In a world of injustice we call and work for justice. OK, is there more? In the business world, work is cost-justified. The church is “written off” the ledger sheets in part because it is not good business and, unfortunately, because it is often not good at its business. The business of the church is grace.
“Grace” is a word people seldom use except with religious meaning. It is used to describe movements of bodies as “graceful,” but there is less talk of hearts. Grace is both an attitude of the heart and actions of the hands that go beyond justice.
Because “grace” is falling out of public usage, it has become a “churchy” word. That can be good, because it is at the heart of the uniqueness of the church and the Christian faith. It can also be bad, because people do not understand it well, and, unfortunately, do not see it clearly in the church.
Too often the church is seen as a place of demand, the opposite of grace. The church demands certain moral behaviors. The church demands both my money and my time. In our individualistic, non-authoritarian society people do not like demands.
On the other side, our consumerist culture likes to get. We demand from others to get what is rightfully ours. This is justice. If we are part of the church, we demand good youth programs, good worship and preaching, good social groups. In the world we want “free” things given to us without obligation.
Covenant of grace
How do we recover the covenant of grace? This is an old phrase, but a fundamental theological expression. A “covenant” is a sealed partnership agreement between two parties that establishes an ongoing relationship. “Grace” means that this agreement is given freely by one party to the other, not based on merit or claims of justice.
This may sound basic, and it is, but it is not basic in our world. There is some generosity, but everyone wonders what strings, demands or expectations are attached. Our ministry gave away free food this week. Of course, it was to make contact with students, to get visibility, to get their names. It felt more like grace when we gave the food to a homeless man.
The power of Scripture is in its stories of grace in a broken world. Our world’s and our lives’ brokenness are well expressed as homelessness. We are alienated from God, each other, and creation. We are exiles, refugees, emigrants looking for home. We feel this spiritually and see it physically in the Syrian refugees and city homeless.
God is about homecoming. Jesus Christ is the first homecoming of God, as Eugene Petersen wonderfully translates John 1:14 in The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”
The homecoming of the church is exemplified in the Book of Ruth. Here we see both what it is to come home as a broken refugee, Naomi, and to be welcomed in the immigrant outsider, Ruth, the Moabite. Here is grace at work through God’s people. There is grace in the laws of gleaning to give opportunity to the poor. There are structures regarding family responsibilities, but Boaz goes beyond law and requirements to grace.
There is a delightful little repeated phrase in Ruth 2 (verses 2, 10, 13), “in your eyes to find favour.” The word translated as “favour” is the Hebrew word for “grace.” Ruth and Naomi need grace. They need someone to look at them graciously. When Boaz came to the field he saw this outsider, this person in need. When he looked at her with gracious eyes, he acted. Boaz gave Ruth lunch. He gave her a job. He protected her. When Naomi hears Boaz’s acts and name, she knows God’s kindness does not end. Out of this small favour came David, from whom came the Christ.
The writer of Ruth also makes this intriguing comment in verse 4. Literally translated, “Ruth’s chance chanced on Boaz’s field.” She was without purpose, but the world is not. God purpose is grace working through his people’s favour. May the world find favour in our eyes.