2.) What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of humanity and the need for divine grace?
I entered ministry holding together two views of humanity. First, we are created in the image of God (the imago Dei). In fact, the Psalmist marvels at the way in which humans are created “a little lower than God…and crowned with glory and honor.” In other words, we are created for goodness and wholeness in the exact image of God. Yet on the other hand, one need only to watch the evening news to see that our world is broken and disjointed. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Things are not the way God intended. In my ministry, I have seen the heights and depths of both views. I have seen the mystery of God’s good creation cradling infants in my arms to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I’ve seen the brokenness of our world in the struggle of a husband and wife whose marriage collapses under the stresses and strains of life.
This tension between the original goodness of God’s creation and the reality of evil and brokenness in our world is the place where we live. Far too often, I have found that people put these in the wrong order. Instead of seeing the imprint of God’s gracious presence in their lives, far too many Christians have heard this message, “You are a despicable, worthless creature, but God might just be able to do something with you yet.” Instead, the wonderful gospel message we are called to share is this, “No matter how you might feel, no matter what you have gone through, you are one of the crowning achievements of God’s good creation! Even though the Fall is lived and reenacted daily in the lives of women and men, the good news is that God will stop at nothing to repair what is broken in your life. The story of Jesus is the story of God’s great reclamation project of our world. God is continually working to form each one of us into the imago Dei. God is actively at work, graciously restoring you to wholeness.”
Grace is the gift of God’s ongoing reclamation of the world, and I have seen this in the lives of those people I serve. I have seen it in a woman recovering from addiction as she joined the Church by professing her faith in Jesus. Immediately she was surrounded by a new family that loves, cares, and prays for her. In that scene, I don’t simply see someone added to the membership rolls; I see the work of God’s new creation happening right there in our midst. I have seen it in a community asking me what has gotten into our members, “I don’t know what’s going on over there, but something’s different.” That is far more than more workers being added to our depleted ranks; that is the very work of God’s new creation happening in our midst. Sin and brokenness are real, but God’s love came first. Through the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, our world is being transformed. That is my understanding of what grace is all about.