There is this phrase I find myself repeating more and more often in the Emergent Worship service I lead: “There is grace in this place.” It means there is a sanctuary, a safe place to explore, to feel, and to encounter. There is no judgment, no condemnation for any person. Grace abounds, that unmerited favor of God for all people who seek forgiveness. It is liberally given not just by God Almighty, but by me as a model for all of us gathered there to imitate. It grieves my heart to know that the Church is known for being a place of judgment, hypocrisy, and stigma. We are all washed clean by the same blood of Christ. Here all people should be able to be loved, forgiven, and freed from the guilt they bear. The Church has a lot of work to do to overcome the judgmental image we have all too readily cultivated.
We are not the gatekeepers of God’s grace. Christ came to break the barriers, and unlatch the locks, all that we might fling open the doors and gather in the people. Do we offer that grace to one another? Do we seek it? Grace is not something people instinctually desire because grace is divine, not of our nature. Yet we have been created to embrace it and bear it for others as redeemed vessels. My denomination was once known for its theology of grace and being a people of grace, willing to forgive anyone anything, and we were right to do so. However, more and more there seems to be a dry well where grace once overflowed. “This is what is right.” “You are wrong.” “It’s just evil.” “That’s not appropriate dress for church.” And so many other grace-denying statements flutter around the Church like moths to the only light source, tainting the atmosphere and obstructing the illumination. We have failed to acknowledge our own need for grace. We have stopped articulating our unwavering desire to grant grace to all who seek it.
Since when is clothing able to obstruct the view of Christ in another? How does the presence of a beverage in the sanctuary prevent my glorification of God? When did this become my personal pew? We get caught up in the minutiae and drag persons along with it. Humankind is messy. We can be unpolished, spill things, and flop down in the closest available seat. Underneath the supposed breach in etiquette lies a person, a beloved child of God, struggling with burdens hidden beneath the surface. A single mother working long, hard hours just to provide for her family cannot fathom walking any further and slips into the closest empty seat just to let her aching feet rest for a precious hour. A man battling with an aging body and diminishing mind can no longer win the struggle with clothing to present the polished appearance he once prized. A young person, over extended and exhausted from their studies, desperately needs the caffeine in their coffee cup to function, to bring enough awareness into the brain to hear the Word God has for them this day. And what do we see? We see what we want, rather than what God sees and calls us to notice. Grace can help us to look beyond appearances and into the heart. There we are all very similar: imperfect, but loved. Is there grace in your place of worship? I refuse to allow anything less than that in mine.