You may have heard me mention my niece a few billion or so times. I’m kind of obsessed with my Dakota. She’s very sweet and loving… when no one is around. And she’s also at this really fun age where she might dance along to Fergalicious in the car one day, but the next she might cut us all off in the middle of our silly song to say, “Mom. Auntie Tab. You’re ‘barassing me.” She’s not even 4 yet. Where she learns these things, I’ll never know. But I’ve been trying to spend as much time with her as possible, and I’m learning some things too.
There is an incredible amount of grace in our tiniest people. They are both uninhibited my offense (I.e. “Auntie Tab, your belly is so full!”) and yet deeply worried about your feelings. Their developing moral compass is tested, but resolute. They’re kind of the ideal humans, if you think about it.
Enter today’s message at church. Acts chapter 15 tells the story of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, where they faced upset Gentiles (non-Jews, the definition of which I include only because I spent about 20 years feeling too dumb to ask what it meant and only recently googled it) who were told that this benevolent God, whom they were just promised wanted to save them as new Christians, expected a painful price. That’s right, friends. Let’s talk about circumcision.
As Pastor Kev explained how cheated the Gentiles must have felt, I thought to myself, this. This is the problem people have with Christianity. With organized religion as a whole. Now, the Pharisees were just doing as they were taught. If Moses says it, it has to be done, right? And I get that. But isn’t that God’s whole deal? That he doesn’t care what you did before, as long as you have faith and want to be made new in Him? So wouldn’t a caveat based on whether your parents cut off your newborn foreskin when you were too little to object be a little absurd? Can you blame the Gentiles for being a little offended?
This is where things get really great. Paul and Barnabas show up to the apostles and elders and say something amazing.
“God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” Acts 15:8-9
A quiet but defiant guys, who do we think we are to speak for God against the people He wants to save? So Pharisees, I know this is different and you may not like it, but can’t you just let God do his thang? And then James, the brother of the Big Dude himself, silenced the whole council by quoting the prophets and essentially asking everyone the question, why should we make it difficult for anyone trying to get to God? Which of course, no Christian can argue.
The way I see it, the Pharisees had two choices: to take offense that the rules they followed so strictly could be forgiven in others, or to be glad that God’s will to save the people was being achieved. On the other side, the Gentiles faced a similar choice. Is it so hard to imagine a religion whose core is not to merely tell us what we can’t do, but to show us what we should do? Isn’t that a healthier relationship? The letter that James sent was broken down to two core ideas-no needful circumcision and no needless offense-humbly written in a language that says hey, sorry, we’re humans too and we’re trying to figure this out as well.
My point is that there are people that will make religion seem unappealing. Outrage culture is fueled by these people. To quote Kev, you can use your lens of offense or your lens of grace. I, personally, love the idea of offense being the opposite of grace. While offense is sometimes necessary, it is rarely productive. When you find yourself on that end of the spectrum, use it to figure out the problem. Then factor in the people. How God sees it. That’s where grace comes in.
Dakota doesn’t know this yet. Her mom and I are still figuring it out ourselves. On my sister’s birthday, though, she came pretty dang close. Someone asked Kota if she wanted to say grace. Standing around the kitchen, holding the hands of her core loving group, she said, “Yes. Jesus. We have cake. And food… Amen.” And what else is there to say to that except “Amen.” Grace wins.