Today my little girl graduates from Kindergarten. Now I realize that for some of you this may not be that big of an accomplishment. Perhaps you may think that learning to write one’s name, reading a few sentences and mastering the art of coloring and cutting is not something that deems a ceremonious occasion. As a father of a beautiful six-year-old princess, I would have to respectfully disagree. Perhaps you are one of those who thinks that our society has become soft…that we celebrate kindergarten graduations and everyone gets a participation trophy and we don’t celebrate true achievement anymore. And I would have to simply reply, “Okay, let’s celebrate”. As a Christ follower I see no greater justification for a celebration than that which you deem unworthy of said celebration. Why you may ask? Grace.
Grace is defined within the Christian tradition as unmerited favor. It is that which God bestows upon us in a lavish manor even though we are undeserving. Someone once said it is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve. The apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the church in Rome, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 Christ died for us while we were powerless and unworthy. The highest and loftiest ideal in all of Christian tradition is the notion of grace. We sing songs, write poetry and stories and even create movements and name our churches based on the idea of grace. And what is it, but a celebration of something we didn’t earn; of something that we cannot achieve.
At the close of his letter to the church in Philippi we read these words from Paul, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8. Might I suggest to you that kindergarten graduations and participation trophies and celebrating people in all facets of life is a practice of Paul’s challenge to the church and to us. The church has bought into the idea that we need celebrate only merit and things that can be achieved (an idea born out of our western consumerist culture)…but this is the exact opposite of grace. And if we are called to think about the noble, the good, the pure, the lovely, then shouldn’t our thoughts, our celebrations, our trophies, our graduations, our reasons to party be based in grace. There is no higher aspiration and the best part about it…we did/can do nothing to earn it. So bring on the Kindergarten graduations. Bring on the participation ribbons and celebration of what you may call mediocrity. Because in this “lack of merit” I see the truth about the only thing that truly matters. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me.”
For those of you who may not be following my family or I on other forms of social media I need to fill you in a bit. We have been sick. My wife and I for the most part have avoided the above referenced events, but our kids…well, they haven’t. And it’s kind of scary when kids get sick. You’re used to seeing these tiny humans navigate life at a ballistic pace and then all of a sudden they are reduced to couch sloths who want to binge watch Netflix kid programming that in turn might make you sick. But the scariest part to me of my kids getting sick is and always has been the fever. I guess this is partly due to the fact that I never run a fever and so it is quite foreign to be, but fevers are just weird. All of a sudden the body, via the Hypothalamus decides that the best way to treat the foreign invasion is by over-heating. This results in increased muscle tone, vasoconstriction, shivering and your kid becoming a human heating pad. It’s pretty crazy stuff. And eventually, if unchecked, the fevers can even become deadly. The body can, in it’s attempt at self-defense, roast itself to death. So yeah, fevers are a little troubling.
That which is meant for defense can turn deadly. It’s almost reminiscent to me of the struggle of the human will. The apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Roman church, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” – Romans 7:19 Paul is alluding to the very war within the body that the will is waging with sin. The human will want’s to do the good, but often ends up doing harm.* Paul goes on though in the next chapter to give us hope for that which holds us back, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus“. The allusion being to that which he talks about in Galatians of being crucified with Christ. The Spirit of God within us puts to death the struggle of wills because it is no longer I who struggle against sin, but the Spirit of God within me that sets me free.
The scary part about kids being sick is that you feel like you always have to monitor them. Is the fever getting better? Is it getting worse? Are they acting more strange than usual? Likewise the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives must be given attention to. Am I giving myself over to God’s Spirit today? Am I producing fruit in line with who God is? Is it my will or thy will? Honestly, giving over the fever of ourselves to God isn’t easy. But the health and growth that occur when we sacrifice our will to God is something that not only leaves us changed, but also those around us. One might even say it’s contagious, but very much unlike the stuff my kids have been passing around. So may you find yourselves being made well by the presence of God’s Spirit today and see how it spreads into the lives of those you come in contact with.
*I realize this analogy is a bit of a stretch as fevers rarely do harm, but it is a possibility. And hopefully this post hasn’t incensed you germaphobes to reach for the hand sanitizer.