Grace - Monday Musing, February 8, 2021
Grace. For Christians, grace is the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it. Does that sound familiar? Every Sunday before I start my message, I say a prayer that ends: “remind us that Your love, mercy, and grace come to us unasked for and free.” Free? You betcha! Grace has no limits, borders, restrictions, or conditions. Grace is freely given and freely received, and as such, can never be rescinded or revoked.
If that is what the church teaches, then why do we ask “litmus test” questions of a person who is about to be baptized (or the parents in the case of a child)? Peter Marty, editor/publisher of The Christian Century, asked this very question recently (CC, 1/13/2021). I never viewed the questions that are part of our baptism liturgy as a litmus test, but Marty makes a good point. If grace is the unearned gift from God, the questions clergy ask of those about to be baptized do give the impression that the grace is conditional upon their providing the “right” answer. Marty writes that those about to be baptized must “meet approval and pass muster if you utter the proper words. Answer correctly and you’re eligible. Respond unsatisfactorily and you’re out.” Ouch! So much for free grace.
Marty’s critique of the church’s baptism liturgy can also be applied to membership! Do we expect potential members of the church to answer “properly” before our right hand of fellowship is offered? So much for the UCC extravagant welcome!
The United Church of Christ believes in a God that is still speaking, a God that is all-loving and inclusive. We are a church that welcomes and accepts everyone as they are, where your mind is nourished as much as your soul. We are a church where Jesus the healer meets Jesus the revolutionary, and where together, we grow a just and peaceful world.
So, let’s ditch the litmus tests and provisional welcome. The door is open, and I will splash you with water – for free. Oh, and God’s grace is free too!