But as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you-see that you excel in this act of grace also.
-II Corinthians 8:7
Seminary, the churchy word for grad school, was every bit as grueling and competitive as you'd expect any other grad school might be. Some of my classmates had been lawyers and doctors and it was ever encouraging and discouraging to know they found our three to four years of divinity school training just as difficult. While many of the students and professors I encountered were compassionate and encouraging folks, colleagues and mentors to this day, a great many more helped make it the theological boot camp it was. Therefore, the times I experienced grace were all the more poignant.
My first summer before seminary, I took an intensive summer Hebrew class. We attended class for three hours a day, five days a week, and studied for another 6-8 hours each afternoon and evening, covering a year's worth of ancient Hebrew in 6 weeks. So then I took Old Testament, then Greek, followed by New Testament. I'll be honest. While I found Hebrew beautiful and life-giving, Old Testament was a bear. Think of the she-bears from the book of II Kings that came out of the woods and devoured the children. Greek was daunting as well, and so by my third year, I was braced for New Testament and the gauntlet it would be. We were assigned our first paper and I worked arduously to complete it and slide it through the mailbox slot on the professor's door at the appointed hour. That's when I began chatting with classmates and realized I'd done this 15-page paper on the wrong scripture. I'd misread the the syllabus!
I raced to the professor's office, ready to throw myself on her mercy. She was well-within her rights to give me a failing grade for the paper, and with it, the semester. She could show me some mercy and let me re-write it that day, which I begged to have the chance to do. And yet, she heard my story and apology and plea and smiled softly and said, "I always liked that scripture. I'll put your paper in the middle of the stack and it'll be a nice break to read as I grade them." That undeserved gift was the greatest grace I received in my three years of grad school. It was totally unexpected, as grace always is. This week, our scripture and Pastor Gray's message are about the unexpected nature of grace. I invite you to think about when you've experienced it and how you can offer it now to others.