Once again it seems like COVID has disrupted our lives and community. Mask requirements, social distancing and restrictions on gatherings are most unwelcomed developments. Thankfully, we know the mitigations work, and we look forward to a relaxation of them in the coming season. Like many people I talk to, I long for some sense of normalcy.
What is normal? I am reminded of the humorous observation that “normal” is simply a setting on a clothes dryer. We toss around a phrase like “new normal” without really defining what is the “new normal.” I certainly hope our current mitigation measures are not the new normal!
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he challenged what people perceived as normal. For instance, in Jesus’ day it was normal for people to equate religious performance with God’s favor. Follow the rules, perform your duties and life will go well. Make mistakes, struggle with faith and admit your doubts, and you will pay with difficult circumstances. It was commonly thought that your position with God was determined by your faithfulness and performance. Then, along came Jesus.
Jesus welcomed the outcasts, sinners, people with questionable pasts and reputations. There wasn’t even one first-round draft pick among his hand-picked team of disciples. His love, compassion and healing were not predicated on performance. What we see at work in Jesus and the Gospel was grace. Grace became the new normal. God’s favor, God’s salvation and an abundant and eternal life were now gifts to be received instead of prizes to be earned. But that was not all.
As grace began to take hold, a whole set of “new normals” began to grow in the lives of Jesus followers. Instead of an attitude of deserving, serving became the new normal. Jesus followers expected less for themselves and asked more from themselves. Instead of comfort, suffering became the new normal. Generosity became the new normal. Jesus followers placed the needs of the community above their own, which was was not normal.
These new norms were often met with criticism by the dominant culture. Many of Jesus’ followers were tortured or martyred because they lived by different values and beliefs. Following Jesus was not normal, and many Jesus followers suffered for it. Yet, those early followers joyfully embraced the challenge of living by a new set of norms and values. In fact, suffering became a privilege, according to Philippians 1:29.
In the midst of these abnormal times, I see a terrific opportunity for what some may consider abnormal behavior rooted in abnormal faith. How wonderful to focus on how we might serve and be less concerned about what we think we deserve. Maybe we can expect less of others and offer more or ourselves. What if we took generosity to a new level? What if our experience and knowledge of Jesus’ grace transformed even more of our attitudes and actions? What if grace really became our new normal?
May you experience the fullness of God’s grace known fully and uniquely in Jesus!
• The Rev. Tim Harrison is Senior Pastor at Chapel by the Lake. He and his wife Karen (also an ordained pastor) have been in ministry together for over 30 years. They served Presbyterian churches in Florida, Washington, New Jersey and Wisconsin. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.