Grace, all the way down

Photo by adrian

Welcome to my weekly ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Click here for Revised Common Lectionary readings.

Like the Chicago River, reversing the flow of God in my head is hard work.

I used to see the direction of faith going from us towards God. We do the works — the prayers, the following of the commandments, the repenting, the confessing, the tithing, and sacrificing of the bread and the wine; and then maybe God will love/accept/grace us.

But my Lutheran friends have taught me this is backward. According to their interpretation of the gospels, instead of waiting on a throne for us to do the right things, God rushes in toward us.

From God to us. From God to us. From God to us. (Let me repeat that a few thousand more times and it may start to stick.)

This week’s readings provide one fantastic exhibit after another of this incoming direction of God’s grace.

Exhibit A

Starting with the passage from the prophet Isiah, he proclaims himself a tainted blasphemer before God. In his eyes, he’s long gone — doomsday is upon him and his people (who are all as messed up as he is, as he says).

Nope. Not so fast…

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Exhibit B

The Psalm is all about God increasing the strength of our soul, regarding the lowly, preserving us in the midst of trouble and delivering us from the wrath of our enemies. It showcases a God who works with God’s hands — a God fueled by steadfast love.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
 you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
 and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
 your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
 Do not forsake the work of your hands.

It’s God who does the work. 
<Repeating as mantra.>

Exhibit C

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he’s really down on himself. He’s feeling guilty and claims that he’s unfit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church (yep, Paul — erm, Saul — killed some Christians in his day). The reading ends with this…

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them — though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

God towards us. 
God towards us.

Exhibit D

The gospel reading this week from Luke tells the story about these fishermen who were out trying to catch fish and having a really rough day. They essentially gave up and docked their boats. As they were washing their (empty) nets, they noticed a crowd of people getting uncomfortably close to this one guy who seems to be teaching them something. They back him right up to the water and he jumps in Simon’s boat.

He calls Simon over and has him push out a little way. They go out and Jesus (the crowd-gathering mystic) has him lower his net. He’s like, man, I’ve been trying this all day, but okay (or something like that). Suddenly, bang. Fish-on. And a lot of fish-on.

And then Simon does the thing humans do. He suddenly feels unworthy to be in the presence of this master teacher and miracle worker.

“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Nope… Not so fast. Jesus doesn’t roll with those who believe they’re pure. His posse is intentionally composed of self-proclaimed sinners.

God, moving towards us, against our will.

The point

In all of these, God rushes in. God’s grace comes to us. All of these people who received gifts from God deemed themselves unworthy. But God didn’t care. God, in various ways, imposed on them and redeemed them. Using the body of Jesus, God jumped in the boat uninvited and started reeling in fish. When God jumps in the boat, our job isn’t to ask questions. Our job is to accept that grace and run with it.

Our job isn’t to do anything to deserve God’s grace, it’s to live in response to it.

It’s grace, all the way down to us.

We are redeemed. 
Now what?