There’s no such thing as a free lunch. That mind-set permeates our culture. For example, here in the South, we are taught never to return a dish empty after someone gives us food. So in order to keep my neighbors from reciprocating every time I share a treat, I have resorted to delivering my cookies (or whatever) on a paper plate or in a plastic storage bag. Otherwise they give me something back, when I gave them the food to begin with because I’ve made too much. I don’t need more. The recipients of my treats have trouble accepting other small acts of kindness as well. Recently one neighbor needed a ride home after she dropped off her car to be serviced; the next day she left half of an apricot-nectar cake on my steps. Last week I gave another neighbor a lift to exercise class; she met me with a biscotti and a chocolate. We seem to need to balance the scales.
Perhaps in a much larger and more serious way, this is the source of my discomfort with Lent. We’re told that we don’t have to earn God’s favor, yet we take up Lenten disciplines that involve either denying ourselves (a negative act) or doing some act of charity or service (a positive act). Either way, I am doing something, not resting in God’s grace. I measure my performance and feel better about myself when I remember my resolve and worse about myself when I don’t. The point of Lenten exercises is to focus more fully on Christ—and I end up focusing on me. Obviously I fail Lent. There I go again—grading myself!
Paul reminds us that the initiative and power in our salvation are God’s. Before the law, God reached out to us. Apart from any rules or performance measures, grace guarantees that God accepts us.
Holy God, encourage us to give up our spiritual scales. May we allow ourselves to rest in your grace and to focus on relationship, not rules. Amen.
We cannot earn God’s love. Going back to the time of Abraham, God’s blessing has been based on faith. God chose Abraham for a covenant not because Abraham was perfect but because he believed God. The psalmist reminds his audience of their ancient relationship with God and expresses the hope that it will continue through future generations. Paul reinforces the centrality of faith in Romans. Following the law was not bad, but no one should believe that following the law could earn God’s favor. In Mark 8, Jesus pushes his disciples in their understanding of faith. Trusting God means surrendering everything, including position and reputation. If we value those things more than God, then we are not displaying the faith of Abraham.
• Read Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. No rules, just relationship. How comfortable are you in your relationship with God? Upon what does it rest?
• Read Psalm 22. Which verses are most familiar to you? In what ways does your faith journey live in the interplay of shadow and light?
• Read Romans 4:13-25. How easily do you live in God’s grace? In what areas do you find yourself “reckoning” your righteousness?
• Read Mark 8:31-38. When the world asks you who you are, what is your reply?
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