Saturday night I was having a chat with a friend from a lifetime ago. We both lived in Montreal at the beginning of our first marriages. We went to the same church. We were in a newlyweds Bible study together. Now we live 7 hours apart. We are both divorced and remarried. We are women who have lived through decisions that were difficult. I don’t recall the story of the demise of my friend’s marriage. I do know that she has suffered at the hands of “Christians”.
We were playing the “where is this person now” game when I mentioned a couple that was in our newlywed group. Actually I mentioned the husband by name. I didn’t remember the wife’s. My friend told me that they don’t talk to her anymore because of her divorce. A Christian couple wouldn’t talk to her because she was divorced.
I was part of a women’s group at church a few years ago. It was a great group lead by a wonderful woman. This was a group of women who could share the garbage in their lives and not feel condemned. We actually went through a season there when woman after woman shared her story. Believe me when I tell you that there were very few “we met, we got married, we never fight, we have perfect kids, we live in the perfect neighbourhood and I never, ever burn dinner” stories. I was shocked by the transparency of these women. They were not afraid. They exposed the ugly. The painful. The “unholy” parts of their lives. The stuff we are not supposed to talk about in church. The things we are ashamed to admit, sometimes even to ourselves. It was impossible to have a malleable heart and not be affected by these stories. I believe that we were placed in each others lives for a purpose. We needed to hear the story of grace. And we did. It seeped out of every story. Even when the author herself couldn’t see it, it was there.
We can live our “Christian” lives like the couple who didn’t want to talk to a divorced woman. Many of us do. I have. I have stood on a pedestal of my own making, condemning the lifestyle of those around me. Then reality hits. We start down a path, innocently enough, and start sliding farther and farther downhill. Suddenly we find ourselves knee-deep in the mire of life. The stench of sin. I have been there. I have done the very things I have judged in someone else. As Pete says, anyone is capable of anything. I have fallen.
The wonder of it is that no matter where I’ve been, God still loves me. He still forgives me. He still thinks that I am worthy. He knows that I will mess up. That I will fall down. That is why He sent Jesus. I am so thankful that He did. His grace, His mercy covers me. He picks me up, covers the dirty rags I wear with His righteousness and I start again. He is so great. His love is so amazing.
So why is it so hard for me to extend that mercy and grace to others? Luke 5 records the story of Jesus being condemned by the Pharisees and teachers of the law for eating with “tax collectors and sinners”. His response is simple. “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'” (Luke 5:31-32 NIV) He knew those hurting people needed Him. And He was there. He still is.
Church should be the place where the sin-sick can come and find healing. But is it? I can very easily become complacent. Maybe it has been so long since I have felt that I needed grace that I don’t know how to extend it to anyone else. Ironically, I am bathed in rivers of grace everyday. I just don’t recognize it. Instead I look to the rules that someone created to see how others measure up. Rules about the proper attire, the correct facial expression, the appropriate reverence, the acceptable shortcomings. Yes, there are many who can comply. I fake it. I have been in the church a long time. My whole life. I’ve had many years of practice. Then we can end up with a lot of fakers who don’t feel that they have the freedom to expose the area that they need God to intervene most in. The secret sins. The ugly stuff no one wants to see.
I am not trying to throw every Christian in the same basket. I have met some amazing people who truly reflect their Saviour in everything they do. They aren’t afraid to get a little mud on their feet to help pull someone out. They also aren’t afraid to expose their weakness to illustrate God’s grace. I am not recommending a weekly, graphic unloading of everyone’s dirty laundry but a willingness to share enough to allow others to share a bit of their’s too. People who will admit their need for God. Who can testify to His amazing faithfulness in spite of it all.
Christians have been accused of being hypocrites. Sometimes we are. I am not always a good conduit of God to my neighbour. I fail often. But when I can feel fully loved and accepted by Him, when I remember that He cares for me so much that He sent His only Son to die for me, it becomes that much easier. When I realize how much I am loved then I can love others with that same love. I can admit that I don’t have it all together. I don’t have to be afraid of talking to someone who has done something I don’t approve of. Sin is universal but it isn’t contagious. I can speak words of grace. Of hope. Of forgiveness.
The ultimate goal after finding this kind of grace is sharing it. It is our God-given purpose. Not to avoid the sinner but to love them like our Father does. It doesn’t always come easily. I lose focus sometimes. I forget that I need to keep my eyes firmly set on the cross where Jesus died, the true source of grace. Our world desperately needs it.