Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Falling from Graces

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“She fell from their graces into her truth.” This quote appeared last week on my Facebook newsfeed. I love quotes. And there’s a reason some such pithy phrase of one person ends up being a pointed yet ubiquitous reflection on humanity. It seems to summarize you. I immediately shared this quote on my Facebook page because it struck a chord very deep inside me, on many levels. Yet, I suspect you might feel a connection with this quote when you think about your call to preach. It seems that there’s no end to expected graces, especially when it comes to ministry.

The graces that assume the bigger the church, the better. The graces that expect programming without proclamation. The graces that demand you be the “Jane of all Trades.” The graces that insist you be the best preacher EVER (whatever that means), the all-knowing expert about the Bible, the pastoral care presence that always knows just what to say, the minister who can pull a church history fact out of nowhere, the number-crunching yet vision-producing CFO.

The graces that say you can’t talk about those things from the pulpit.

Yet, if we get anything from these two remarkable stories in Mark, anything at all, it should be that that graces seem rather lacking, lackluster, and in fact, are not a requirement at all when it comes to whom God chooses to grace or how God will go about grace. Or, put another way, neither Jairus nor the bleeding woman appear too concerned about graces, proper or otherwise, and yet grace abounds -- still.

What a desperately needed reminder from these two characters. Falling from graces is an essential part of faith. Because once you start going down the road by which the gospel is about graces and not about grace, you know you are in trouble -- big trouble. Jairus and the woman suffering from constant hemorrhaging help us remember the essential character of God’s kingdom: grace -- true grace. Forget graces, just give me grace. Forget graces, they keep me at bay. Forget graces, they dismiss those who need grace the most. Forget graces, they ignore the truth.

God is not about graces but about grace. So goes the church. So goes those of us who are called to preach God’s love. Because grace tends to fall easily into graces.

As the quote above indicates, there is much you give up when you fall into your truth and then live into your truth, out of your truth, from your truth. Relationships change. How you negotiate life changes. And you can no longer live towards others expectations. Because those expectations are never without end. Those placed on yourself; those placed on you by so many others. And, here’s the thing: if you choose to preserve graces whether they be ecclesial, institutional, synodical, denominational, personal, professional, there is also much you give up and you better know your motivations for doing so. You have to know what’s at stake on both ends -- the ends that make up graces and truth. Each side insists on much. And while it’s not an either/or situation necessarily, one will most certainly affect the other.

And living the gospel means willing to fall from graces. Perhaps many of them. So many, in fact, you would be inclined to think that graces and grace are the same thing.

But to fall from graces? All of their graces? It means taking chances. It means bringing about the kingdom no matter what others think. It means calling a thing what it is: racism. It means risk for the sake of life. Because God gave up graces first.

It’s helpful to remember how Mark begins -- in the wilderness with a God rather lacking in proper graces. Rather abruptly, and without proper preparation, God explodes into the world. Tearing apart the heavens is a rather undignified arrival. Graces, especially those associated with a deity, would assume pomp and circumstance. Graces would demand some sense of decorum and dignity. Graces would expect an entrance worthy of the God of Israel and representative of God’s many and mighty acts. But ripping and tearing the firmament? Well, that’s rather untidy, unsightly, and unbecoming divinity. Impossible to put back together again -- there, dear friends, is the very definition of grace. The woman knew this. Jairus knew this. Grace, by definition, insists that what was cannot still be. That rupture means radical reorientation, even resurrection. That life reigns over death. That love wins.

Given this God, we should anticipate, at every turn, that graces matter little. That graces are meant to be challenged, even shattered. That graces, especially if they are put in place to exclude, predict, judge, reject, justify hate, perpetuate ignorance, or to perpetuate systems by which we can continue to ignore our brokenness are no reflections of grace at all.

It seems that Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman knew that our God doesn’t care about graces. That our God is not confined to graces. That our God actually needs, desperately, our upending of graces, especially when they prevent God, in any way, shape, or form, from doing what God does best -- give life.

Karoline

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