I’ve written about my travails in community softball before, and here’s another dispatch from the front lines.
This year, I’ve been playing on church-league softball team (not my church…I’m a scab, a ringer, brought in for my ability to ensure that they have enough people to field a team), which is a different experience than the “town” league I played in last year. This league has prayers before and after the games and its players keep our anger and competitiveness jailed beneath our surfaces. So, you know, Christian.
The other day, as we all gathered at home plate for the pre-game prayer, something wonderfully oxymoronic happened. The pastor of the church we were playing against bowed his head to pray and began, “Dear God of grace…” before looking up and barking, “Hats off!” Everyone scrambled to take their hats off of their heads while I chuckled to myself. So…is God a god of grace, or is he a god who doesn’t listen the prayers of those currently sporting a milliner’s finest? Is he graceful, or full of requirements?
I think that this little episode shows the disconnect that many Christians have when they think about God. We say that he is a God of grace. We know the word, and we know that it’s important…but we don’t actually believe it. We think that God isn’t gracious at all, that he won’t answer our prayers unless we do it right (Hats off!), and that if we mess up, we’re in trouble.
The trick is that both things are true. We mess up, and we’re in trouble…BUT GOD (Ephesians 2:4) is a God of Grace. God is full of requirements, and Jesus says that he’s not going to change one jot or tittle (Matt 5:18). Jesus, however, is also the embodiment of God’s grace to us.
He who always prayed with hat doffed became our hat-wearing prayers so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). God’s first word is a word of Law, of requirement: Shape up! Hats off! God’s final word is a word of Gospel, of grace: I love you.