By Ray Hollenbach on May 13, 2015
Grace can be abused, grace can be played the fool, grace can be wasted--but grace doesn't care. Grace is the divine scandal.
If you choose grace as a preaching topic, prepare to be misunderstood. It happened to the Apostle Paul; it can happen to you.
Preaching grace is really a dangerous act: is there anything more "irresponsible" than grace? It’s the refuge of losers, the hiding place of the harebrained, the only hope at end of the line. How can people learn anything from grace when they are shielded from the fruit of their ways? How can they grow into responsible adults if they are allowed to avoid the shipwreck of our poor choices?
Sometimes it may be tempting to preach about the predictable world of choice and consequence. Consequence is the lever of choice, tilting upon the worldly fulcrum of cause and effect; sowing and reaping are the dependable laws of nature, and we can find passages of scripture to preach on them. Karma chants responsibility: “Choose, and eat the fruit of your choice.” As pastors we are tempted to wonder, how can people mature apart from learning the mathematics of choice and consequence?
To look at grace from the outside is to see someone getting off scot-free. The work of grace is the spoiling of an only child. Grace runs counter to good stewardship. Grace is the foolishness of giving a field hand a full day’s pay for but a few hours work.
Oh, but from the inside—to taste of grace is to drink the water of life. It’s the meal without the tab; the drinks are on the house. Grace is more and better wine even though the guests are tipsy. Grace is calories that somehow don’t count. Karma is the voice of reason; grace is the voice of love.
But reason cautions us. This makes grace even more dangerous; the unscrupulous can figure the con quickly. Grace can be abused, grace can be played the fool, grace can be wasted—but grace doesn’t care. Grace is the divine scandal. Grace is the way of Heaven, where mercy triumphs over judgment—not that judgment is unknown but rather tried and found wanting.
Simone Weil said there are but two forces capable of moving the human heart: gravity and grace. Gravity, the great force of nature, exerts its unstoppable influence from the outside; grace, the beautiful power of super nature, floats on air.
And here is our dilemma: we discover that people want grace for ourselves, but choose karma for others. Grace seen from the outside is how rogues get off scot-free. Grace seen from the inside is the spring of life. The trick is to help our congregation see grace from the inside—on behalf of others. Grace is more than a gift; it is the example of Heaven. Grace is the way, the truth and the life. Grace calls us not only to taste and see but also to come and follow.
The grand goal of grace is that we would not be mere partakers, but we would become the servants in its grand banquet. Grace calls us to fill the glass of every thirsty soul. As preachers, we should echo that call.