Sermon June 14, 2020
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
From Wikipedia: What is GRACE?
"Divine grace is a theological term. It refers to the divine influence which operates in humans to regenerate and sanctify, to inspire virtuous impulses, and to impart strength to endure trial and resist temptation."
Dry enough for you?! OK, let’s breathe some Spirit into these words. Grace originates from the Latin word “gratus” which has come to mean “grateful” in English today. Grace and gratitude are definitely connected because as we open our eyes to really see, open our ears to really hear, and open our hearts to fully receive, we are increasingly able to see how blessed we are, how supported and loved we are, how filled with awe is God’s creation. All we need to do to receive God’s grace is to say a simple “yes.” Yet that’s so difficult to do for many of us.
And so it’s grace, God’s grace, that allows us to live into our life as a Christian. Someone, something inspires us to start and continue on this journey of a lifetime; our faith journey. That’s our part. To be inspired, to desire, to be open to receiving more than we could ask for or imagine.
God’s part is grace. We don’t earn it; we don’t need to grasp at it; it comes to us as a free gift from the Gracious Giver who created us and sustains us in love, for love. God is present always….. always reaching out to us; it is we who stay at a distance, turn away or forget God. We might mistakenly claim we are not worthy of God’s grace and refuse the gift. "Who me!? You want to be in relationship with me?! You want to share all you have with me?!"
Yes, it can be scary – the magnitude of the gift. I’ve felt that fear or awe many times. But listen to what Jesus says in the gospel of Luke - “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12: 32)
Jesus came to share life with us, to settle the score once and for all. Through his life, his stories, the way he treated people, and ultimately the way he endured the cross, he shows us that our God is a loving God. Our God’s nature is to love, to engage, and to include. Jesus came to set the record straight 2000 years ago. God is grace and compassion. Not a judging or distant or angry God. And here we are, all these centuries later still struggling to grasp this radical idea.
Jesus comes to tell us that God invites us into relationship; God longs to be in relationship with us. And through Jesus, shows us how humanly possible that relationship can be.
That relationship is a dynamic relationship. We do not determine how the relationship will develop. Our work is to be open to where we will be led. Once we say “yes,” to God; once we realize how much we want to engage with this relationship of love and abundant giving and receiving, we will be changed. God begins to change us.
For we have been born once, into the human realm. Jesus came to invite us to be reborn into the spiritual realm. And once we say “yes” to this invitation, we enter into a real and dynamic relationship with God. As with any relationship, there is giving and receiving.
In relationship with God, we receive grace and we give thanks. And in that exchange and through that exchange our relationship grows and deepens and affects all of who we are and what we do. As we learn to trust more deeply, we allow God more control, knowing that it is not out of weakness that we do this, but out of a deep trust and knowing that the more we receive, the more we are able to share the riches of this profound love.
Someone told me once that if you can imagine the cross you will be asked to carry, that’s definitely not it. The same is true of a life of grace. If you can imagine it, that’s probably not it. Because when we open ourselves to God’s invitation to a life of grace and have the courage and wisdom to accept it, we find ourselves living lives we never could have dreamed of.
It’s difficult to comprehend how God loves us unconditionally and desires for us a freedom and potential our puny minds cannot comprehend.
I speak from experience. My life has been pure grace. I may not have known it at the time, but at my ripe old age, I look back and know it for what it was and is. Grace. I’m here speaking to you, a priest in the Anglican church.
I was born 64 years ago in a loving family. My parents were not religious. But I was a seeker from a young age – I yearned for that “something more” and learned to meditate as a young teen. I dabbled in Scientology, Sufism and the human potential movement. I was a troubled teenager. I had my share of difficult experiences. I had a lot of doubts and secrets and self-judgments. I came to think of myself as unlovable.
And then I met a man who was a Christian, who accepted me just as I was. We fell in love and married. Grace.
If there’s one thing I know about grace is that nothing and no one is outside the scope of God’s grace. Everything we experience and everything we’ve done can and will be transformed by God’s grace; if we just let God in to our hearts and let the transformation take place. Every thing we’re ashamed of/afraid of is - a) known by God, and
b) able to be composted into something new.
Our past experiences can be used in service. God can transform what we see as our liabilities into expressions of compassion, service, and wisdom.
The more time I spent with my husband Jim, the more interested I became in his religion. I went to weekly mass with him. And when our two sons were 5 and 8, the 3 of us were baptized into the Roman Catholic church. I entered the church when everyone was leaving it. Friends and strangers challenged me, “You’re so smart, why do you need the crutch of religion?” God’s grace supported and protected me because at that time, it was difficult for me to articulate what drew me into the church. I just knew I’d had a conversion experience burned into my heart, and that all I wanted to do was follow the love that was leading me. And that love did not abandon me.
Once baptized, all the excitement of the year of preparation was over. I wanted more. I didn’t know where to turn. And then out of the blue (or so it seemed) I was introduced to Cursillo and came to a weekend. There I met 4 women who became my community of support…. for the next 18 years.
Twelve years later, Jim was ordained in the Anglican church and we moved up island to Ladysmith where he was posted. I had to leave my business in Victoria. That was really difficult for me. For the first time in my adult life, I didn’t have a job. And then my mother became ill and was dying. I was available to spend 3 days a week caring for her. That was an amazing time for both of us.
I took our youngest son to VIU in Nanaimo to register for university. He told with me with excitement the courses he had signed up for in the Liberal Studies dept. I got excited. I’d never had the chance to finish my BA. I wasn’t working. I would inherit money from my mother’s estate. I doubted myself. Wasn’t I too old? But everyone around me encouraged me and I went to university at 50 years of age and loved it!
My husband went to work as chaplain at a private school in Shawnigan Lake. We moved to campus once I finished my degree. I was promised a job that never materialized. For 3 years I walked and journalled, miles and pages; wondering what lay in store for me. I applied for jobs and didn’t get hired. I volunteered. I kept busy. But those months and years were my dark night of the soul. I prayed and prayed. Where was God’s hand in all this? I listened carefully. Was I to retire at such a young age?
I made an appointment to see the Bishop. Twice the appointments had to be cancelled. I thought to give up. But I decided to try a 3rd time. I went to see Bishop James – “I have so much to offer. And I know how busy and stressed priests can be. I love to preach. I love to teach. And I’d like to offer my talents in whatever way you might see fit.” We talked a long while and then he got very quiet and the room buzzed with energy. I didn’t understand what was happening. “I hear a call to the priesthood,” he said. “Have you ever considered it?”
Who me? I started to protest and then knew enough to shut up. I’d been asking for a sign, who was I to decide that this wasn’t God’s answer?!! The bishop suggested a do a number of things, speak to certain people and then come back to see him. Four months later, I was in seminary. And miraculously, I had the required BA.
Everyday I rely on God’s grace. Starting ministry at this age, without a curacy has forced me to walk the talk. There’s no way I could be doing what I’m doing now without relying on God. And I’ve never been let down. My trust has grown more in the last almost 4 years of my life than in the decades before.
It’s all grace.
I could be self-effacing and pretend it’s no big deal. But I take my lead from Jesus who every time he performed a miracle or healing, gave credit to God. I can tell you the miracle of my life because I give all credit to the One who loves me, guides me and never lets me down. Even when I don’t understand what is happening, even when times are tough, even when I feel alone, I know I’m not. I’ve had enough experience of grace to know that when I’m floundering there will be someone, or some words on a page, or in a song, or some feeling or memory that will get me through until I feel the connection with God that is always there but for whatever reason, I lost touch with. Grace.