"Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering." - Psalm 26
The first time I encountered the idea of being saved by grace and not works, it ran so contrary to the religious upbringing of my youth in a Mexican American neighborhood of East Los Angeles. We were taught that following the rigid beliefs, rituals and practices of our religion was the only way to get to heaven. All other paths led to hell.
This became problematic when I realized I was gay. Not only did I have to deal with my church's condemnation to hell, but I also had to deal with my culture's attitude towards homosexuality, formed for the most part by the church. It was made clear to me that I was not welcome in church unless I "repented and change my orientation." My family felt forced to banish me, to show their faithfulness to their church. I was 19.
Losing my family was hard, and I hated God and the church for a long time.
Then I met Marie, who, in her quiet way, braved my hostility towards God as an out gay man. Marie reached out to me to let me know, "Oh Robert, God loves you for being you…as you are. We didn't earn our salvation…our salvation was redeemed by Christ…for all. Turn to God, and God will show you the way." That encounter changed my life and I have never stopped turning to God ever since.
It is the grace of God that allowed me to reconcile with my family and to study and preach the Gospel of the Good News of Christ in my communities of culture, Hispanic/Latino and GLBTQ. It was grace that brought me to pastor an Open and Affirming congregation. It is by grace that God loves us, and not by our works.
Querido Dios, we thank you for the glorious salvation found in Christ through Grace given to all peoples. Use us to be the Light of your Love, in the name of God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer.
Robert Ochoa is the Pastor of Lakeview Congregational Church, UCC, in Worcester, Massachusetts.