Emily C. Heath
Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid." - Luke 14:12
Every couple of weeks I have lunch with a good friend of mine. Early in our friendship we struck up a pattern of alternating who paid for lunch. So, about once a month I'd paid, and once a month she would take the check.
A few months ago we were both busy and we missed a few months worth of lunches. We were finally able to reschedule, but as I pulled up to the restaurant I realized I had no idea whose "turn" it was to pay for lunch. I tried to remember where we had gone and who had pulled out their wallet first, but I just couldn't seem to place it.
My fear wasn't that I would accidentally pay for a lunch I didn't owe. My fear was that I wouldn't pay my fair share.
I think a lot of us have that fear. We believe in sending our thank you notes and keeping careful track of who gave us a birthday gift so that we may reciprocate. And while most of that is about having good manners, at least a small part might be this: we don't want to owe anybody anything.
Maybe that's why grace is so hard for us sometimes. We as Christians know, at least intellectually, that we are people who have received grace. We did not earn grace. We did not work our way to it. We got it for free. And as wonderful as that is, it's also deeply distressing. Because, ultimately, that means it is not ours, and we cannot control it.
And yet…we can we respond to it.
Our Reformed forebears have for centuries taught that the only proper response to grace is gratitude. We don't do good and generous things in order that we might earn grace. We don't do it with an expectation of a greater gift, or of repayment. We do it because we are thankful, and because we can never pay a gift this big back.
And so, we pay it forward.
God of grace, thank you for all that we have been given. And thank you that we will never be able to repay it. Help us instead to find new ways to say "thank you" to this incredible gift. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the pastor of West Dover Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in West Dover, Vermont. She also serves as the chaplain of a local fire department, and as a speaker and writer on Christian faith and social justice.