©2014 Lynn Abbott
No one ever doubted Grandma’s piety. In a quiet, unobtrusive way, it found its way into her everyday life. Each day dawned with God as evidenced by the well-worn, black leather Bible sitting next to a large bowl of candy lemon drops on the small table beside her favorite chair.
As a child, of course, I was most interested in the lemon drops. And somehow, even as an adult, I continue to associate my grandmother’s favorite candy with faith.
My wicked sense of humor, however, imagines Grandma–with cane and purse draped properly over her arm– standing at the pearly gates and doggedly insisting that Simon Peter submit that glorious entry to a white glove test. Grandma was the consummate homemaker.
Indeed, she had unsuccessfully attempted to teach me all the proper methods by which to keep a house. My lack of home-keeping talent caused her great consternation. After all, she subscribed to the Puritan principle put forth in Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
So convinced was she that despite her faith, she stumbled over the New Testament account of Mary and Martha. Grandma shook her head in perplexity whenever Mary and Martha were mentioned. In fact, she vowed to speak with God about it when she finally crossed the heavenly threshold.
Yet, when I read the passage, it seems less about housekeeping and more about grace. The situation was this: Jesus had come to see Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And Martha felt it incumbent upon her to prepare a meal and generally look after the needs of her guests. No problem there. I get that.
Martha, however, began to grumble: Why wasn’t Mary helping? Perhaps, Martha felt that Mary was lazy and inconsiderate, sitting at Jesus’ feet while she–Martha– was saddled with guest preparations. Martha’s “Do” list had become her focus.
In what appears a resentful tone, Martha asked Jesus to speak to her sister about her negligence. And Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha. You are worried and bothered by many things. As for Mary, she has chosen the better part.”
That part of the passage troubled Grandma. From my Grandmother’s vantage point, Martha was giving unselfishly, and yet Christ did not seem to commend it.
I think, though, that this New Testament snapshot comes into better focus when I consider the overall context of Jewish life at the time of Christ. The key phrase, I believe, is “You are worried and bothered by many things.” Truly, life for a first century Jew was filled with laws… with doing many things, with dancing on eggshells.
And the eggshells stretched out for miles. The religious leaders had sliced and diced every principle given by God into miniscule components. Rules existed for every aspect of their lives. Undoubtedly, Yahweh’s followers were “worried and bothered by many things.”
In contrast, Christ called his followers to a life of relationship rather than rules (Matthew 22:37-40). He replaced religious effort with relationship’s abiding. In addition, He promised that His yoke is easy and His burden light.
Grace trumped all manner of complex “Do” lists. The Prodigal returned to a undeserved feast; the tax collector and thief known as Zacchaeus entertained the Messiah.
Radical grace. Risky grace. If one heals lepers freely, without strings attached, one takes the risk that only a single leper will return in gratitude. Yet, to the gracious God of the universe, the love of a leper is worth it. The Shepherd will eagerly seek a solitary lost sheep.
In this, I see the extraordinary difference between my way and God’s. My human nature tends to complicate things. I look for ways to self-improve. I create my “Do” lists. True, my lists differ from those followed by first century Jews; however, I gravitate to lists even so.
I hate to admit it, but sometimes, like the Prodigal’s older brother, I define my relationship with Abba in equations. I even expect guaranteed outcomes if I follow self-imposed formulas. I struggle, straining to “grow.” Certainly, I try “doing” my way into Christ-likeness.
But in the midst of it all, the Holy Spirit gently reminds of Christ’s analogy of the vine. Connected to Him, you and I grow. We produce fruit. It isn’t self-betterment or self-righting. And so there are no resentful comparisons.
All of that self effort and self focus is unnecessary because my eyes are on the Gardener. I can’t work my way into Christian maturity. Yet, if I abide in Him, He tends to it. He promised.
And again, my sense of humor creates a caricature…and I laugh at my own behavior.
After all, the branches of a vine, or the blooms of sunflowers do not grunt and strain, or chant, “I must grow, I must grow.” The branch does not complain about the water provided or demand another diet. It doesn’t suggest alternative pruning methods to the Gardener.
Branches and sunflowers simply absorb what the Master Gardener provides. They yield to the Master’s plan moment-by-moment. No worries about tomorrow’s growth. There’s no need to “borrow trouble” as Grandma used to say. Tomorrow has enough trouble of its own, (Matthew 6:34). Happily, Christ has my growth in hand. And He knows my tomorrows as well. It’s as simple as that.
Rain falls, nutrients rise from the soil, and the sun streams softly, gently. And sunflowers turn to face the Sun. His loving kindness is irresistible.
It isn’t complicated. Grace invites me to simply sit, to discover what it means to abide.
Actually, for me, such grace isn’t risky. He’s already risked it all for me. For this reason, if I fully understand what He has done and promises to do, I return in grateful acknowledgement day after day to the One who heals me.
There, in His presence, I find rest. Sitting at His feet, I yield to God’s work in me both to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). And His Spirit cultivates Christ in me.
I don’t “do faith.” Faith fills me by the Grace of God.
And that’s why, for me, a relationship with the God of radical grace does not mean enduring a white glove test, but rather sitting and savoring His Words of Life . . . accompanied by a side of candy lemon drops.
“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly,” ~ Psalm 84:11
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn fro Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For my yoke is easy and My load is light.” ~Matthew 11:28-30
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love,” ~John 15:9
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place,” ~2 Corinthians 2:14