This has been quite a year, quite a ride. It has not been a Sunday drive on a prairie road, men in the front and wives in the back, narrow pavement rolling endlessly on to the horizon. This has been the road to Tofino, or one of the ones students tell me about when they get back from the Indian Himalayas. Corners too sharp to see around, steep drops next to the tires, panoramic views you don't dare stop to admire, and no idea what is to come.
You may have heard things about me. The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. So are the reports of my retiring, quitting or finally deciding I needed a break. The truth is that as of the end of May 2011, I am losing the opportunity to continue my role at Qwanoes, after nearly 24 years of involvement with that ministry. The why's of this dismissal are not mine to give, and I am not even entirely clear what they are. But I am sad about it, upon the advice of my friend and current pastor, Mark Buchanan. He told me that I need to lament this loss, treat it with the respect it deserves.
Not long before this year of Kaleo made its shaky start, a number of people who were watching told me that this would be a Year of Grace. From the beginning that word has shown up again and again, along with the reality it represents. Waves of grace, one after another, washing, smoothing, filling, energizing. "And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16)." Grace replacing grace. There is no way we could have made it this far without it; and there is no doubt that the changed hearts and lives we have seen so far are a work of the grace of God.
I remember when Justin, one of last year's interns, told his students at our final chapel that because they had been given much grace, they must offer much grace to those around them. Examples of that teaching abound in the gospels: the parable of the unforgiving servant, the sermon on the mountain, Jesus' own example. This is where the rubber hits the road. It is possible by faith in God to receive his grace, but the real evidence of that faith is in the grace we deal out. Faith without works is dead.
Is it just me, or is that really hard?
I love the grace of God. I told someone recently that grace feels like cheating, or like magic. Things happen that shouldn't really be possible, stuff turns out that wasn't going to, there is energy still pouring out of a jar that by all reasonable estimates should have been empty ages ago. I love feeling forgiven, knowing I am saved, bought with a price that makes me shudder in admiration.
But it is hard to give it away.
I remember hearing about cases where people who lived in poverty all their lives, having barely enough to survive on, suddenly come upon relative wealth. You would think that after all they have suffered, they would become the most generous people ever with their new-found riches. Not so. Often, they become selfish and proud, with no thought for their former neighbours and friends who are still in poverty. Very often, their paranoid hoarding of resources ruins them.
Jesus, don't let me be ruined.
Funny thing is, when I do share, it feels good. It really is more blessed to give than receive. I always find it more fun to watch someone open the gift I gave them than to open their gift to me. So why this reluctance to share the grace given to me?
Here it is: They don't deserve it. That is the very nature of grace. This is not like giving a Christmas gift to a friend; it's like giving one to that guy who fingered you when you beeped at him for cutting you off, or to a kid on the street who you know is going to sell it for drugs. What's more, it won't be appreciated, and maybe not even understood. And they might ask for more. I can handle giving, but grace sucks! Let me give to people who are worthy of my grace, who know its value!
No, it is no good. That is not how grace works. That is not how I received it, and I cannot offer it that way. O God, may I love like you! Not out of my need or their deserving, but out of the abundance and overflow of your grace toward me! May I understand the unending wealth of your grace, and not grasp at it like a child snatching at bubbles, but be a channel of your grace, a riverbed flowing full and free.
A short while ago, I watched a Chemainus Theatre production of A Christmas Carol. Well done by all, but the character who moved me the most was Marley's Ghost. The unrepentant in that theatre house must have all been shaken with fear or rage, because Marley preached the Gospel with both barrels. Speaking of the tormented spirits that Scrooge is watching, Marley says, "They seek to interfere, for good, in human matters, and have lost the power for ever." The opportunity to convey the grace given us is very temporary - we can only do it in this lifetime. Not that the grace of God is shut up by our avarice; like a stream that is dammed up by debris, the grace of God will find a way. But we can miss the opportunity to be its means, and will regret it.
"If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
Jesus, may we follow you. This is going to take much faith, and it is by grace we are saved, through faith. To love and give grace without thought of repayment would be foolish without faith in the One who calls us to it, who holds for us a reward far beyond what we can expect from anyone in this lifetime. It may be a wild ride ahead, and there is no better thing I can do but join Jesus on the back seat of the bus, fast asleep because his Father has the wheel.