There is an old prayer that goes: Dear Lord, so far today I’ve done all right. I’ve kept my mouth shut, I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or over-indulgent. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on I’m probably going to need a lot more help. Thank you, in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
It is not easy being a Christian if you take the faith seriously. Discipleship involves not only the discipline of faith but it calls for the discipline of right action as well. It is hard to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is hard to give as we have been given to. It is hard to forgive those who have hurt or wronged us. It is hard to be like Christ in the world. But that is exactly what we are called to do – to be like Christ. I love this old prayer and I find it so true in my own life. I fall so short of the glory of God and often I begin to fall before I ever get my grumpy self out of bed in the morning.
The good news is – the love of our God is not dependent on our ability to be Christ like. Our value in the eyes of God is not based on our Christian performance. If God only loved me to the extent that I was able to love God then my own inabilities would doom me forever. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds us that God’s care for his children is not based in their performance review. Rather it is based on Christ’s. “For there is no distinction,” Paul writes, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It is the oldest truth of the Christian faith – God loves us in spite of our sins, precisely because Christ was willing to die for those sins. Our sinful natures may hamper our lives but in spite of those sins we are infinitely valuable in the eyes of God.
This truth ought to give us an amazing sense of security and freedom. We ought to be able to rest in the knowledge that we don’t have to prove our worth to God, in fact we can’t prove our worth, nor will we ever be required to. And this truth should also apply to how we treat others. If God loves us in spite of our failings then there is no one in our lives that we should not be able to love in spite of their failings. Our children, our spouse, our siblings, our parents and our friends all deserve our love and concern regardless of how well they meet our expectations. God in Christ teaches us that love and salvation are not based on being right or wrong, good or bad, a great success or a miserable failure. Rather, the best kind of love is not based on anything, it is freely given, without strings attached. I call this the rule of grace, the rule of divine grace. Someone once said that grace can be defined as the undeserved gifts given by an un-obligated giver. I think that is the best definition I have ever heard. We do not deserve God’s love or the gift of salvation but our unobligated God gives them anyway.
There is another rule that goes side by side with the rule of grace and it is called the rule of law. God’s love is free, there are no strings attached, and if we are going to live into that love then we cannot help but act in certain ways. As Jesus says in our Gospel for today, saying “Lord, Lord”, proclaiming our belief in God, is not enough – for everyone who truly believes will also strive to do God’s will. In other words, we do not know God’s love without also being compelled to share God’s love. We cannot be people of faith without also being people of action. We cannot be believers without also being- “doers of the Word.” The two go hand in hand – loving action necessarily follows from a living and vibrant faith.
In this sense, the Gospel faith is meant to be an expressive faith and not a static faith. It is meant to be a faith of social concern and not a private affair between “me and my God.” We cannot hoard grace. It must be spent. In simple terms this means that everyone who believes must also have a ministry. Everyone who clings to the promise of God’s unconditional love must also actively seek to live out that love in the world. There can be no real faith without ministry. It isn’t enough just to sit in the pews and say our prayers. What we do on Sunday means little if we cannot find ways to live it out on Monday.
There is an old Hindu story about a water bearer who had two large pots, each hung on the end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it and leaked, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. Every day the water bearer carried these two pots from the river to his master ’s house. The perfect pot always arrived full while the crack pot consistently lost half of its water on the journey from the river to the house. The perfect pot was proud of its performance but the broken pot was ashamed of its own imperfection. After two years of what it perceived to be failure, the broken pot spoke to the water bearer.
“I am ashamed of myself and I want to apologize,” said the pot. “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “During these past two years I have only been able to deliver half of my load,” responded the pot. “Because of my flaws you do not get the full value of your work.” The water bearer felt sad for the broken pot and said, “Have you noticed the beautiful flowers that grow along the path between the river and my master ’s house? Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path? That is because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted seeds along the path and you have watered them everyday for two years. Because of your cracks my master has beautiful flowers to grace his home. In spite of your imperfections you have gifts to give.”
You and I, we are flawed creatures. As the old prayer says our sins and imperfections spring to life each day as we spring from bed. Our God knows all about our imperfections. But our God does not demand that we be perfect, he does not demand that we be flaw free in order to be of service. Rather, we are infinitely valuable in spite of our flaws. In fact, like the cracked pot, our God can use our flaws to bring a little more grace into the world. Our flaws can be the means by which God’s grace is literally poured out in the world and for the world. The rule of grace says that we are loved beyond our worth. The rule of law says that we must put that graceful love to work. We are all cracked pots, but we are also the children of a loving God – the trick is to put ourselves into action – flaws and all.