All over the gospels there’s a common occurrence, when Jesus, who claims to be the Messiah, is eating and having fellowship with “sinners” — and folks are grumbling, grumbling. It seems he’s trying to get the religious folk to understand the grace of God, and that it’s only by grace that anyone, including them, CAN find life with God!
In our early Covenant Church days, there was a man in 1871 identified only as “L. Peterson from Princeton Illinois” who was asked to pray at the end of a church meeting, and prayed thus:
May God, from whom all grace comes, fill our dead, cold, lukewarm, empty, narrow, sluggish, careless, false, hypocritical, unfaithful, doubting, frivolous, erring, godless, corrupted, dispirited, depressed, sorrowful, GLAD hearts.
I’m struck by that prayer, how it seems celebrative and hopeful, even though it contains and exhaustive and exhausting list of confessed sins. Guilty as charged! Honest to the hilt! Yet gladness remains, a glad heart, only because of grace, and the activity of the God from whom all grace comes. I have experienced it others, and myself have struggled mightily with the nature of grace — that it can only be accepted as a gift, never earned — and that it can only be received through an honest confession of utter undeserving, and that it is precisely this honest confession that makes grace understood and so gladdens the heart.
I knew another old man a hundred years later in 1971. I’d watch Milton during the weekly time of congregational confession do the same thing every week: he’d lay his head down on the pew in front of him, hands folded above him, sometimes with tears, as if in agony, and then raise himself up just in time to hear the pastor’s words of assurance — “In Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven” — suddenly smiling broadly as if to someone up in the rafters, taking a deep, deep breath. Just like that, every week.
Honesty, I think, gets a bad rap, especially when it comes to being honest with God, who is, after all, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and waiting for us who come honestly with mercy and grace. As my maternal grandmother used to say, “Sometimes a good cry is the best thing!” So consider a brutal honesty before God as the way to a glad heart.
All Thanks be to God!