Thursday, July 09, 2009

Moral Exterminators vs. The Sweet Smell Of Grace


The lack of inactivity in terms of actual meaningful posts might lead you to believe that I am in some sort of thoughtless wilderness. Not true. God has been telling me tons of stuff lately. I dare say I am in a period that might end up yielding a "spike" in the spiritual line graph of my life.

I'm currently reading a great book, WHAT'S SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE?, by Philip Yancey.  This book could produce endless posts, but I thought I would just share one passage. The following passage comes from chapter twelve. Titled "No Oddballs Allowed," this chapter deals with an issue that is of increasing importance to me: Jesus' love of the so called "defectives" among us, me included.

Yancey writes as follows:

A phrase used by both Peter and Paul has become one of my favorite images from the New Testament. We are to administer, or "dispense," God's grace, say the two apostles. The image brings to mind one of the old-fashioned "atomizers" women used before the perfection of spray technology. Squeeze a rubber bulb, and droplets of perfume come shooting out of the fine holes at the other end. A few drops suffice for a whole body; a few pumps change the atmosphere in a room. That is how grace should work, I think. It does not convert the entire world or an entire society, but it does enrich the atmosphere.
Now I worry that the prevailing image of Christians has changed from that of a perfume atomizer to a different spray apparatus: the kind used by insect exterminators. There's a roach! Pump, spray, pump, spray. There's a spot of evil. Pump, spray, pump, spray. Some Christians I know have taken on the task of "moral exterminator" for the evil-infested society around them.
I share a deep concern for our society. I am struck, though, by the alternative power of mercy as demonstrated by Jesus, who came for the sick and not the well, for the sinners and not the righteous. Jesus never countenanced evil, but he did stand ready to forgive it. Somehow, he gained the reputation as a lover of sinners, a reputation that his followers are in danger of losing today. As Dorothy Day put it, "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least."
There's so much there in that quote. The first thing is that I absolutely love the quote from Dorothy Day. It is so right on! The second thing is that the above passage makes me ask myself: "Am I pumping a sweet grace into the air or am I pumping poison onto those around me?" I don't want to pump the poison.
I also dig the line that says Jesus gained the reputation as a lover of sinners, a reputation that his followers are in danger of losing today. This is so true and so sad! This reminds me of a line delivered by Flanders' wife in The Simpsons wherein she says, "I've been going to Bible classes. They're teaching me to be more judgmental." Sadly, this perception of us Christians is becoming increasingly accurate; however, this is not how Jesus himself operated. In a very user-friendly move, the author of this book sums up the Old Testament laws as follows: "No Oddballs Allowed." He then points out that Jesus brought another message.
Earlier in the chapter Yancey states:  Jesus' approach to "unclean" people dismayed his countrymen and, in the end, helped to get him crucified. In essence, Jesus canceled the cherished principle of the Old Testament, No Oddballs Allowed, replacing it with a new rule of grace: "We're all oddballs, but God loves us anyhow."
To drive this point home Yancey uses the Bible scene found in Acts 10 where in Peter finds himself smack dab in the center of the eye of the hurricane in God's beautiful storm of grace. Read all of Acts 10, but consider this line from Acts 10:28 wherein Peter says, "You know it is against the Jewish laws for me to come into a Gentile home like this.  But God has shown me that I should never think of anyone as impure." Peter found that Jesus' church even had room for "unclean" Gentiles like me!
Like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, many among the so-called Christian fundamentalist right are scandalized by a message such as the one Jesus preached. My question for them today is: Are you spreading the sweet aroma of grace or pumping poison onto those non-Christians around you?

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9 Comments:

Blogger Jennifer said...

LOVE that book! One of my all-time favorites. Glad you're reading it and hope you're blessed by it.

Thanks for the welcome back to CA. Wish I could say I'm glad to be here...

Miss you guys and at least we're an easy road trip away. Hint, hint!

9:54 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

This is a good book and the Grace principle is one that I hold very dear. When I find myself getting judgemental (which to my shame seems to happen increasingly these days) - I have to remind myself of Romans 3 - 23.

Liking your blog!

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