It has happened every Halloween for over a decade. I never expect it, but when it happens I am filled with joy. It feels like a gift of love and devotion. I haven’t earned it. It feels like a love I will not lose despite the fact I mostly don't think about it until it happens. Here's how it happens... I'll come home from work and there will be a box sitting next to the mailbox. Not a big box, about the size of the container of blueberries you buy at Costco. Plain brown wrapper. Addressed to "Obi-Ron" (a reminder that I once dressed up as Obi-Wan Kenobi for the kids Halloween carnival at church. I still have my Light Saber. And now a personalized license plate!).
Inside this box? Halloween cookies. Homemade, in the shape of Jack-O-Lanterns, frosted to create smiling happy faces. Chocolate cookies. Orange frosting. They taste wonderful. And that’s it.
We Christians talk a lot about the Grace of God and I'm often asked by non-Christians what that means. For me it's like that box of Halloween cookies. They always show up on my doorstep, especially when I'm not expecting them. As I said before, I didn't "earn" them. I apparently cannot "lose" them. They are a free gift, a gift of love.
One of the core faith claims Christianity makes is that there not only is a God who creates and sustains all things, but God does all of this out of love. In fact, our scriptures say that God IS love. Unfortunately, and all too often God's gift of love is turned into an object of manipulation, creating a climate of judgment, fear and exclusivity.
What I mean by this is we can take the free gift of love God gives and turn it into a kind of commodity, a thing that can be meted out to those who fit the mold, follow the rules, do not stray. In a recent polling of people 18-35 years old it was discovered that the top three words this demographic group used to describe Christianity were judgmental, hypocritical and old fashioned. Those words do not describe the Christians I know. But it does describe Christians I have encountered.
Please don't misunderstand. I know there are rules we must live by, rules—commandments really—that Jesus issued. And the number one commandment is to love. Not to judge. To love. In fact, Christianity claims God's ultimate judgment is a judgment of love. I mean, even as the soldiers were nailing nails into Jesus' hands he was asking God to forgive them. (Luke 24:32-34) The Apostle Paul wrote that even while we were still enemies of God, God reconciled us to him. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
Which brings me back to that box of Halloween cookies.
I'll bet there are Christians who will question and even condemn the fact I have used Halloween as a means of describing God's grace. Ok. I get that. But, really?!
They are cookies. Lovingly made and shared with no expectation of a response in kind. Wonderful, homemade cookies. Gifts from the heart.
Isn't that what grace is all about?
But, you might wonder, is there a catch? I guess you could say there is a catch of sorts. But only if your choose to be caught. Once you become aware of this grace, this unmerited gift of love for you, a gift you didn't ask for, a gift you will never lose...
What kind of response will you make in return?