Here we are at week 2 in our Elephant in the Pew series. Let’s start by thinking of the many gifts/blessings that God has given us. Let’s name them – How has God blessed you, what gifts has God given to you?
Today, we are talking about another true gift from God….. Grace – forgiveness of our sins, compassion, kindness, unconditional love, wholeness. God often sends a messenger – a stranger, a friend, a colleague – to be the bearer of grace in our lives. Grace is one of those categories that it is hard to say….that is grace, or this is a perfect example of grace. It’s much easier to identify/see after the fact, and even then it can be a bit mysterious and slippery. Many (all?) of these things we have not earned, maybe don’t even deserve, but God has blessed us with them anyways.
As we heard in our readings a few minutes ago, there are also several other terms/words that usually get paired with “grace” that it might be helpful if we define them.
One of my favorite authors is Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran ordained pastor who is also a recovering alcoholic. She is outspoken, blunt, and even raw at times in how she preaches the Gospel. She, like each of us, is proof that God chooses often the broken to be the best spokespersons for the Gospel and Grace. Nadia’s writings and sermons are deep and extremely thoughtful. I can, too often, see myself reflected in what she has to say – especially the parts where she struggles to be faithful to God’s call. She has several sermons on Grace, and I would like share some of her thoughts on what Grace to her/for us.
Nadia says, “God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word… it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own mess. Grace isn’t about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail, then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace - and say, ‘Oh, its OK, I’ll be the good guy and forgive you.’ It’s God saying, ‘I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new’” (quotable quotes: Bolz-Weber - Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/958748-god-s-grace-is-not-defined-as-god-being-forgiving-to).
That sounds a lot like what we talked about last week from The Shack. We, humans, in our acts of “independence” often do things that harm ourselves, others, and our planet. When tragedy strikes, we often ask “Why God? Why did this have to happen? Why didn’t you stop it or prevent it from happening at all?” Grace is God’s response. As Papa says in The Shack: I do not make bad decisions, hurts, and horrible tragedies happen; yes, I could have prevented them, but I respect your independence and work within your parameters. I am able to bring good from those same bad decisions, hurts, and tragedies. The pain and suffering is not the final answer. My love and grace is.
Another one of Nadia’s perspectives is that: “Grace helps me to recognize that I have bad vision. Grace is a lens through which I can look through to see myself and others - through this beautiful pure love of God. I don’t have to create this lens, God creates it. The beauty is that nothing else can tell me who I am, who others are. Just God alone – not the world around us, not other people, just God” (Facebook post, “The Work of the People” interview with Bolz-Weber on grace and the "accidental saints" God uses to remind us who's we are. Download this video: http://bit.ly/1L1Xz7d TWOTP subscription info: http://bit.ly/1hlMOx8).
We all have “bad vision” as Nadia says. We all have let the media, social media, advertising, and others tell us who we are, how we are supposed to be, whether or not we are successful, and what it takes to be successful and stay that way.
Nadia goes on to say that “this is why we have the Christian community – because we are great forgetters. We forget that it is God alone that can tell us who we truly are and who God is – not the world and people around us. In some ways,” she says, “Christian communities are places of de-programming, where we go to remove the programming that the world tries to fill us with about our true identity and about God” (Facebook post, “The Work of the People” interview with Bolz-Weber on grace and the "accidental saints" God uses to remind us who's we are. Download this video: http://bit.ly/1L1Xz7d TWOTP subscription info: http://bit.ly/1hlMOx8).
It takes regular practice to start to “recognize” and see God’s grace, Margaret Felice says. “The first step is getting out of yourself, to stop focusing only on your own concerns, and by simply observing the world around us.” She says, “I am more likely to be gobsmacked by grace at a random moment during the day than to experience it deeply during times of intentional prayer” but it is important to be intentional and “disciplined about making time for prayers so to balance the two opportunities of finding God in the everyday” (Rossi).
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany says, Grace “in its most fundamental sense, is the gift of God’s own self. God is free to give us graces in various modes or forms and every kind of grace offered, if freely accepted – which is always necessary – draws the receiver into the very life and mystery of God. The real gift is when we spot those moments as they happen, aware of God’s presence in the day-to-day moments of our lives” (Rossi).
So, if Grace is a lens through which we can begin to see our true selves, and the truth of each other and our world, then –
What is God trying to show you, tell you about yourself?
As Felice mentioned, it takes regular practice to start to recognize God’s presence, God’s grace in hindsight, and even more to truly see and feel it in the moment. It is in Christian Community that we learn these skills and can see the gift of God’s presence and grace in our lives on a regular basis. Sometimes, ok - often, we need others to point out where God has “shown-up” for us, or where we need to “let go” to get out of our own way and God’s way.
I leave you with these questions today:
Together, may our “Grace Lenses” become clearer and more focused. May we learn to be more attuned to God’s presence and movement in our lives. And, with the help of God and each other, may we allow ourselves to be transformed more closely to the image we were created to be – bearers of God’s grace and love.
May it be so…… AMEN
Bolz-Weber, Nadia – quotes and comments from resources as listed above.
Rossi, Tony, blog posting “Opening Yourself to God’s Grace.” https://www.patheos.com/ blogs/christophers/2016/01/opening-yourself-to-gods-grace/
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
Romans 3:22b-24 and 5:1-2
3 22For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Results of Justification
5 1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.