from the spring/summer 2016 issue of Reflections magazine.
for this article in PDF format Channels of Grace
During the season of Epiphany 2016, the Rev. Drs. John Lewis and Jane Patterson prepared a five-week online study for the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas titled “God Claims us All.” Each of the weeks focused on an aspect of how God calls us into Christian ministry, particularly lay ministry. Week Four of the study addressed the role that grace plays as we respond to God’s call on our lives and hearts and relates directly to this issue of Reflections. Below are some excerpts from “God Claims Us All.” This study can be found in its entirety, along with several other seasonal and Bible studies, at: www.christianformation-dwtx.org.
by the Rev. Dr. John Lewis
The Collect for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany reads:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 215).
This collect highlights two critical dimensions of God’s claim on our lives. First, it is God’s grace that empowers us to hear and respond to the many ways we are called into service in the name of Jesus Christ. We identify Jesus Christ as the source of God’s grace in our lives and understand that God’s grace prepares and empowers us to proclaim the gospel of Christ in our own unique contexts. Second, we proclaim the gospel of Christ by becoming channels for God’s grace to enrich the lives of other people around us. These experiences of divine grace reveal the glory of Christ’s marvelous works in the world.
Our experiences of grace in daily life are as numerous and diverse as the variety of people and the unique contexts that shape life in our world. Although grace is a gift from God, our experiences of grace are not completely random. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a responsibility for what we do with the grace we have been given in our own lives. In the words of the author of the early Christian letter known as First Peter, we are called to be good stewards of this grace from God.
In the ancient world a steward was someone who was given the responsibility to oversee and manage all the resources of the master’s household. In this position of trust the steward was given freedom to make decisions with regard to the disposition and use of the master’s resources. But the steward was also accountable to the master for making sure that the resources were used for the benefit of the master’s household.
The author of First Peter utilizes this concept of stewardship to characterize our relationship to God’s grace. Through the different experiences of grace in our own lives, we discover many facets of this life-giving power given to each of us by God. Our experiences of grace give rise to a responsibility to use this divine resource faithfully, for the benefit of God’s people and the wider world. We faithfully carry out this stewardship responsibility by serving one another and becoming conduits for God’s grace to enrich the lives of those we serve.
One of Paul’s frequently cited statements about grace comes in his letter to the Romans (12:3-8) in which he says:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same practice, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have events of grace that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the encourager, in encouragement; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the one having mercy, in cheerfulness.
In the first verse of this passage, Paul talks about one of the specific incarnations of grace given to him by God that has proven to be a channel of grace for others. Paul is gifted with practical wisdom about how to embody faithfully the patterns of Jesus Christ in people’s lives. So it is important, he says, that we not think too highly of our own capabilities and effectiveness. We are to evaluate the fruitfulness of our own actions with sober judgment, making sure to identify the ways God is gracing others through what we do.
Paul also emphasizes the necessity for the diversity of practices in the body of Christ. If we are reflecting on our ministries with sober judgment, we realize how much we need one another. Valuing our various individual contributions ensures that we are a healthy Christian community.
In the final sentence of the passage, pay close attention to the fact that God’s life-giving grace is experienced among people “in” the doing of very particular actions. For instance, in the relationship between teacher and student(s), God’s grace is experienced “in” the teaching. So, too, for the person engaging in ministry, the grace is experienced “in” the ministering; grace is experienced “in” the act of encouragement offered by one person in support of the other. In every case Paul describes, the event of grace takes place in the relationship between the actor and the people benefitting from the action. Grace is experienced not only by the people whose lives are enriched as recipients of God’s grace, but also by the actors who offer themselves as living sacrifices in very specific ways.
Simply put, grace is the life-giving power of God that enriches the quality of our lives and relationships in the world. Grace is a gift from God, since the power to create new life rests in God alone.
Nevertheless, God calls us to be good stewards of the grace given to us by offering ourselves in Christ-like service to the world. Through our faithful acts of self-giving for others, we hope to become the means by which other people experience this life-giving power of God and come to know God and our Lord Jesus Christ in deeper and more meaningful ways.
The Rev. Dr. John Lewis is Co-Director of St. Benedict’s Workshop. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further reflection
What are some of your actions or ministries that have proven to be regular channels of grace for others?
Where have you experienced grace through someone else’s actions or ministries? For instance, who is a person that regularly proves to be a source of encouragement in your life?
Is there a ministry that God might be calling you to in which you could become a channel of grace for others?
To read the entire spring/summer 2016 issue or articles from the issue, go here.