It is our practice when there is a ‘fifth’ Sunday in the month for the AM service to be led by an organisation or group, we are delighted that Claire Hughes, with help from Bethan Walkling, volunteered to lead our worship this month.
Luke 5: 12-13 & 27-32. Ephesians 2: 4-10
As is my habit on a Sunday morning, I lie in my bed and listen to our friend, Rev. Roy Jenkins, on his Radio Wales programme, ‘All Things Considered’: a programme which I always find thought-provoking.
One morning in September (a long time ago now!), I heard his interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber, an interesting if very different lady, of whom some of you are aware. Nadia’s words made such an impression on me that I listened again to the programme on I-player and made notes!
For those of you who are not familiar with her, Nadia is a pastor in the United States of America, in a very unconventional church, which she describes as a ‘House for all sinners and saints’. She wanted to create the sort of church that she would be willing to turn up to.
Nadia described her church as ‘high church in the Star Wars cantina’.
If you haven’t seen Star Wars, essentially her comment suggests that ‘all life is here’.
I don’t know if we would wish our church to be compared with the Star Wars cantina but another comparison which we can relate to is that all are welcome in her church, although she admits that some people are harder to welcome than others: she admits that it’s a struggle to love some of the people who come through the door of her church because yes! she is human BUT God created in her an ability to love. She doesn’t think that she came into pastorship with this ability; rather it grew, with GOD’S GRACE.
It was her recognition and acknowledgement of her flawed humanity which struck a chord with me.
I could relate to this rebellious, tattooed lady who, by her own admission, swears ‘better than a truck driver’, though I have fewer tattoos and I try not to swear though I must admit that, when provoked, I’m ashamed that my tongue does run free….something of which I’m not proud, incidentally.
But the point that Nadia is making is that, like me, she is IMPERFECT, perhaps more so than your typical pastor? (Phil? J) She’s fallible.
Nadia sees herself as an example of someone desperately in need of God’s grace: she is preaching to herself in church, the congregation just listening in on her conversation with herself. Nadia said that her experience is NOT that ‘to be in a ‘right’ relationship with God is to be so good you never have to bug him’. Rather, her experience is to be honest about how much she needs God’s grace, because she keeps ‘messing up’.
I thought: ’that’s me!’ I’m top of the podium for messing up. I could spend hours recounting situations throughout my life where I’ve fallen well short, where I’d like to do it all so differently, if only I had the chance to go back and start over.
What would Nadia say about that?
When asked what advice she would give someone who was perhaps making unhealthy or unwise choices, Nadia suggests that our wisdom comes from our mistakes, so to say to someone ‘don’t make mistakes’ is futile, ridiculous. Learning from our experiences is the key. Also knowing that neither the worst nor the best you’ve done affects the way that God sees you.
She offered that better than suggesting ‘try hard enough and you’ll make yourself good’ is to admit that ‘everyone struggles and God’s grace is a good and beautiful thing that interrupts us and brings us redemption’.
Nadia went on to comment that we are ‘simultaneously sinner and saint’, with a capacity for destruction and for kindness. She suggests that it is in our sin and brokenness and failings that God can shine and do his finest work: His grace is always there for us; it is a source of restoration for us, a broken people.
So does this let us off the hook? Do we need to try to be better, do more, or is Nadia suggesting that we’re going to receive God’s grace and forgiveness anyway? Of course we still need to try!
Even if I’m not much good at ‘doing’, I still need to strive to be the best person I can be if I love Jesus Christ and wish to follow his example.
I see people within the church family here who have busy lives, who work and have families to look after, but they make time to be involved actively in church life and beyond these walls.
Yet I never seem to have time to do or help with this, that or the other, convincing myself that ‘I’ll have more time when I retire’! Still, I have laden myself with guilt about this for a long time.
Indeed, I do have a conscience that I don’t do more within the church. I try to be kind, to treat well those I meet in my daily life, to look after my family. I know: ‘even sinners look after their own family’! but, for now, this is where much of my energy needs to be focussed.
I must admit that I take comfort in the suggestion that we can acknowledge our fallibility, our frail humanity. Nonetheless, I have to strive to learn from my mistakes, draw on my experiences and stay mindful, keep the intention of doing good or doing more.
My daily mantra includes ‘work hard….honestly and to the best of my ability’ and ‘be kind to every living creature’. I trust that God will guide me and help me to lead a more Christ-like life.
How will I manage this? How will I seek God’s grace?
When my husband was a tearaway teenager, some friends of his expressed surprise when they learned that he went to church. ‘You don’t go to the doctor unless you’re ill’ was his response.
It is a good analogy, I think. My attendance on a Sunday can be sporadic and I am the poorer for it when I ‘miss’ church. As my body stiffens up when I miss a yoga class or two, my spiritual wellbeing suffers without the challenge, the uplift, the refreshment of time spent with you in prayer and praise.
Sharing worship with you strengthens my resolve to be a better me when I step back out into the world. I bring my life into church: I’ll cry and I’ll laugh; be reticent or extrovert in my worship, depending on how I feel life has been treating me – but I’ll always feel better for being here: it is a powerful place in which to find strength from God’s grace.
The challenge now is to take all that I gain from church back out into life, to bear witness to Christ every day, to go beyond just having ‘conversations’ with Him in the car or in my head – to live through Christ.
Despite my human fallibility, I hope that this imperfect sinner can endeavour, through my actions and faithful discipleship, to be a better example of God’s grace in action.
How might I make myself useful? I am presently practising Reiki. This is a system of energy healing; it is a pure and simple, ancient form of healing. I consider it to be like ‘laying on of hands’ to heal or comfort, ironically something that I have been sceptical about in the past.
However, my own experience of Reiki suggests that there is something really powerful and good happening through its practice and I am keen to share it. Some have suggested that Reiki cannot correlate with a Christian faith. I would suggest that, on the contrary, it could be argued that what Jesus practised was Reiki by another name.
An important aspect of this study is an appreciation of the power of nature and the universe: as I believe these to be God-given, I feel it is bringing me closer to Him and I feel more grateful for what I have, what is all around us, what is important in life.
Perhaps this can be MY way of contributing. It might have taken me nearly half a century but it may just be that I’ve finally found a way of being useful, witnessing to Christ for the benefit of others. I just needed to be patient and wait for God’s grace to help me find my niche!
Maybe you know what your gifts are already. Maybe you don’t. The wonderful thing about God’s grace is that it’s not about us being good enough or holy enough or doing enough but it’s more about God’s extravagant love being shared with us whoever we are. In the words of Nadia –
‘God’s grace is a good and beautiful thing that interrupts us and brings us redemption’.
If Reiki is the way that I can contribute, I hope that I can do so in such a way through which God can shine.
After all, His grace is always there for us, waiting to restore us. We are human, we are fallible but God knows us and God can show us, through his grace, how each of us might bear witness to His love in our own unique way.
So may God’s love work in us; may God’s light shine through us; may God’s grace transform us and this wonderful world in which we live. Amen!