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"Grace is not a commodity. No one can corner the market."
I’m the pastor of a community named Grace. Clearly I’m partial to the word. Anne Lamott describes grace as “the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.” Grace is no-strings-attached love. It is an active force that infuses our lives with the boundless pulse of the Spirit.
Yet still these descriptions cannot possibly capture the moments in my life so steeped in grace I was sure I had come face to face with God. I cannot tell you what Grace is. I can, however, confidently tell you what Grace is not. Grace is not self-serving or impatient. It cannot be boxed in or controlled. Grace is not stingy.
I know firsthand the difference between stingy and abundant. I grew up with two sets of grandparents. One set of grandparents rarely met us at the door when we visited. They almost never showed up at any of our events. There were only half rotten bananas to eat on their kitchen table so I stole sugar cubes from the fancy sugar bowl collecting dust in their dining room. Although later in life I would discover they were quite generous philanthropists, I never would have described my grandparents as generous. They loved me, I suppose, out of duty, but they were quite stingy with their love.
When we visited our other grandparents, my grandmother would fling open the door with a cackle of delight only she could conjure. After hugs and kisses we found our way to her kitchen stocked with every one of her seven grandchildren’s favorite foods. We would then march into the back room where my grandfather sat enthroned in his chair. Kisses and hugs and laughter ensued. Our time with them was filled with museums, games, late night movies (don’t tell your mother), lessons in you name it, fresh squeezed orange juice and even cash. Yes, they gave us money for the latest thing we wanted. They delighted in our presence. My grandmother in particular never missed a moment. She came to every game, every performance, every graduation. They loved us simply because we were born into their lives. We didn’t earn their love. It was already there, waiting for us, when we entered the world. It was Grace.
I know the difference between stingy and abundant. Only later in my adolescence did I realize my stingy grandparents were quite wealthy and my abundant grandparents were absolutely middle class. I was sure that the grandparents who had nothing to eat but rotten bananas were horribly poor and that my grandparents who bought cases of the latest thing we were selling were RICH! They handed out $10 bills like candy!
Grace is not a commodity. No one can corner the market. It’s renewable and free. My beloved grandparents understood that. So did the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15). When his wayward profligate son returns home, the father flings open the door (perhaps with the same delightful cackle as my grandmother) and runs out to meet his child. He embraces his son, giving thanks that he is alive. Then he throws a party.
The older brother of the prodigal son seems to think Grace is a finite commodity. He unleashes his jealousy and righteous anger upon his father, asking the father why the irresponsible son gets the party but not the hardworking son. The brother thinks there is only so much Grace to be shared in the world; he doesn’t understand that there is Grace for all, Grace for his reckless brother, and more than enough Grace waiting for him.
Grace is never stingy. Ever. It does not judge. It is not jealous. We cannot define it, but the parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the best description we have. Grace runs to embrace us, just like the front door of my grandparents’ house would fling open with cackles of delight. Grace packs the refrigerator with all of your favorite food. Grace always welcomes us home, and Grace welcomes everyone home—wasteful children, cold grandparents, and resentful, responsible elder brothers. Grace is abundant.
Just for kicks, this is my grandmother long before she had four children and seven grandchildren. She was an exceptionally elegant woman with long legs. But she also cackled! She showed all of her teeth and her face folded with wrinkles when she laughed. It was as if her elegance was an after thought and her cackle was who she truly was. My favorite memory of her laughter is when as a little girl, no older than three, I was sitting on her lap and let a fart rip! I knew enough that farting was impolite, but was sure its silent nature had me protected. My grandmother started laughing and tickling me, asking me over and over again, "You would fart on your grandmother?!" Perhaps the music of Grace is a joyful laugh? I know for sure that cackle awaits me.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.