Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Irrevocable Grace

I'm in a fallow period: in between cures, as they say.  It is a humbling experience, and a little bit scary.  Cut loose from the normal routines of pastoral ministry, I am thrown back upon the present moment and forced to confront myself without the trappings of role or office.  Who am I?  What does it mean to be a priest - especially one without a pulpit or altar?  Being "in transition" feels at times as if my self-image has been punctured and my identity is slowly leaking out.  What will remain?

Then, like a thirsty man discovering an oasis in the desert,  I stumble upon today's lesson from Paul's Letter to the Romans: "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." What a relief!  Priesthood isn't my possession, it is God's gift.  I don't own it.  I can't control it, manipulate it, or bend it to my will (I can try to, but, my oh my, at what cost!).  It is more akin to a renewable source of energy, always available if I willingly undertake to honor and maintain the conditions necessary for its ongoing life.  The gifts and calling of God are inexhaustible.  Grace is irrevocable.

It is good for me to experience this time as a reminder that we are saved by faith, not by works.  "For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all."  How quick I am to think myself exempt from this truth.  "Who, me, disobedient?  In need of forgiveness and mercy?  Dependent upon the grace of God?  Maybe those poor souls I'm supposed to help, but not me!  I've earned my place at the table."  But the truth is that, like everyone else, I am dependent upon the mercy of God. Even my gifts and calling are given by Another, and not of my own making.

What a relief!  God makes use even of my disobedience, by limitations, my arrogance, my sense of entitlement, as an opportunity to reveal his irrevocable mercy.   The gifts and calling are not mine, that is true.  But they are a renewable resource from which I can draw again and again.  I can refuse them, but they can not be taken from me. Neither is the "use" of them a garuantee of my salvation, the justification of my existence.  That, too, is God's gift.

St. Paul reminds us that this is true for Jews- "and so all Israel will be saved" - it is true for Christians; it is true for me and for you.  Our short term disobedience, brokenness, even uselessness is, by the grace of God, in the service of a long-term, indeed, unending, experience of mercy.

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