Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Grief Deterred

“You have a dear, mighty heart, my son, and I love you.”

Oh Mama Martha. These were her parting words to me the last we met face to face. Mama Martha's suffering ended a year ago today. In some ways, it's been such a short time and the pain of losing her remains very near and the loss is very deep. But in still more ways, it has been too long. It's been too many ages since I've heard her voice rise high above the melody of the congregation singing a descant for the hymn in chapel. It's been far too many seasons since she caught me in some pastoral corner and said "Gotcha!" It's been way too long since I've heard her triumphant "Ha!" in reference to almost anything--a point in class, a joke in conversation, or the completion of some sort of dish in her cast iron skillet.

Too long. With grief still very near. There have been so many times this year as a pastor I wanted to call her and get her advice, or faced tough questions and wished for her encouragement. Or just wanted one of those bear hugs, because you weren't sure you ever felt the love of Jesus before that if you ever had one of those bear hugs.
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I've lost people  dear to me before. But this year of grief has been different. I've watched it persist and endure. I've cried, laughed, sat in silence  and celebrated.  But more than that, I've just plain missed her. I felt her absence in the body. And asked the Lord if he really needed her present with him now.

I'm making my peace. Because as she was so fond of saying throughout her battle with cancer, "Death has no dominion over me!" Death did not conquer Mama Martha. And it ought not, by God's grace, conquer her children. Oh no. By the grace and love of God, Martha's "sons" and "daughters" (you know who you are!) should be those who sing, dance, prophesy and celebrate the Living God in a world gripped by death. We should shout from our front porches that the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been opened up to all in the broken Body and shed Blood of Jesus. Accomplished once, done for all, and a sure promise that it shall never stop.

Mama Martha, see you after while.

Hallelujah. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"Not My Jesus" and Radical Grace

Donald Trump has said more awful things than I can count in the past three months alone. Other political figures claiming the name of Jesus have said some things not worthy of repeating either.

In the past week, Jerry Falwell, Jr., in his role as president of a Christian university, said some awful things too.

Additionally, numerous people claiming the name of Jesus have said awful things regarding Muslims, Arabs and others of Asian or African origin. Ethnic mistrust, hatred, and racially-motivated violence and vitriol have become part of the common and public parlance of contemporary evangelical Christianity.

The righteous indignation of Christians of all stations, traditions, political convictions in response to this is well-warranted. Quite frankly, the hatred and racism and ungracious behavior are truly not representative of Jesus. The responses of Jonathan Merritt, Russell Moore, and many others loudly and boldly resound with the conviction that "My Jesus wouldn't say these things!"

And they're right. Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh, Incarnate Word, Savior of the World, wouldn't say those things, or brag about packing heat, or preaching "End those Muslims" in a world that's so desperately hungry for love. I'm 100% behind that message, and more importantly, the Gospel pronounces it and the tradition of the Church proves that such vitriol is out of step.

But a word of caution to those who are pronouncing truth back to hateful preaching: don't fall victim to the same graceless disposition. The scandal of God's radical grace in Christ is that He not only welcomes the refugee, the stranger, and the hated…but he also implores the innkeeper, the power-broker, and the hater to enter in too. Jerry Falwell, Jr. is preaching hatefully. And Jesus wouldn't echo those words. But the grace of Jesus is greater than Falwell's hate, and he will be embraced by the love of God as much as you or I.

What makes grace radical is not that the "conservatives" and "traditionalists" are wrong to demand a particular holiness and perfection from themselves and those around them. Rather, grace is radical because every law and tradition of man is undone in the face of Jesus' pronouncement of absolution. All our standards of righteousness and rightness and condemnation are too small and too weak to break the overwhelming power of God's one-way love. Thank God.