Robert Schnase (2018) stated Jesus welcomed the stranger, but he also became the stranger who accepted the welcome of others to offer them God’s grace.
That is where space for grace begins today but the story actually began quite some time ago –
We went every year to a Texas Rangers baseball game. Either my dad took us or took a group of us with our church. Some years it was the youth group – but nevertheless I grew up going to the baseball park. I can vividly remember the year we went and my picture of a “good Christian” was compromised.
It must have been Christian group day at the ballpark because I did not hesitate to assume that the group of adults sitting near us were from a church – it could have even been Baptist day at the ballpark – who knows but these Christians were different.
They were drinking beer.
I can honestly remember asking them how in the world can they be Christians and drink beer.
In my “defense” it was probably 1979 or so and my small world of Perrin, Texas did not consist of people openly drinking beer and going to church. I am quite sure there were some that did but we certainly never talked about it and I did not have any circle of friends or family who drank in front of us. I don’t know that my parents thought it was “wrong” but they just did not see any purpose and they did recognize the potential danger involved in drinking too much. So for them – they just brought us up in a home that did not drink alcohol.
And at church I often heard of the consequences of Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol.
I knew of grace at home – I am not so certain that I heard of grace in church. I know we wanted grace to be there but we also wanted grace to be there in a way that we felt comfortable. We did not for one moment acknowledge how grace could be extended to others – like the adults at the ballpark drinking beer – and we really just skipped right over that type of grace extension. I suspect we were “wrong” but honestly we were never challenged. It was a different time – way before social media and a time when we often hid our true selves for wanting to fit in with others. Or for wanting to escape their judgment.
I am not sure when it changed. But it certainly has.
Space is defined as a continuous area or expanse that is free, available, or unoccupied. Grace is favor or goodwill and God’s free & unmerited favor is the Christian definition. Favor is approval, support, or liking for someone or something – an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual.
Therefore a space for grace =
an available area for an act of kindness, approval, support beyond what is due or usual.
I would have to say that back at the ballpark I was not that area. My space for grace probably looked a bit like this.
All jumbled together – no space in sight for something different – just a big pile of debris. Once beautiful trees and rocks – now something we would want to clean up and discard. But with perspective (and a few years) that area can change.
More room now – more area but certainly the pile of debris is still in the center. I met more people that went to church and drank beer. I tried it myself and realized that I could still get up and go to church if I drank beer. I married into a family of Germans where beer was a common beverage and certainly not frowned upon (and not abused either).
But beer is just one example and quite honestly the metaphor that permeates this journey.
Do I have a space for grace for others …
if they drink alcohol or if their skin is different than mine
if they go to a different church or don’t go at all
if they are Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Jewish, Catholic, Baptist …
if they are poor or wealthy
if they are divorced or same sex attracted
if they are a felon or have been incarcerated
if they have hurt others or if they have been hurt
if they vote for him, if they voted for her, if they did not vote
if they are just different than me
Many times we bring that cluttered mess back into focus and front and centered when we aren’t so sure about the choices of others. And yes – we can quote book, chapter, and verse to support our beliefs. I can recall the day as a young girl I picked up the phone – that was mounted on the wall – called my church of Christ friend and proceeded to tell her the scriptures that outlined why our church was right and her beliefs were wrong.
When our cares are placed on the specific acts or beliefs of others more than the commandment – we miss grace. We fill the space with ourselves rather than having a space to extend His love.
The space for grace photo was taken at a time when I became the stranger that Schnase referred to. I went to Alpine Texas to pick grapes for a winery owned by a friend of mine. The tradition is an old one for many but a new one for me. I was welcomed by people who did not know me – even the friend that I went to help really did not know me very well.
In the past I would have never gone anywhere with people that I pretty much did not have the whole history on. I would not have wanted to end up at a “ballpark” and have my world rocked. But for that weekend where I was given the space for grace – I am forever thankful. I did not need to know the history – I just needed to know Love. And I needed to be Love.
With a greater perspective the space opens up. The debris is right there in the middle of this photo at the base of the tree. So much beauty and detail all around. So much to miss if one focuses on that pile at the base of the tree.
We are in a time when focusing on that pile only ensures that we will miss grace and miss having a space for grace. I simply cannot even fathom standing beside someone, picking up the phone and calling someone, seeing someone at a ballpark, or finding someone in a pile and telling them that because of our differences I can receive His favor but they cannot. Can I still find book, chapter, and verse to support my younger way of thinking? Certainly. Can I now decide to focus on the Greatest Command and can we figure out the rest when we get this Love and Grace part mastered?
That is the challenge today for people like me… the challenge to get out of the way and let Jesus be Jesus. We have to find a way to welcome the stranger and be the stranger who is welcomed by others so that we can have
space for grace.
Photo credits: Dr. Cheryl Cannon Groves. Locations: Cathedral Mountain Vineyard, Alpine, Texas with permission from Times Ten Cellars and Schmidt Family Ranch, McCullough County, Texas.