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Grace transforms

Third, grace transforms. The GodLife means GraceLife, and
GraceLife means God’s grace transforms. From the moment Jesus uttered his first
declaration that the kingdom of God was now at work he may as well have
said people and lives will be
transformed
. One backwater fisherman named Peter now has a monstrous church
named after him in the heart of Rome. One young Galilean girl became the mother
of Jesus and for the first two centuries of America’s history the most popular
name for a girl was “Mary.” Francesco was a partying debauched
Italian until he gave his life to Jesus and he is now known as St.
Francis.

Transformation is profoundly simple: we receive, God gives. If we
open ourselves to God’s grace, the GodLife takes shape in us. Sometimes it
takes on amazing forms, as with Stephen: “Now Stephen, a man full of
God’s grace and power, performed
great wonders” (Acts 6:8). Sometimes we see it in a community. When Paul
got to Antioch he “saw what the grace
of God
 had done” (11:23). God’s grace attacks the nonsense of
life, as the apostle Paul puts it: “For sin shall no longer be your master
because you are … under grace
(Rom 6:14).  I mentioned above that sometimes grace takes hold of a
community, and we need to observe how this works because too many are tempted
to think grace is like some invisible gas that infiltrates a place and makes
the place all happy. In fact, grace in a community looks like this: “But
to each of us grace has
been given as Christ apportioned it” (Eph 4:7). What does Paul mean here
by “grace”? Spiritual gifts. The grace-filled community, the one that
is truly open to the GodLife where the kingdom vision of Jesus takes hold of a
community, is one in which each
person is gifted by God to contribute to the whole community
.

         In several of Paul’s letter lists of gifts are provided, and some
today want to figure out which of the gifts they were given. But this leads us
to focus on the gifts and
not the Giver, and it leads us
to focus on what we do instead
of doing what God grants us gifts to
do
. Let this be said: as Jesus invited everyone to the table and as the
earliest Jewish followers of Jesus struggled to overcome their ethnic bias but
learned that Gentiles deserved a place in the church, so that same group
learned that each of us has a part
to play with a gift to exercise in the community of faith
. These graces
transform us from self-oriented people to other-oriented people. That’s the
kind of grace that Jesus brought to the table. Zealots became peacemakers and
tax collecting cheats became grace-giving fonts of generosity.

Morphed indeed

            The
earliest followers of Jesus, because they knew Jesus had been raised from the
dead, morphed their categories and they were themselves morphed by those
categories. Golgotha became a place of grace and it unleashed the power of the
resurrection to change the lives of people and the communities in which they
lived.

            Remember
the first sermon of Jesus: he came to liberate the poor and the imprisoned and
blind and the oppressed. He announced that the kingdom of God was breaking into
history and changes would follow. The operative word was that life would morph
from what it was into kingdom reality, and we have witnessed that
transformation ever since.

            Some
today believe too much in the cross, and they have constructed a Good Friday
only gospel. For them, Jesus is bleeding from a thorn-punctured head and
gasping for breath. But the earliest followers of Jesus preached a cross that
was bare because the one who had been unjustly accused and unjustly crucified
had died and come back to life. The dark images of the Medieval artists, which
focus on that bleeding Jesus, become the bright, yellowy images of Vincent Van
Gogh when the Crucified One became the One who was Raised. The earliest
followers of Jesus were intoxicated by the resurrection. It was the
resurrection that created all this morphing.

            Here’s
the claim: if Jesus was really raised from the dead, then Jesus’ dream is
possible – right now. Today. In your life. You can be morphed by the story of
Jesus – the one who lived, who was crucified, but who came back to life in the
power of God.



[i] N.T.
Wright, Romans (New
Interpreter’s Bible 10; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 471.

[ii] Kathleen
Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary
of Faith
 (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), 150-151.

[iii] Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of
Faith
 (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 139.

[iv] This is from
Amazon.com’s interview of Anne Lamott at Amazon’s site for her book Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (New
York: Riverhead Books, 2007). Accessed 6.12.2009
[http://www.amazon.com/Grace-Eventually-Thoughts-Anne-Lamott/dp/1594489424].

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