A reading for Ash Wednesday: 2 Corinthian 5:20b – 6:10
The verse that I find myself mulling over is 6:1.
“As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.”
Greek exegetes can get into the nitty-gritty about word choice and translations, but using the NRSV, I find myself asking, “What does it mean to accept the grace of God in vain?”
My favorite online etymology site, tells me that the phrase “in vain” comes from the Latin and means, more or less, “to no effect.” In other words, to accept the grace of God in vain is to be given grace but to have nothing come of it. It is to remain the same, unchanged. It is to do nothing but simply to go along the way you have been.
I think of a plant in our house. It does not like the spot it is in. The cold is hard for it. The light is not right. But we keep trying to nurse it along. When its leaves fall and it gets droopy, we water it, and it springs back to life. But, at last, we did it in. Water no longer worked. We can pour out water on the poor dead thing, but it is — to quote the Scripture — in vain.
Paul is writing urging the Corinthians, for whom Jesus Christ became sin and died (v. 5:21), to not only bask in the grace of what Christ has done, but to actually be transformed by it. His scripture quotation in 6:2 calls to mind the great Wesleyan preaching line Isaiah 55:6.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
Ash Wednesday starts us on a journey toward Good Friday and Easter beyond. It calls us to prepare our hearts to receive that grace shed upon the world. It calls us to not receive that grace to no effect, but to life.