Monday, November 1, 2010

A Place of Mercy and Grace

The pastor who preached at my husband's installation is familiar with the miserable situation out of which we came. After the service we spoke briefly and he assured me that there would be challenges at this new congregation, "but I pray this will be a place of mercy and grace for you."

I think of that often. So far it seems to be so. The general mood of the place seems to be confidence in God's work among and through the congregation.

A couple of weeks ago we had a visiting pastor. His sermon referenced the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector from Luke chapter 18:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

How often, in our last congregation, I felt like the tax collector! It's strange for me to say, since I grew up attending church and have, as far as anyone else could tell, a well-behaved life. But there I constantly felt inadequate.

The tone of the sr. pastor's sermons, conversations, aspirations for the congregation seemed to be that the members of our church were set apart, closer to God than others. I would not have been surprised to hear him say in a sermon, "God, I thank you that the people of this congregation are not like other people. We follow your laws and deserve your attention. Help us make other people more like us."

It sounds so appalling that you'd think some among us could have rioted, but in practice it is insidious. It happens gradually, it's hard to identify exactly what's going on, and then one day you wake up and realize you feel less than. Less good than other people in your church. Less obedient. Less worthy of any blessings.

Being now in a congregation that, to my eyes, seems loving and merciful and humble causes me a different kind of pain. I am ever more aware of how lacking mercy and humility our last congregation was. I grieve for the years we spent there and for the dear people who might be misled by what is happening there.


  1. I'm trying to figure out what's bad about identifying with the tax collector. What's wrong with feeling inadequate? So I'm less than others. So what? What matters is the ANSWER to our unworthiness. What matters is the solution -- is it in me or in Christ?

  2. Of course you're right, Susan. Spiritually it is good to identify with the tax collector. Socially, it's not so great. I was thinking of the tax collector in relation to the pharisee, not in relation to God. That the pharisee's self-righteousness marginalized the tax collector in the place of worship.


Thanks for using this space to share your encouraging words.