One of my greatest weaknesses is my persistent resistance to God’s grace.
The grace of God who knocks at the vicarage door in a mess, in need of a chat, or a few quid.
The grace of God who bores me, whose shoulder I look over for someone more ‘glamorous’, ‘interesting’ or ‘powerful’.
The grace of God who can’t seem to help themselves or solve their problems.
The grace of God at the checkout, on the bus, or cold-calling me on the telephone.
The grace of God who screams because they are autistic and the supermarket is busy and frightening.
The grace of God who repeatedly tells me about their pain.
The grace of God who lies unconscious, dying but I’m too “busy” to sit and pray beside.
The grace of God in the work I don’t prize as highly because it has primarily to do with the flourishing of another family, neighbourhood, country, or CHURCH and not “my own”.
The grace of God with “the unsavory reputation”. The grace of God with the past (or the present). The grace of God who’s considered mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
The grace of God who reminds me of my privilege. A privilege I have done nothing whatsoever to earn myself.
The grace of God who can’t help me ‘succeed’, look good or get what I want.
God gives me all these opportunities to receive His grace and I squander them.
I squander them because I want to believe that greatness comes through status, wealth and achievement. But this is not Christ’s view of greatness. This is not what it means to be “great” in Christ’s eyes.
For Jesus true greatness comes when we dare to serve, love and spend time with people who cannot provide us with any social or economic benefit whatsoever.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus holds a little child in His arms and says “whoever welcomes one such a child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
But you know? Something of the sting of this analogy has been taken away. You see, now we can preach infinitely more palatable sermons on how important it is to welcome children but whilst that is of obvious importance too, it actually misses the point entirely.
Jesus choose a child because in the first century world to whom he spoke children had NOTHING. They had no status and precious little legal protection. They were not “safeguarded” in the sense that we so rightly safeguard the welfare of children today.
Christ message is so much more than welcoming children. It’s serving, loving and spending time with people who seemingly have nothing to offer us in return because the truth is that they possess EVERYTHING. What the world calls a “wasting our time with all the wrong people” Christ makes the principal medium of His Grace.
This is not an easy message. I write it. I preach it. But I need to hear it myself more than most of you. Only today I was looking at a 2 thousand pound Rolex watches in a pawnbroker’s window in Borehamwood and dreaming that “If I only owned one of these THEN people would KNOW I’ve arrived”. I mean, “Wow, Steven you spent 2k on a watch that someone desperately hocked in a Borehamwood pawnbroker and that makes you something does it?” How imbercilic! But how perniciously persuasive and how prevalent a lie in our liberal capitalist world.
Think who is the most complete and whole person you know. What makes them complete? What makes them whole? What makes them great? I’d like to bet it isn’t the watch they wear, the car they drive, or the house in which they live. I’d also be willing to bet that it isn’t the job they have, or their intelligence or beauty but the quality of their relationships and the depth of their character and compassion for others. This is where our true joy and our true greatness is to be found.
This week I did a funeral for a 90-something year old surgeon who passed away. This man had achieved so much throughout his life. He was the definition of “self-made”. From incredibly humble origins he had risen to the very top of his profession. He was materially well off. But what people spoke of more than anything he had achieved professionally or socially was his kindness. The acts of kindness above and beyond anything else were his greatness.
In a world where kindness is becoming the most underrated and underused of virtues we Christians are called to reclaim true greatness - the true greatness Christ offers each and every one of us when we dare to live our lives for others and not for ourselves. Because I realise that so much of what I do is motivated by the tinge of self-interest and yet the times when I have most grown in joy and peace and life have been those rare moments when I have acted primarily out of love for another – the times when I have been least preoccupied by self and most concerned with the flourishing of another for nothing other than their sake.
Jesus died because he associated with those people whom the religious authorities classified as impure. The people who were off-limits. The people who were considered so sinful that they were beyond redemption or hope. Jesus used these very sinners to shame the religious elite by proclaiming forgiveness and a place in God's kingdom to these outcasts before anyone else by virtue of the fact that they KNEW themselves to be in need of God’s redemptive grace.
I need God’s grace. We need God’s grace. And we find God’s grace first and foremost when we endeavour to give ourselves to others as wholly and as freely to others as Christ gives Himself to us.
Please pray that I would grow in the willingness to actually do this.