Thursday, September 18, 2008

No Place For Fortified Walls: Practicing Unmerited Generosity in an Unforgiving Age

We live in a world that simply does not allow for mistakes. In nearly every area of life -- I am talking about American life, the only life I know -- even the tiniest misstep can lead to misery. Our world is now so interconnected that, like a guitar string wound too tight, the most insignificant flick can snap the balance, leaving the entire instrument out of tune.

There is no area of life left untouched. A waitress brings the wrong dish, she's berated; a speaker drifts off for a moment, he's boring; a relative compliments, it's back-handed; a peer makes a joke, he's a bigot.

And as my father is wont to remind me, the world of religion is perhaps the most inflammatory of all on this account. Everybody knows to put on the mask Sunday morning, or else the gossip, or silence, or condemnation, or rejection will rain down from heaven above. Make a mistake in this world, and you better keep it to yourself or find another church home, because forgiveness is one item in short supply around here.

If there is one thing the world needs from the church in the midst of such an oppressive, anxious, unforgiving, and tight-fisted context -- fortified on all sides by walls of fear and loneliness -- it is the perpetual stance of unmerited generosity for the other.

The good news of God's kingdom declares that God is uninterested in how little we think of ourselves, much less what we think of others. At the end of the day, the worker hired late will be given the same pay as the worker hired early; the wayward and selfish son's return will be celebrated with a feast the responsible son could never dream of; prostitute and IRS agent and drug addict will all be welcomed into the kingdom before any preacher, missionary, or regular churchgoer.

That is the way God's kingdom works; that is the message of Jesus of Nazareth.

So. The next time a speaker fumbles, a song leader misses pitch, a waiter makes a mistake, an employee stumbles, a boss berates, a friend wrongly jokes, an in-law suggests, a spouse requests, a parent offers, a child is ugly, a peer confronts -- remember that we are called not to do what others deserve (as if we could ever know what that is), but rather, we are called precisely to what God has done for us: unmerited, unasked for, uninitiated, grace.

Take the stance of generosity in all of your dealings, remembering not only what God has done for us in Christ, but also that Christ is present in every single person we encounter. How am I treating this person for whom Christ died? How am I interacting with this person created in the image of God? How often have I stumbled or made a stupid mistake and only wished that no one would notice, or even more, that someone would notice, and brush it away with a gentle smile or an understanding look?

We learn from Scripture that Christ himself comes to us in the stranger. We must remember that more often than not, our friends, our spouse, our children, our community are often enough estranged from us, and in them Christ is present to us as much as the literal stranger.

The church is called to be God's hospitable people. Christians ought to be known as that peculiar people by whom others feel strangely welcomed, loved, and given the room to be themselves -- that is, imperfect but God-beloved human beings. Practicing such hospitality is practicing resurrection. It is embodying the forgiveness of sins. It is enlisting in the nonviolent war of the Lamb. It is "loving others even as I have loved you."

It is breaking down walls with God's own gracious generosity.

1 comment:

  1. Brad, I appreciate this post so much. I find that I am often guilty of withholding this generous grace from those who withhold generous grace (and feeling justified in doing so). Therefore, I am guilty of the very sin that I hold against them. (Roman 2:1) This is a reminder to generously show grace to those who do not. For me, this is often the tougher challenge.

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