Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Peopled Grace: An Open Letter to Clinton First Church of the Nazarene

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and our theological forefather, spoke and wrote often about the means of grace. When Wesley referred to the means of grace, he was talking about things like prayer, scripture reading, communion, and preaching. These are a few examples of some means by which God’s grace comes to us. That is, they are places where God has promised to meet us over and over again. They are regular conduits of his healing mercy. Even if “means of grace” is not terminology you find familiar, most of these practices are familiar ones if you’ve been around the Church for very long. We engage in these practices so that the Holy Spirit may use them to shape us into the likeness of Christ.

There is one means of grace that has become particularly important to me over the last several years even though it may not be one we typically consider alongside of things like prayer and scripture: other people. I’ve come to realize just what a gift from God other people are for shaping us into the likeness of Christ. Other people can obviously serve as friends and people of encouragement and support but they can also serve as a kind of mirror to our own incompleteness. They may do this directly in their words or their actions toward us but more often it is simply by being who they are. Simply by being “other,” by being something other than I am, others can remind me of the vast array of what it means to be human and therefore also remind me of what it means to be whole in Christ.

I’ve experienced this in a number of ways in my life. I’ve experienced it in parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles who have shown me godly love. I’ve come to know it in a wife whose loving presence has rescued me from a solitary life that would come all too naturally to me. I’ve come to know it in children whose constant desire for my presence is a constant reminder that I need to truly be present with those around me. I’ve experienced it in professors and mentors who have deepened and enriched my faith. I’ve experienced in strangers, mere acquaintances, and new friends every time they force me to see life from a perspective other than the one to which I’ve become accustomed. But neither is it merely a matter of my own personal experience. I think it is of the greatest significance that when God wanted to reveal God’s character to us in its fullest and deepest sense that revelation came not in the form of law or prophetic utterance but in the form of a person; namely, Jesus.
Over the past six years, I’ve also come to experience this same truth and grace through the community of people among whom I’ve had the privilege of fulfilling the role of  pastor. For the last several weeks, as I’ve reflected on my time here in Clinton, I have been reminded of the many things about ministering here for which I am thankful; the many years of faithfulness by so many, the willingness to serve others, and the hospitality and care you have shown to my family and I. But there is one thing for which I am grateful above everything else; that you have helped to shape me into a person who is a little more like Jesus than the person who became your pastor six years ago. It is perhaps obvious that the role of the pastor is to be an instrument by which a congregations is urged to be more like Christ. What may be less obvious is that a congregation can also shape the pastor to be more like Christ. Clinton First Church of the Nazarene has done that for me. You have been a means of God’s grace in my life. By allowing me to be your pastor, with all of my weaknesses and incompleteness, you have made me a more whole person and a more faithful follower of Jesus. What greater gift could you have given me than that? Thank you for being a gift of God and a means of God’s grace in my life. 

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