Monday Matters (August 15, 2022)


Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
Trust in  the Lord and do good; live in the land and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:1-4

Do we know what it means to be struck by grace?… Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life…It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace.

-Paul Tillich from The Shaking of the Foundations

Accept that you are accepted

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone? Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him
-Matthew 7:9-11

What is your image of God? Where did that come from? Is it good news or bad news?
There are a host of forces in our world that tell us we’re not enough. Not competent enough. Not smart enough. Not attractive enough. Not rich enough. Not spiritual enough. If you’ve never heard those voices, God bless you. You are fortunate.For the rest of us, a big part of the spiritual journey is reckoning with those voices, navigating the times when we refute or affirm them, when we do our level best to tune them out with any number of distractions, some of which can morph into behaviors that are not good for us.

Sometimes we imagine those voices come not only from people and institutions around us. We sometimes imagine that those voices are God speaking to us. We sometimes imagine a God who gives us stones when we need bread, snakes instead of fish. There’s a lot of religion based on that notion of God. (Read Jonathan Edwards sermon “Sinners in the hand of an angry God” if you’re looking for an example.)

But the good news of the gospel, if we have the courage to embrace it, is that God accepts us where we are (even if our own parents/community/church won’t). The good news of the gospel, if we have the courage to embrace it, is that God seeks our good, a God in the business of turning stones into bread and not the other way around. Like a loving parent, not a bully or a boss. The good news of the gospel, repeated throughout scripture, is that God is love.
While human beings in moments of depravity can fail to do good to their own children, or even seek to harm them, there is (I believe, or at least hope) a basic sense that a parent seeks the best for the child. Many parents will do anything for their children. That kind of expansive love gives us a glimmer of the love God has for all of creation, for all people.

So if we can wrap our minds around that, how does that change us?

First, in the context of this passage from the Sermon on the Mount it means that we can be free to ask for what we desire. Psalm 37 has become a favorite guide for me. I’ve included portions of it above. It speaks of God’s intention to fulfill our desires. God wishes for us to know joy.

Second, it means that we can move away from fear-based religion. So much religion, in the Christian tradition, and in others, envisions God just waiting for us to mess up, ready to hurl thunderbolts when we step out of our lane, relishing in suffering inflicted on us. Fear is a motivator and can keep us in line, for sure. But Jesus came to show us another way, stretching out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into his saving embrace with a message that perfect love casts out fear. It can be difficult to hear that good word. The voices that tell us we’re not enough can drown it out. But if we can dare to believe it, it changes us. And those around us.

Third and finally, it means that we can be free to show grace as we come to know grace. My experience tells me that people who are animated by fear-based religion end up inflicting that on others, entering into a judgmental frame of mind. Similarly, those animated by grace, who know on some deep level that they have been accepted, can extend that acceptance to others as well.

We live in a grace-starved world, that needs to know God gives us bread, not stones. When we believe that, even just a little bit, we can share it. How might you do that this Monday?

-Jay Sidebotham

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