One of my most cherished sermon illustrations is a reported debate that occurred quite a few decades ago now at a conference in Britain. The conference addressed the issue of ‘Comparative Religions.’ It is understood that during a break in proceedings in the conference these eminent scholars were debating what particular belief, if any, was totally unique to the Christian faith. Was the incarnation, resurrection, love, or life after death only found in the Christian faith and in no other? It became obvious that other religions had these elements, albeit in a different form.
It is understood that the debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis (the author of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked and heard in reply that they were considering what was Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Without hesitation Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace!”
I wonder if these learned scholars were silent and shell shocked by the simplicity and authority of the answer? Were they put out by C.S. Lewis interfering in what may have been quite a fiery and challenging debate?
Yet if they were indeed put out by the inference there is a simple irony in that. For I believe grace is all about interference. From his deathbed, John Allen of the Salvation Army reportedly proclaimed, ‘I deserve to be damned; I deserve to be in hell; but God interfered!’
As I look to Jesus I see that same interference. I see it in the account of the woman caught in adultery where the religious leaders had their plans and Jesus interferes (John 8). I see it in the story of the demonic where Jesus interferes again with the plans of Satan (Mark 5).
When we read the Parable of the Lost Son we see the same interference. For when the younger son is trying to ask for forgiveness the father interferes before he can finish and sends servants off to get clothing and food for his son now found. The father in the parable is an obvious literary illustration of God the Father interfering in our lives too.
And yet as is often the case, we can be resistant to interference. Few of us enjoy it when another person interferes in our plans or business. And in the same way, God interfering through grace produces mixed emotions, including indignation. The scandalous nature of grace is such that we need to wrestle with the idea that grace is offered to everyone – no matter who they are, where they have been or what they have done.
Throughout February as we reflect upon ‘grace’ in our Sunday services, I pray that God may continue to interfere. Interfere and give us fresh understanding. Interfere and challenge our preconceptions. And if you haven’t already, interfere in such a way that you understand your need for forgiveness and give your life to the great interferer!
Greg Harris is the Rector and Senior Minister at Holy Trinity Bendigo
and Archdeacon of Bendigo