When we were kids we lived in the country. Our house was nestled in the hillside of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and at the base of the property was a perfect little creek that flowed down to the Schuykill River.
In the summer we would play for hours in the creek making a dam. When the water got deep enough we’d sit down in it and cool off, but the object was not to make a little pool in which to cool off as much as it was to just play in the water and build the dam.
We’d start with big rocks, then plug the gaps with smaller rocks, then we load up the back with gravel. Sometimes we’d even dig up some mud from the banks and get serious in plugging all the water that was seeping through our dam.
In reading the first reading from Acts today I thought of our dam building. St Paul goes to the Jews with the message of God’s love, forgiveness and mercy, but they stonewall him. They block him out, argue with him and reject his message. Finally he shakes the dust from his feet and moves on to the Gentiles.
This is the way with God’s grace. It’s like the water in the creek. It just keeps on flowing. It is life. It is love. It is power. It is creativity. It is grace, and it just keeps on raining down on us. It keeps on flowing from the mountain of God, and what do we do?
We put up barriers. We build a dam of our own liking. But the water is always stronger than the dam. The water always found ways through our barrier of rocks, stones, gravel and mud. That’s what water does. It finds a way.
So does God’s grace. It just keeps flowing. If there is a boulder it goes around it, under it or eventually over it. If there is a barrier the water seeps through, and once it finds an opening more water follows behind, and the barrier is swept away.
God’s grace does this. We put up barriers and blockades. We build walls. We block it out with our sin, with our stubbornness, with our stupidity and our pride.
The biggest boulder is “I know best.”
But God does not bash down our barriers. He just goes under, around and over them. He finds another way. He does not violate our free will.
In reading church history this is what impresses me most. No matter what the corruption, the immorality, the persecution or the sheer pig headedness of his people, God just keeps finding a way.
He pours out his grace on all of us and his grace is not contained or constrained by the barriers we build.
One of the most overwhelming barriers we build is actually our religion. When our religion becomes nothing but a set of rules and regulations, dogmas and doctrines barriers are built. If we are not careful we use the rules and regulations, the dogmas and doctrines to construct a little fortress of faith. We take refuge there in our own little religious edifice and we practice our religion, but it has the “form or religion but denies the power thereof.”
Meanwhile the grace just keep flowing, but maybe now it has gone underground, or maybe the stream bed has turned in another direction and is now far away from our little fortress.
Finally, the water in the creek is always stronger than the dam. Given enough time the flow of water will erode even the biggest and hardest of boulders.
What to do about it?
I reckon the thing to do about it is to discern where that creek is, where the water is flowing and go with the flow.