Grace Like The Rain--June 11, 2021
"Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for who it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over. Even though we speak in this way, beloved, we are confident of better things in your case, things that belong to salvation." [Hebrews 6:7-9]
The question is simply this: what will do with the goodness God showers on us day by day? What will we allow that grace to bring forth from us? And when we see noxious and pernicious weeds like hatred, greed, indifference, and just plain mean-ness growing up out of our hearts' soil, will we leave them to take over, or will we allow the hands of a good Gardener to root them out?
Our author here has painted a clever word-picture for us, and he has said something profound about God's grace in the process. He talks about ground that gets sustained, reliable, plentiful rain, and how well-watered ground can bring up good plants (say, the sunflowers or tomatoes or corn that you planted), as well as giving rise to thistles and thorns. The rain isn't a reward for good plants growing, but rather the gift of rain is given first. From there, the question for the field you've tilled is, "What will come up out of the soil in response to the grace that falls like rain?"
Right off the bat, the order of things there should get our attention. We are so used to a world that thinks (and teaches us to think) in terms of transactions where good things only come as rewards for good behavior, rule-following, or productivity. We are used to hearing things like, "If you produce well, God will reward you," or "If you all will be good little boys and girls, then God's grace will be given to you," because that's how so much of business-as-usual in our culture works. But the writer of Hebrews turns that around and says we've been getting the cart before the horse--grace is poured out on us lavishly, like an afternoon rain shower in June, before the good plants or spiky weeds start poking their sprouts out of the ground. Grace comes first!
And then the question becomes, what will we do with the grace God gives us day by day, moment by moment, all our live long? It is possible that we will recognize how extravagantly and unabashedly we have been loved and respond by letting that same love blossom in us in our actions and words and practices toward others. It is possible we will be moved to live in thanks and praise out of grateful awareness of how God loved us first. It is possible we will let God's generosity bring forth love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and more from within us. And it is also possible that we will waste such good gifts from God and become entitled, or self-centered, or hateful, or greedy. We may let ourselves slide into thinking we're better than other people... or that we have earned our good things while others have just been lazy leeches. We may think it's ok to hoard the good things God gives us rather than recognizing they are meant to share widely and deeply with others. God takes the risk, so to speak, that we will be selfish jerks rather than humble and decent neighbors to the people around us. God takes the risk that we will misunderstand divine goodness and think it is something we have earned with our religiosity rather than received apart from our behavior. God takes the risk that we will turn our focus toward getting more, accumulating more, dominating more, and hoarding more, rather than on trusting that God will provide what we need and living with open hands to share. This is the divine gamble in God's choice to lavish goodness on us all prior to our bearing fruit for good or ill. Like Jesus says, "God sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous alike, and is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked as well as the well-behaved people."
Jesus, of course, does not think this is a mistake on God's part, or a bad policy from heaven, but in fact the touchstone of God's heart: God's reckless and unconditional goodness. It has to be given with the chance that we'll abuse it, waste it, or take it for granted--that's the nature of grace. It has to be poured out like rain on us all, because that is the very nature of grace.
So... when we realize what sheer kindness and utter goodness we are given day by day in this world of beauty and possibility, the only question that remains is what we will do in response to the gifts that have been poured out upon us. And where we see the first sawtooth leaves of some vicious thistle erupting out of our hearts, will we pull them out to make room for something good God is growing in us?
I hope so. I hope you and I will recognize, too, that God is in the rain.
Lord God, weed out what is not planted by your love in us, and as you lavish your grace on us, let us respond with love, with thanks, with praise, and with goodness to all.