Monday, January 2, 2017

Grace for Life

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

You, our God, have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. - Nehemiah 9:33

When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy. - Titus 3:4-5

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 1; 1 Chronicles 3; Acts 9:1-9

This year of 2017 begins with a note of GRACE. Grace in general (in Greek, charis, from which we get our word charity) is a gift or favor that makes a positive difference in life, for someone who otherwise wouldn't be able to have that difference. The grace of God mentioned throughout scripture is the gift of love, acceptance, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, peace, reconciliation, and abundant life - all given not as a reward earned for good behavior or right thinking, but as a free gift that comes from the very nature of God. We might use phrases like "unconditional love" or "undeserved favor."

Saul (also known as Paul) is a dramatic example of God's grace. Knocked off his feet from his mission of hunting down and imprisoning Christians, Paul encounters the risen Jesus, who shows him that it's he, Jesus, whom Paul has really been persecuting. Jesus responds with enormous grace, not just striking him down, but re-forming him and calling him to become a powerful worker in spreading the news of Jesus, even to the point where he himself will be persecuted. Paul is forever grateful, and will tell the world about God's grace!

Paul's life also gives an example of how we respond to God's grace. In the ancient world, society was formed around bonds between a "patron" and "client" relationship. The higher-ranking patron would give grace in the form of various gifts or favors or actions that the client couldn't do alone. The client would respond with faithfulness, trust, and an effort to honor the patron with praise. In the same way, as God's grace opens for us the whole reign of God, we then seek to live in God's ways and tell the story of God's glory. We do this not to earn anything, because we've already been given everything as a free gift of grace. We're simply reflecting and honoring the gift.

I see Psalm 1, the beginning of the book of Psalms, as another example. This initial psalm invites us into a life of meditating on God's word, living in God's ways, staying connected to God in scripture and prayer and all of daily life. The psalm warns us against the dead-end roads of other choices: Don't let your ears hear the advice of people whose lives lead away from God; don't let your feet get started on the path trodden by people who live selfishly; don't let your rear be parked in the seat of people who sit and scoff at God and God's ways. I love the way these images paint pictures of how we might physically get started in habits that become character! I hear God saying: you're not a wicked person, or sinner, or scoffer - so don't start to become one by doing what they do! Instead, we're invited to plant ourselves like a tree, putting down deep roots next to the life-giving stream of the reign of God. Grace.

I'm not big on using the calendar date of January 1 for big life changes. I think every day is a chance to make a new start, choose to turn away from negative selfish paths, and take a little time to soak up God's grace and expand the relationship with this God who seeks us out and loves and saves us.

May today be a day of grace, and of trust and honor and praise, a day of life that begins now and extends forever.

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