Grace is the Miracle
Afternoon reflections on a Sunday sermon.
Sometimes when we look at Jesus’ miracles, we just look at it and wonder what it would have meant to the people in that day and age. Surely that’s a valuable way to look at it. I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to look at it that way — I don’t think it is.
But we must also apply it to our lives this way: the nature of Jesus’ power, the same power that lives in us in the Spirit, indwelling us and coursing through our very veins and spirit — the nature of Jesus power is a restorative, healing, turning-back-time kind of power, not even turning back time, but turning the clock forward into something new and restored, restoring to prior use the vessels of our body, our spirit, our mind, our hands, our feet, and our heart.
As Yeats says, “Things fall apart.” As Paul says, “through one man’s sin, judgment and condemnation followed.”
The universe is set on disintegrating — as sure as natural law, things that were once together become dis-integrated, what was once useful breaks down, and that which was tidy now feels unclean. Families, friendships, old kitchen tables, and unruly lawns. Trees die in their own way once a year, the last leaves to fall reminding us even as snow draws near that all was once green and heavy with fruit. Creation cries out for its restoration and the revealing of the sons and daughters of God. Yet in our sin, we sinned yet more.
Paul says, “The gift is not like the trespass.” What the trespass dis-integrated, what the trespass dismantled, what the trespass de-centered — the gift offers it to be set right, to be made whole, to be put together again. It gives freedom from decay — freedom from broken motives, failed attempts to do it right, from our terrible hours and our finest ones.
We walk the earth, alternating between open hands and clenched fists. Our hands open to beg, and yet clenched to only receive that which we deem worthy of our time and our dignity, mistaking our pride for our what makes us valuable.
And yet, if we would only pry open our fingers — which sounds like work until we realize that having clenched fists requires more strength. To hold on to ourselves in our disintegrated state actually is the hardest work of all — to insist that we are put together, that we have all things set the way we like them, to insist that we are the best guardians over our shattered lives — that is hard work. It is not a hard work like the hard work of a job well done, but the hard work of a futile task, one that makes no headway or meaningful progress. It is the searching out of a thousand fractured pieces to put them back together on an already crumbling structure.
If we would only pry open our fingers, we may find that the gift, the grace, we receive is precisely of the same nature that restores sight to the blind, gives hearing to the deaf and words to the dumb, that strengthens weak knees and puts in place what is out of joint, that lifts up wilted heads and places in order what has fallen apart.
But we must open them first. We must open the fingers that hold hard onto what is broken, thinking that by somehow not letting go of our lives we will save them from the forces and sin that shatter them into a million pieces across the universe.
To refuse the grace but instead to hold on to our sin and its results is now the only thing we can do that actually damns us. To receive grace is the only thing we can do that can save us.
And to receive it not only saves us, but makes a life that is spectacular. Luther says, “To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.” Paul says, “how much more will [we] reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”
It is not simply re-integration of what had fallen into pieces, it is not simply happiness and joy where there was once pain and sorrow — it is truly to be reinstated to our proper use, to the intention of being “human.” It is the restoring of humanity as full-out bearers of God’s image — it is the restoration of our intended task, to reflect God in all his glory. It is the restoration of our usefulness. It is the saving of our lives by letting go of what was left of them.
And so when we open our hands and receive his grace, we see that nothing we had was good, but by receiving God’s grace all has been made good — and has been made to be put back together. Not overnight, but not in our own power. We can live for once as we were intended to, and we find freedom for once as we were meant to be free. No longer to hold tightly onto our own judgment and condemnation, but to grasp life, and to enter into the most kingly of reigns.
From thoughts on a Sunday sermon (posted when available) and Robert Redford and Terrence Malick’s documentary, “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.”