When I arrived on the unit the CO at the central desk said they were already set up and waiting for me. “D” was sitting at the table in the multipurpose room. I’d met with “D” one other time. Addictions and violence have been key components of his repeated pattern of incarceration. He will serve his time, get released on parole, and then within 6 to 12 months he will begin using and dealing and get locked up again for another 6 years. This pattern has now repeated 5 times in his life. He is tired of this pattern and wants a fundamental change in his life.
When he was a child he attended church, but that stopped as his parents’ lives were dominated by their own addiction issues.
He tried church again when he was a young father. The people always treated him well, but he was suspicious of their motives. How could they care about him when even his own parents didn’t care that much about him? He also had friends and family members ask him why he was going to church when he could have so much more fun doing what they were doing – music, drugs, women, drinking, gang banging, etc.
We looked first at:
Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)
28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
The invitation is to ALL
There isn’t a good behavior requirement. Many people who are incarcerated struggle with the idea that their sins and crimes have made them beyond God’s reach.
Jim Forbes described this conversation with an inmate at Folsom prison.
“Do you mean Jesus still loves me, despite all that I did in my past?” the prisoner standing next to me asked.
“Absolutely,” I quickly answered. The similarities between the speaker and the crowd were many—these were men who at one point in their lives had made poor choices and were still dealing with their consequences, both mentally and physically. Many were seeking a new way of life.
The invitation is to those who are TIRED and BURDENED
Being weary and overwhelmed with life’s struggles further doesn’t preclude us from the invitation. A man waiting for trail has a lot of time for worry. They feel weary and burdened.
I asked “D” what his most tiring job was. He’d worked installing drywall for a period of time. It meant picking up sheets of drywall from the Gradall and lifting them above his head to get them put into place. It worked muscles you don’t normally use and he was physically exhausted by the end of the day. But the emotional labor while waiting for trial has been even more exhausting.
I will give you rest
“D” was concerned that “rest” was a metaphor for death. He was surprised and relieved to hear that God could give us rest even while we are alive. There is hope for this life.
I’ve discussed other aspects of this scripture when I did this study with the men in November of 2016. You can read about it here: Deeper Levels of Max
Grace is simultaneously accessible and incomprehensible. It seems too broad and too deep to be real. It is so simple, yet is multi-dimensional.
Brennan Manning wrote:
“This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the Orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.
Brennan Manning, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir
There is a film that I enjoy called Babette’s Feast. It is in Danish and French, so subtitles are involved.
In a remote 19th-century Danish village, two sisters lead a rigid life centered around their father, the local minister, and their church. Both had opportunities to leave the village: one could have married a young army officer and the other, a French opera singer. Their father objected in each case, and they spent their lives caring for him. Many years later – their father is now deceased – they take in French refugee, Babette, who asks to work as their servant.
After a few years Babette experiences unexpected good fortune and implores the sisters to allow her to take charge of the preparation of the meal celebrating the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth. Although they are secretly concerned about what Babette, a foreigner, might do, the sisters allow her to go ahead. Babette then prepares the feast of a lifetime for the members of the tiny church and an important gentleman related to one of them. It proves to be an eye-opening experience for everyone.
Those dining at the feast are unaware of the cost of this gift to them, and sometimes unsure how to partake in what was prepared for them. But throughout the night the people are transformed.
Such is the nature of Grace.