Setting Obstacles to Grace

Rev Jeremy Smith

I was on a Trimet bus a few months ago when a trio of folks got on who didn’t have the money to pay for the trip but the driver let them on anyway. I struck up a conversation with them and learned they were going to a soup dinner (or something like it) at a local church. I said that’s great and one said “yeah, I know that two of us will get in but I don’t know about the third.” I asked why only 2/3 of their party could get in. Here’s what one said:

“Oh, you have to go to worship with them on Sunday to get in to the meal.Two of us did, but our friend here didn’t, so we don’t know if he’ll get in.”

It’s a sentiment that I’ve seen many times:¬†we need to have the people we help earn the help. Or as we care for earthly wounds we need to offer required spiritual salvation as well. While well-intentioned, setting such requirements turns a gift of God’s grace into works righteousness…which isn’t the same. Works righteousness says that we are saved by our own actions–grace is a free gift of God’s love. While both can lead to the same changes in behavior, the ends do not justify the means, in my perspective.

I’ve fallen far short of this ideal before by forcing extra steps before I offer the church’s help. I’ve asked people to come back a day later or such to test if their need was “real.” I’ve asked callers to come in and give their request in person. And yet each of those are obstacles to someone getting a good prayer and some bus tickets. I struggle with the reality of offering maximizing the gifts of grace we can offer and how sometimes the person with the most persistence gets the gift whereas those who are tired and unable to persist (and who may need the gift the most) aren’t as noticed.

The support that the church gives to the community–and that includes the transient community within its borders–either offers a reflection of the free gift of God’s grace, or it offers a transaction: you do this so we will do this. While to the person being helped the effect is likely the same; to the helper, our motivation makes all the difference in the world and it is our responsibility to be clear how we help.

My hope is that you join me this week in considering how you, as an individual or in a group, offer help to those in need and whether you offer a reflection of God’s free grace or you offer “if you do this, I’ll do this” instead. It’s hard and as one of your pastors, know I struggle with it as well.

Blessings during this Easter season where we remind each other that the resurrection is available–freely–for each one we meet. See you Sunday. ~Jeremy

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