Haunted by Grace


I am haunted by grace.  

I am haunted by its paradoxes: on the one hand it is a free gift, and yet it is the most demanding power in the universe: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” How can a free gift demand so much?

I am haunted by its imbalances: Paul’s angriest and most pained epistles address both the licentiousness in Corinth and the legalism in Galatia. I’m not surprised: both imbalances are part of my own life and the communities I belong to. How can something so simple be so complicated to live out?

I am haunted by its three-pronged call: (1) grace captures me personally, (2) it forms new communities who embody its power, and (3) it calls the entire cosmos (the “world” in John 3.16) into its embrace. We who follow Jesus in North America tend to place great weight on that first, personal prong, making it difficult for us to hear the other two dimensions of the gospel’s call.

I am grateful to be haunted in these ways. Anything less would settle for Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace.”

Let me invite you to ponder a haunting question: How are you contributing to the formation of a grace-shaped community?

Two years ago I heard a young woman say, “I long to be part of a church that smells like Jesus.” Her longing forced me to stand in front of the mirror of self-reflection and ask myself what role I played in creating the aroma of Christ in my church. Do others experience us as hospitable, gracious, warm, encouraging, well-grounded, committed, and challenging in ways that embody the heart of Jesus?

I shared the “smell like Jesus” story during a workshop last month, and during the break a woman told me this story in return:  

“My grandfather pastored a church during the 1930s. A teenage couple who had become pregnant stood before the consistory, confessed their sin, and were instructed to confess their sin again in front of the congregation that coming Sunday morning. After they left, the pastor calmly informed the elders, ‘If you require them to do this, I will stand beside them as they speak, and when they are done, I will also confess my sins.’ The elders quickly retracted their decision; something of the smell of Jesus strengthened in that community.  

How can we tell when a community smells like Jesus? The Scriptures contain hundreds of descriptions. I love this succinct overview of the members of a grace-shaped community:

“They have suffered hurt without rancor, are gently corrective toward wrong rather than judgmental, and do not try to set things straight as much as order affairs lovingly, intent upon carrying along joyfully any who may be weak, trustfully biding God’s timing. They live like people raised from the dead; they don’t have to prove anything to themselves or to anybody. They are not compulsive people trying to make good or to live up to requirements. They are subject to grace alone, and act clean, singularly pure amid all kinds of complexities that won’t go away (Calvin Seerveld, meditation on the resurrection of Jesus, Christian Courier, April 2007).

Ok, now go to the mirror of self reflection: how are you contributing to the formation of a grace-shaped community?

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