, those gloves.
The relationship of grace and works has long been a contentious bone for theologians. It’s on the order of whether the chicken or the egg came first. “Have faith and grace will save you,” say the Baptists and Methodists, leaning toward the book of James. “No, that makes your faith into a ‘work,’” say the Presbyterians and Lutherans, following a strict reading of Paul’s letters. “If grace doesn’t come first, your sinfulness won’t allow you even to have faith.”
Deeply conscious of my own sinful tendencies, I tilt heavily toward the Presbyterian party line, but the writings of Dallas Willard have made me stretch a bit. He tends to look at the broader context of grace. Grace is active in our lives long after that first step that we call “salvation,” and before it, too. It comes into play every time we are able to overcome our sinful tendencies and do the right thing. Living by grace, he says, does not mean living without effort.
It’s not magic like a cloak of invisibility, but I’ve come to think of grace as a “mystical work glove” that allows me to do things I would not otherwise be able to do on my own. Our effort is still part of the formula. Our effort is the hand in the glove. There is no “before” and “after.” It is simultaneous!
God does not just meet us in our need but blesses our effort to please God.
A GLIMPSE OF THE KINGDOM?
Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:29-30
It is several days after the choir cantata and Christmas fellowship dinner as I write this reflection and my eyes are still sparkling! What a day! The music was superb (in spite of my participation). Marianne brought out the best in our little choir (and brought in a couple of “ringers”—one of them who literally rang—to round out the sound). Chris on the djembe, Jennifer on the xylophone and trumpet, and Jamie on the triangle gave a depth to the accompaniment that was moving in and of itself. The soloists swallowed butterflies and gave us bouquets (one of them running fever—extra thanks Jim McM!). And the kids! They not only nailed their lines but also delivered them with the joy and enthusiasm that we all should feel at what God has done. And the attendance (upwards of 127) set a new one-day record for the last 5 years. The sanctuary was full of energy—or should I say, of the Spirit?
As powerful as that was, something else came home to me in the fellowship hall as we all ate together. In worship, and then around the dinner tables, we had residents of four different continents! Not people whose ancestors came from four continents but people who actually make their homes there. Our Philip Oji is from Africa. Carmen, Elda, and Linda Sagastume are from South America. Hiroku, Tiaga, and Al-ice Sawaki are from Asia. And then there were the rest of us North Americans. There were three races (Black, Asian, Caucasian), two more ethnic groups (Latino and Jewish [Ann and Andy Kurtzman]), and even three religious faiths (Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian)! I dare say that is not typical of a small country church.
I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it feels to be the pastor of a church that expresses such hospitality. These people have come here because YOU have made them to feel welcome.
- YOU have embraced new friends in the name of Jesus Christ.
- YOU are giving these folks and the wider community a glimpse of God’s kingdom.
Where there is hospitality, there can be friendliness. Where there is friendliness, there can be more than superficial relationships. Where there are real relationships, there can be dialogue about things that matter. Where there is true dialogue, there can be peace. Where there is peace, love becomes visible.
And John tells us that love is of God—even that God IS love.
Thanks for giving that glimpse of God’s banquet table.