Wednesday, May 30, 2012

There, but for the grace of God, go I

In the middle of 16th century a British cleric, John Bradford, got caught in the ever changing religious and monarchical landscape of England. Bradford was an ardent Protestant preacher and devotee of the Church of England itinerating in Lancashire and Cheshire. When Mary Tudor, a Roman Catholic, took the throne it wasn’t long before Bradford was thrown into jail for supposedly stirring a mob. He ended up in the London Tower and would never be released. While there, however, instead of lamenting his condition he gave over his time to the careful study of the New Testament with other churchmen including Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. When Bradford glanced out the window of the tower one day and noticed a set of prisoners being taken to their execution he said aloud: “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” Not realizing that he was coining a phrase used for centuries to come, Bradford was simply reflecting on how life and its goodness had much more to do with the conspiratorial movements of grace, than of his own devices. By the grace of God he was still alive. Later the queen conspired against him and he was burned at the stake. There, but for the grace of God, go I. It’s what we say when we see what good things and bad things life can sometimes throw our way. It’s like what Jack Benny said when once accepting an award: “I don’t deserve this award, but then again I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.” There, but for the grace of God, go I. We’ve read in the last couple of days about a young Yale graduate just a few days past her commencement and with a seemingly bright future ahead of her dies suddenly and tragically in an auto accident. It could happen to any of us. There, but for the grace of God, go I. A dear friend of mine, a young father in his late 30’s, having just accepted a new ministry post with great promise, while driving late at night on a country road, gets hit by a teenager asleep at the wheel. It could have happened to any of us. There, but for the grace of God, go I. The creation conspires, doesn’t it? Sometimes it conspires in our favor and sometimes it conspires against us. And there is so little of it we can control. But isn’t this where thanksgiving begins? When I combine the theory of causation with the composition of my genetic code and being knit together in my mother’s womb – the truth is I have very little in this life I can take credit for. It has come from somewhere else. Grace has conspired to give me so much. The psalmist put it this way: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.” I didn’t pick my brain. I didn’t pick my family. I didn’t pick my childhood church. They were all chosen for me. And I realize my fortune. Whatever I have done with what I’ve received has far more to do with conspiratorial circumstances than with my own smarts. And even if my smarts were involved, they weren’t my smarts to begin with – they came from someone else!!! In the pool of four sons of which I am a part, all from the same parents, one has a brain that never allowed a word to pass his lips nor to think much past a three year old’s ability. There, but for the grace of God, go I!!! How can you not be thankful?? And in being thankful how can you not want to be a part of conspiratorial grace for others?