A Lent Reflection for Tuesday, March 28th
By Sarah Roquemore Day
Lectionary reading for 3/28/2023: Psalm 143; 2 Kings 4:18-37; Ephesians 2:1-10
Selected passage for reflection: Ephesians 2:1-10
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
For many of us who grew up in Christianity, this passage is one we’ve heard again and again. In Evangelicalism especially, verse 8, “for it is by grace you have been saved… not by works” is like the hallmark card of personal salvation or a spiritual “get out of jail free” card.
Surely there is joy and freedom in “the incomparable riches of [God’s] grace,” but this liberty does not exempt us from working on ourselves and our communities. Quite the opposite— a genuine encounter with God’s grace should compel us to repentance, reconciliation, and inclusion, as we join in the redemptive work God is up to in the world.
In the context of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the good work ahead was building up the church and unifying two disparate cultural groups: Jews and Gentiles. Paul was writing to a polarized church, previously separated by the “dividing wall of enmity” (2:14), now called to be “fellow citizens,” and “members of the household of God” (2:19). The family of God, once restricted to the people of Israel, was expanding, and experiencing growing pains along the way.
In many ways, the church today resembles the early church at Ephesus. Cultural clashes continue to divide us, while self-righteous gatekeepers reinforce the same sort of hierarchies that Paul says Jesus leveled with his resurrection. We still need the same reminders about grace that the Ephesians did.
But letting grace lead is not easy. The radical inclusivity of Jesus’ invitation to grace upsets rule-followers and rebels alike. I like how Brennan Manning coins it in All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir. He calls it “Vulgar Grace”:
“A grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover.”
Through grace, no one is less worthy of God’s love, God’s presence or God’s peace. Grace brings God near to everyone, no exceptions. Jew and gentile. Republican and democrat. Straight and LGBTQ+, Citizen and Immigrant, Privileged and marginalized, Believer and doubter. By God’s grace, all are invited to sit with Jesus, soak in the goodness of his love, and join him in his work. And this invitation is not ours to withhold from anyone. If we get to accept God’s grace for ourselves, we also have to extend it to anyone else who wants it.
The word “handiwork” at the end of this passage appears in other translations as ”creative work” or “masterpiece.” Like blocks of marble in the hands of a master sculptor, we must allow grace to chip away at our rough exteriors, molding and reforming us into people whose hearts are ready to welcome anyone into the family of God.
Spend some time today reflecting on God’s grace and its transformational power.
Begin by confessing your need for Grace and recognizing any self-righteousness or shame you may feel as you engage with the idea of radical, inclusive grace. Thank God for the unearned gift of grace and consider how it is shaping you as a piece of God’s creative work. Consider what “good works” God may be calling for for you to join in doing.
May we allow ourselves to be shaped and scandalized by the unreasonable generosity of grace. May it strip away our arrogance, our entitlement, our belief that we somehow deserve more access to God than anyone else. May it call us to repentance, humility, and reconciliation, softening our grip on what we think we have earned, and turning our hearts towards those we have excluded. Though we do not deserve it and cannot earn it, the gift of grace is your blessing for us, and our joy to share with others.
About the Author
Sarah Roquemore Day is a middle school teacher, sometimes a writer, and always a daydreamer. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Bob.