Posted on January 25, 2015
Posted on January 25, 2015
Over the Christmas holiday, one of my family members said I was “liberal.” He wasn’t speaking in the political sense. We were talking about religion and our faith. And he was comparing me to himself saying, of the two of us, he would be the “conservative” and I would be the “liberal.”
I was offended. “Liberal” after all, has been a dirty word in my family, my religious upbringing and honestly, in my own mind. To be coined as one was unsettling. He left the room, and I was left with my parents, my husband and a bucket load of emotion. I tried to justify myself. I started to cry. I got very passionate about how I felt the church had done so much damage to people in the name of being right and “following God’s Word.” So if that is what you call liberal, I guess that is what I am!
Later that evening, as my husband and I were going to bed, I felt the tears well up again. A lot of emotion poured out of my tired, stressed-out heart. I said,
I guess I’m just the black sheep in this family. I’m the one who thinks differently. What’s wrong with questioning and challenging?
The next day, as we headed for home, I thought a lot about that encounter. This thought came into my heart and out of my mouth in a rush of relief.
You can say I am liberal. I prefer to think that I apply grace liberally.
That statement was profound and liberating. Instead of taking a label negatively, I embraced what was said to me as confirmation that I am succeeding as I try to apply grace as liberally as possible. That happens, often in ways that my Christian upbringing may question or frown upon.
Jesus illustrated liberal grace so well with so many people. But the story that comes to mind is found in Luke chapter 7. A “sinful” woman (likely a prostitute) had heard that Jesus was in town and having dinner at a Pharisee’s home. She barged in, crying and holding an alabaster jar of perfume. She knelt at Jesus’ feet, kissing them, her tears literally wetting them enough to wash them. She took her hair, wiped the tears from his feet and then poured the expensive perfume on him.
The Pharisees and others there were appalled that Jesus would allow such a sinful woman to touch him. So Jesus told them a story about two men who owed money to a lender. One owed 50 denarii and the other owed 500 denarii. The lender forgave the debts. So he asked, “Which of them will love him more?” “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven,” the Pharisee replied. Then Jesus proceeded to school the group in the art of hospitality, pointing out they had not offered the customary washing of feet to Jesus, nor did they offer the customary greeting of a kiss. The “sinful” woman did all the things the Pharisee, as the host should have done.
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
I apply grace liberally, because I have been forgiven much.
So you might say, “All of us have been forgiven much.” That’s a true statement. But, some of us are so wounded, so broken, so utterly beyond repair, that the Christian community would put us in that “group” over there. You know… that group where people go who are too sinful to serve the church but we are welcome to attend. We are expected to be content with living on the outside, looking through the stained glass windows into the sea of “normal” people who have lived their Christian lives according to the standards set for us. We know what it means to have been forgiven much.
Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, writes about the troubling passage in Luke 14 where Jesus says we have to “hate our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, to be his disciple.” What?! I’ve always had trouble with that verse, have you? He explains though, that at some point to really work toward spiritual maturity, we have to stop living our morality and spirituality the way everybody we grew up with thinks we should.
He goes on to explain. We find it difficult to betray the “truth” we grow up with in the Church. We take all of the rules and stuff we hear growing up and apply it all to our lives as if the words are “the very voice of God.” What happens is that we grow up living a life out of a false sense of self. We create an image of ourselves that fits the mold we’re told we need to fit in. Somehow, we lose along the way, the very core value of our faith which says that I can do NOTHING to earn God’s love. We forget the grace that is given to us penalty free, and create instead a list of to-do’s that get us into the Kingdom of God.
That is NOT the way it is people! Nothing we ever have done, can do or will do, will earn us the love of God. We are just simply loved. We can approach Him just as we are. It doesn’t matter how much we’ve failed. It doesn’t matter how far out of the lines we have colored our lives. What matters is that we come and let him love us.
Will you come and let him love you? Apply grace liberally, especially when it comes to forgiving yourself.