Stewards of grace
We are called to receive grace from God and give grace to others.by Marty Troyer
I am a huge fan of novels and movies. Many light-bulb moments have come at the feet of unexpected mentors, such as Tolkien, Rowling, McCarthy, Anderson and O’Connor.
For instance, one meaning-filled image of stewardship I have comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In these books, he introduces a family of stewards of the kingdom of Gondor. Functioning in place of a king, their primary function is to hold the throne for the time when a king would return. With all the responsibility and most of the rights of royalty, they clearly were not kings. They were stewards and caretakers. They stewarded something that belonged to another. They did not possess the throne but held it only to give it away.
1 Peter 4:10-11 says we are stewards of God’s grace. We are given God’s grace not for our own sake, not to possess it or because it belongs to us. No, we steward God’s grace by holding it in order to give it away. Peter’s letter drips with talk of grace, which for him was the only real, tangible way we encounter God. It is the very Spirit and character of God. I’m reminded of the father’s radical welcome of the prodigal sons, Jesus’ countercultural defense of women and those on the fringe, the prophetic insistence on inclusion of the lost, the least, the last. Though nurturing, God’s grace is no sentimental trait. It is strong, capable of rewriting DNA, relationships and social groups. Indeed, it is the only power with the capacity to bring change to the human heart. George Brunk III says, “Grace is the place God meets us and converts us to godliness and holiness.” So when Peter says in 1:2, “May grace and peace be yours in abundance,” I say, Yes, give me some more please. Who wouldn’t want in on that?
But clearly for Peter the “abundance of grace” is meant to spill out into the world for others. As stewards of grace, we are to serve one another rather than rest in our personal blessings. Like any body of water, unless water can flow in and out, the water will stagnate and spoil. This text, along with 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, speaks of spiritual gifts that God gives to God’s people for the sake of loving others. But a better translation of the Greek “charisma” is “grace gifts,” or perhaps “gracing.” It’s our individual ability to grace others, to be and give grace to them.
This is a captivating, strong and beautiful definition of both ministry and evangelism, the lines between which are suddenly blurred beyond repair. We’re called to be and to give grace to others. The shape our “gracing” others takes depends on our individual grace-gifts (speaking, serving), but we’re all called to grace others. Imagine how different Christianity would be viewed if we were known as “gracers” instead of evangelizers and judgers? Imagine how different your workplace, neighborhood, family and church would be if you lived to grace others? Imagine the feeling of volunteering not out of oughts and shoulds but out of the overflow of your own internal sense of grace and peace.
I’ve seen no better example of ministry or evangelism as “gracing others” than from Doris and Berdella Stutzman, two elderly sisters in Oregon, who graced 30-plus teenagers in our youth group and community with their constant care, attention and loyalty. They certainly didn’t fit the typical “cool mold” of youth sponsors, but they are to this day the most effective sponsors I’ve ever worked with. I’ve witnessed countless teenagers gracing others (was it ministry or evangelism or both?) by eating lunch in the cafeteria with outcasts and lonely classmates.
Once I witnessed an episode of gracing in Panera Bread, where one obviously distraught patron was gently cared for by an employee who took the opportunity to pray for her. Each of these acts of grace defines a church I am excited to be a part of and energizes me for the old categories we traditionally called “ministry” and “evangelism.”
It should surprise no one that these words come from Peter, whose journey was one of constant transformation by the grace of Christ in his life. From headstrong fishermen to lifelong responder to Jesus’ call, “Follow me.” From calling down fire on the heads of outsiders to radical inclusion of Cornelius and all Gentiles. From demanding Jesus’ security to celebrating being “tested by fire.” From three painful denials to embracing Jesus’ call to “feed my sheep.”
Grace in Peter’s life unsettled nations and, like Jesus, ultimately cost him his life.
Apparently, grace is both contagious and confusing. It is contagious because at its core, humanity longs for nothing more or less than wholeness, to find itself in the family of things. Peter found himself through the constant grace of Christ in his life. Under his leadership, the early church attracted hundreds who longed for what Peter seemed to possess: wholeness, grace, God.
It is confusing because God’s steadfast love and unmerited favor poke holes in the one life lesson no one has ever had to teach a single human being, that we have fallen short. Kings and religious leaders alike opposed Peter’s proclamation of grace, demanding obedience and conformity. Grace proves that instinct dead wrong by creating wholeness in previously scattered and pathological hearts. Peter no longer slinks into the shadows of conformity, but publicly sings of his transformed faith being “imperishable, undefiled and unfading.”
So if grace is where God meets us and shapes us to give as Jesus gave, may it be yours in abundance. And may you both be and give grace to others. Anything less wouldn’t be worth sharing anyway.
Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church.
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