Wednesday, April 14, 2010

When grace is no longer grace...

I have been a Pastor 30 years and been working in the Church for another 6 years on top of that.  Over those years I have listened to all the reasons why the Church should bend or stretch or conform in a thousand different circumstances.  From children who must be excused from catechism due to soccer practice or basketball or dance or a thousand other extra curricular activities... to adults who cannot attend because Sunday is their only day to do laundry, shop for groceries, sleep in, visit family, go to the lake house, or a thousand other reasons for absence... to reasons why children do not need Sunday school or adults Bible study or who cannot serve when scheduled for this or that or work when they were supposed to or a thousand other responsibilities that folks must be released from... I have accepted all sorts of things that people did not want, did not work, did not need, but thought the Church might be able to use (from ancient computers to boom boxes to Christmas trees (gobs of those) to a thousand other cast offs that made their way into the Church...

In most cases, I did this to be gracious for the Church is the grace place and I did not want to appear to be an ingrate or a hard___.  But through the years I have gotten a little tired of it all.  I must confess that what I have done has, I believe, failed to fulfill the definition of grace and has given people the entirely wrong definition of the Church and a false conception of their responsibility as members of that Church by baptism and faith.  Now don't get me wrong, there have been incredibly generous folks who gave valuable things to the Church because they thought of the Church first and not last.  There are incredibly faithful folks who would do nearly anything I asked of them because in their heart they know it would be for the good of God's kingdom.  I am not trying to paint with a broad brush here... but instead of appearing to be gracious, the Church (and I) have come off as wimpy and instead of being our best for His glory, the Church has become the dumping place for things no longer needed, wanted, or useful -- the worst kind of pathetic charity.

Our Senior Youth Group collected shoes for Haiti -- a goal of 400 pair of gently worn shoes for the Soles4Souls group.  We ended up with more than 600 pair but 150 or so had to be discarded because holes had been worn through, they were torn, they were stained or stunk, or they were not shoes (slippers instead).  The youth who worked on this project went through every pair to inspect and tie them together for shipping.  They were shocked.  I told them to use their own judgment -- what would they wear and what wouldn't they wear.  It was a powerful lesson in generosity or in selfishness parading as generosity.  When we take things no longer usable and assume others can use them, it is not generosity anymore -- it is the worst kind of selfish and arrogant smugness.  We had a great discussion of real charity.  We had a great lesson in what the Lord gave to us and the shallow response of those who give so much less in return (and think they are doing their best).  It was eye opening, to say the least.

We still accept things but not so much for the Church as for the yard sale we hold every year.  We make it clear (as much as you can) that the Church is not a dumping ground for things no longer valuable to us and try to teach that this is the place where nothing less than our best (whatever that may be) is the goal -- not as a legal requirement to be fulfilled but that which is a fitting response to the lavish generosity of the Lord to us.

I still listen when I get the excuses why children must miss catechism to play their sport but I do not offer any breaks.  The assignments are still due and the test must still be taken and the student and the parent are responsible for what has been missed.  I do laugh when I tell people the goal of God's house is still everyone in worship, everyone in Sunday school/Bible study, and everyone in mission.  I smile but in the way that says "Of course you know this but I want to remind you this is the starting point..." and no longer shrug the stuff off.

I guess you could say I have been come a little curmudgeonly in my old age.  But in the end, I can no longer justify allowing folks to put their Church and faith last on the priority list or dump off their junk upon the Church and call it grace.  There are words to describe what it is, but grace is not one of them.

Grace is beautiful and powerful -- not cheap and ugly and something we walk over without knowing... Bonhoeffer is right.  The cheap grace that we often portray to the world is seen by the world for just what it is -- cheap, discardable, and ugly.


Sue said...

In the past few years we had two kids who actually missed confirmation Sunday! One had an "important" baseball game. The other was on a trip for spring break with her mother , who did not belong to the church (but her custodial father did). They were confirmed later. I thought that was very sad and taught those kids a lesson we don't want them to learn.

Logan said...

In my younger years, a girl I dated was Baptized as an adult on the opening day of white-tailed deer season. I wanted to hunt so bad, but attended and celebrated the Holy Sacrament.

The following deer season I bagged a nice trophy deer.


Janis Williams said...

It is so easy to live as if God did not matter,and we mattered most. Something we all must confess. Such a shame that so many of us live in the town of "Cheap Grace."

Mea culpa.

mark rychel said...

Dear Pastor,
I think its time for you to take a sabbatical. God bless your Pastoral service! If you counted the number of times you used the word "I" in your post, you might realize that it is time to refocus on HIM and lose the "I". Posted to a brother in Christ in Christian love for you.

Mark Rychel

Pr. Chris Hinkle said...

Well said, Pastor Peters. Isn't it interesting how many people will tell you who their god is when they tell you why they haven't been in church lately?