Yesterday morning I had the privilege to gather with ministers from around Odessa, TX as we met for our monthly ministerial alliance meeting. However, this meeting was unlike any that I had attended before as we had set the agenda to discuss race relations in Odessa and how we as the church were addressing these issues. We set around and heard stories from Latino, African-American and Native American ministers and how the church was doing in regards towards racial-reconciliation and healing of historic and systemic wounds. Much of the conversation seemed to be framed around how our differences ultimately shouldn’t divide, but lead to conversation which should lead to understanding which would ultimately lead to healing. And many of us concluded that a large part of the problem is that often these conversations aren’t happening in churches not out of fear or hatred, but rather indifference or apathy…which might actually be worse. What is it about our current situation or way of life that keeps us from approaching, conversing or even relating to each other?
Sometimes in the church, maybe specifically the Church of the Nazarene, we struggle with this on an even grander scale. You see, those of us who believe in Holiness doctrine believe that God does something special through a second (or continued) work of grace through the Holy Spirit. In this work on God’s part we believe that God does away with our sin-nature or our desire to sin and leads us to living more Christ-like lives. However sometimes this work on God’s part becomes a thing that we think we have done on our part and we forget who we were and who we still are apart from grace. In his first letter to his young protege, the apostle Paul put it this way, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 1:15-16 Of whom I am the worst? I’m not sure Paul minced words about who he thought of himself in regards to his condition. And yet…he was Paul.
I think about what this should say about us and how we relate to people who aren’t like us. I think sometimes it is easier to relate to those who look like us, dress like us, behave like us, smell like us, the list could go on forever. And yet God has called us to relate His story of grace to those we come into contact with regardless of their situation because in God’s eyes…in Paul’s eyes…we really are no different. So there isn’t any space for feelings of superiority in our Spirituality or our piety because at the end of the day, we didn’t save ourselves and it’s only by the grace of God that we are even able to be partners in God’s saving work. So maybe today we should cast aside our indifference, our apathy, our piety or anything else that makes us feel distant from those around us and lavishly extend God’s grace as it was once lavishly bestowed upon us.