“The Great Laboratory of Love” A Devotion on Ephesians 4:1-3

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” —Ephesians 4:1-3

A pastor friend of mine is known to have told his congregation, “If there isn’t somebody here who rubs you the wrong way you need to come around more often.” Continue reading

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“Her name was Grace” Is God’s Love Unfair?

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“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” —Romans 5:8

My Mom’s older sister outlived her by forty years. She never had children, but she doted on my brother and sister and me.

One of her abiding principles was fairness. If she gave something to one of us, she would make sure she gave something equivalent to all of us. She was fair.

Children learn to spot unfairness pretty quickly. “That’s not fair!” can be heard on any playground, and rightfully so, since fairness is an important part of what makes any society workable, be it the small society of a school playground or the large one of a nation.

So it was that many who heard Jesus’s teachings were scandalized by his assertion that the divine economy works on another principle. It is all about grace, which by definition is unfair, because the recipients of the gift are undeserving.

Recall his parable of the workers in the vineyard? Jesus says the ones who came late will get paid the same as the ones who worked all day. “That’s not fair!” Try explaining that policy to either union or management.

The waiting father runs out to greet his prodigal son and throws him a big party. “That’s not fair!”

Paul wrote to the Romans, “While we still were sinners Christ died for us.” So is God’s love unfair? You bet it is, and it’s a good thing too, for who among us deserves such love? Even my aunt understood this good news. After all, her name was Grace.

Prayer: Loving God, we thank you that you run to greet us even when we have run away from you.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for June 4, 2016. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here. Photo: “The Laborers in the Vineyard” by Jacob Willemsz.)

“Of Fig Trees and Second Chances” A Sermon on Luke 13:6-9

266_AlexanderMstrJHlsCrppWmnPrblBrrnFigKoninklijke_BibliotheekTheHague1430CROP-1Author T. C. Boyle has an intriguing short story entitled “Chicxulub.” Chicxulub is the name of an enormous asteroid (or perhaps a comet) that collided with the earth sixty-five million years ago on what is now the Yucatan peninsula, leaving an impact crater one hundred and twenty miles across, and twelve miles deep.

Boyle’s short story intersperses such episodes of catastrophic natural disasters with a story of one night in the life of one family. The main characters are a husband and wife, parents of a 17-year old daughter named Maddy. They receive a phone call from a hospital: “There’s been an accident!”

Apparently Maddy has been hit by a drunk driver while walking home from the Cineplex. They head to the hospital in that dream state of shock that overtakes those in the midst of disaster. At the hospital they are unable to get much information out of the staff. They are told she is in surgery. They wait and wait. Finally a young doctor comes out and speaks to them. He drops his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he tells them.

When I first read the story I was deeply moved, even though I knew it was a work of fiction. But Boyle was toying with his readers. He was toying with me. Because in the end we learn that Maddy is not dead. The dead girl on the gurney is a sixteen year old friend of hers, Kristi, who borrowed Maddy’s I.D. to get into an NC-17 movie in the next theater. Maddy gets another chance. Continue reading