This past week I participated in an interfaith dialogue hosted by the Armenian Orthodox Church. Participants included several denominations of Orthodox churches including the Greek and Romanian Orthodox Churches. One Mennonite, several Roman Catholic representatives and a couple of people from the Hare Krishna community. We were asked to talk generally about our particular tradition or religion and be able to answer any questions from other members.
The conversation was rich and diverse. We covered topics ranging from our particular understanding of the Holy Eucharist, what it means to love our neighbour including several questions about the Queen and her relationship to the Anglican Church and the recent conversation and debate on the Marriage Cannon. Needless to say, by the end of the day I was exhausted.
Through this conversation I learned that even within our own Christian religion there is tremendous diversity and opinion on all the above topics and more. What I learned and highlighted in my own presentation is that Christianity, when at its best, is a way of life modeled after the life of Christ. This does not mean to say that just because we believe in Jesus, that everyone needs to believe in Jesus. This is where our gospel today has gotten us into trouble before, where we assume the words of John’s gospel in a literal manner and try and apply them to others. Rather for me, the important message is highlighted again in our reading from Ephesians, is that for those of us who follow Jesus, we are called into a “way of life” (Eph. 2: 10).
Living in a ‘way of life’ immediately gives the impression that things are not as clear as black and white. But rather there is more grey and ambiguity than we first realize. We know this all too well in our daily lives. We know that our best made plans often don’t turn out the way we expected. We know, from painful experience that there are times, many times, when we get the short end of the stick and moments when we hurt others and are hurt ourselves. Following a way of life means that we learn through painful experience what it means to be forgiven and to forgive.
Living a way of life is messy where the way forward is not ever clear and our own morals and beliefs are constantly being tested in countless ways.
Living into this way of life, a life that is messy and ambiguous means we lead a life modeled after Jesus. But what does that mean to believe in Jesus and model our lives after him?
In part, believing in Jesus is to be able to express and believe in the Incarnation of the Word made flesh, where God comes to us in our world in the person of Jesus. A big sentence I know. But what this means is that we believe that God is in our world, as broken and flawed as it may be. We believe that God is in our world living and working through people like you and me. We are the hands that God uses. We are the feet that God uses every day. We believe this, because we believe that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.
This, at face value can be overwhelming. It is hard to imagine how we can live the ideal life called for by our faith. This is why I like this passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul reminds the faithful that:
“by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, created beforehand to be our way of life” (Eph 2: 8-10).
Paul says, because we are created in Christ our work becomes our way of life. Yes we will always find ways to get it all wrong. Perfection is not the goal. Rather we are invited to live into and accept the grace given to us by God. Grace, that marvelous gift from God, is what saves us. Grace means while we make mistakes, we will always have an opportunity to do better. Accepting God’s grace means that we are loved by God completely and unconditionally and we are saved by God.
Notice, there is nothing about deserving grace, or the criteria by which we receive grace. Grace is a gift from God freely given from the moment of our birth, the same way we love our children, God loves us. It is easy and even cathartic at times to linger on how we have been wronged or the weight of the burdens and responsibilities placed on us each day. Complaining is easy. Rather, what Paul urges us to consider, is to live each day basking in the grace we have received as a gift and to bring an attitude of grace to all our daily work. I am willing to bet, that when we do this, we enter into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and our neighbour. We may find, quite quickly that a life lived in grace, is contagious where others begin to see and realize the out pouring of grace from us that is a gift from God.
We can live as a people waiting for the bottom to fall out of our lives or we can live as a people saved. I pray that we live as a people saved, where we have received grace upon grace that is totally undeserved, but given anyway because of the love God has for us.