- Peculiar Grace- Sharing the immense grace of God through extravagant and creative means.
In the church, we like to sing about grace. “Amazing Grace,” “Grace Greater Than Our Sins,” and “Grace Like Rain” are just a few songs that come to mind, and as a United Methodist Church we especially love grace. We believe in Prevenient grace, the grace that is present before we know Jesus as Lord. We believe in Justifying grace, the grace that present at salvation uniting us with the Holy One. We believe in Sanctifying grace, the grace that continually transforms us in the image of God. And we believe in Glorifying grace, the grace that goes with us when we leave this Earth and enter that mysterious place called Heaven. Needless to say, grace is a big deal.
I like to define grace as anytime and anyway that God interacts with His creation, and I believe then that if the church should show anything, it should show grace. Because grace is a God thing, and not a human thing, grace looks peculiar for us. We are to be God’s channel for grace to be given. So, when you encourage me in my faith: grace. When you serve your neighbor: grace. When you love your wife: grace. When you teach a child: grace. This is how we as Christians are called to live, as people constantly giving grace.
The underlying value of peculiar grace is the worth of the other. Every encounter with another is an opportunity to convey grace to a child of God. This radical view of persons prompts us to show radical grace to the other. The person who waits on your table at your favorite restaurant is a child of God. The person who cuts you off on the highway is a child of God. The person who coaches your kid’s T-ball team is a child of God, and your spouse is a child of God. When we realize the immense worth of persons, we can then fully be givers of God’s grace. Too often we define people by the adjectives that we attach to them. They may be our friendly neighbor, angry customer, strange friend, and we operate out of that reality that pays more attention to the adjectives at the front, then the nouns at the back. Peculiar grace always operates from a person-centered aspect.
Peculiar grace is not cheap grace. It is not enabling grace, so that we give people who are addicted to drugs (notice they are people first, who have an addiction, instead of just referring to someone as a “druggie”) money and say go and get better, but peculiar grace stands in the truth in all situations. This makes peculiar grace difficult because it demands relationships that command follow-through.
Peculiar grace is marked by its extravagant creativity. That is partially where the peculiarness comes from. It is a creative grace. We serve a creative God, who has loved us in some incredibly creative ways, and we are called to follow His lead. An example of this might tell it best. At Asbury Seminary, a few years ago the decision was made not to allow skateboarders on the campus. Now, there are reasonable reasons for this decisions that make sense including the safety of those skateboarders, the students, and the staff. Yet, those skateboarders probably will not understand the full reasons for this decision, all they know is that this place that claims to be Christian is not allowing them to experience life in one of the best ways they know how. The message that still can be communicated to them is that Christians did not accept them. I do not fault this decision, but I ask us to look at this situation through the lens of peculiar grace. What if the Asbury community decided to build a skate park for these youth in our small community? What if they sacrificed their resources so that they could even enhance the skating experience for these youth? These youth are no longer those dangerous skaters, but they are our neighbors who are adventurous. The message we send then is that we value the safety of our people, but that we also embrace these youth, and how our God created them to be. The church does not become the squasher of joy, but an instrument of grace. Yes, it will cost money. Yes, it will take our time and resources, but peculiar grace is marked by its extravagance. It is marked by its creativity, and as is the nature of our God, it is marked by its sacrifice.
So, this is to be a church that always looks through the lens of peculiar grace. It does so on both big, church wide issues and individual issues. It takes its lead from Christ, whose peculiar grace is marked by a cross. I still don’t understand it, but this I know: Jesus loves me. For those who don’t know Christ, they won’t understand it, but they will in some ways receive it. Recently, at the restaurant that I work a, one of my friends from Seminary came to eat with about eight of his friends. They all go to the same church, which has recently placed a huge emphasis on radical generosity. My fellow server waited on them, and I waited on her to see the tips from this table. It was fascinating to watch as she read $15 on a $30 check, $12 on $25, and $20 on $26. She was simply bewildered by the tips. She said what many of us should say about grace, “I don’t deserve this.” She was struck by the peculiarness of grace. She was almost upset about it, “Why would someone do this? It makes no sense.” This is peculiar grace.