University Congregational Church
Jan. 27, 2019
“Giving Yourself Grace” or “#You Too”
Matt. 11:28-30; Philippians 4:6-7; Romans 8:1-2
For the last several weeks, Paul and I have preached on racism. Our original plan was to go right into a series on the topic of gender equality. And we will get to that topic. But I wanted to pause and talk today about you.
Our congregation often focuses on “the other”. I believe that is essential. We need to think beyond our own lives and our own doors. We need to focus on those who are less fortunate. The oppressed. The hungry. The homeless. Those the system ignores. In this year of justice, I have been preaching about justice for the other.
Today, I want to talk about you. I know most of you, at least a little. And I know that you fill your lives with good things. You care for others. You volunteer. You give generously to non-profits and the church. There are many people, places and things that vie for your attention. Those of you who are retired have told me that you find yourselves busier than you were when you worked!
And 99% of the time, you handle things pretty well. Occasionally, however, I know that if you are human (and if you are like me), there is sometimes a small voice that cuts through your mind and tries to cut you down.
• You haven’t finished that project
• You don’t eat enough home cooked meals, and you should eat more veggies
• Your yard is an embarrassment to the neighborhood
• Just look at all that clutter piled up!
• Those 10 lbs. you planned to lose? Well, now you have 15 to lose? What is wrong with you?
• You could-a, would-a, should-a done…
There are a bunch of pop psychology articles and news stand catch-your-attention headlines that offer great suggestions to these stressors like:
– Work out regularly
– Reduce your stress
– Practice mindfulness
– Be a better time manager
But there is a stronger and longer term solution for handling this problem. It is – in a word – GRACE! Give yourself some grace.
The care you really need is not buried somewhere deep inside of you, waiting to be unlocked by some dessert or diversion. Those are good things. But what we all truly need is the healing, forgiving, restoring, and transforming grace of God. There is a mantra I learned at a previous church. It goes like this: You are forgiven. You are accepted. The future is open.
I made a visit recently to an older man I have truly respected for years. He has been a successful person in almost every imaginable way – as a professional, as a parent, as a leader in the community, and as a member of the church. His mind is as sharp as ever but his body has begun to fail him. It is a frustrating transition for him, but he understands and accepts his condition. Yet, he is experiencing extreme anxiety. The cause of the anxiety hasn’t been determined, but it is a completely new experience for this otherwise competent and put together person. Having extreme and unexplained anxiety is causing him even more anxiety. As I visited with him, I told him that I thought he really needed to give himself some grace! The understanding, support, encouragement, and help he has offered to untold numbers of other people in his lifetime, he now needs to give to himself…. Or allow himself to receive from God. He is forgiven. He is accepted. His future is open.
Matt. 11:28-30 offers comfort to the weary soul: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Philippians 4:6-7 provides additional soothing help: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Kristin Meekhof, a grief therapist, reminds us that grace is not just for the religious or spiritual person. Instead, she writes, “it is how you feel when all is unraveling and at the very end you find yourself with an unexpected gesture of kindness, that is grace. Grace happens when the person you weren’t so polite to earlier that day shows you kindness later, that is grace. It is the young child you snapped at that later hugs you, that too is grace. In these situations, grace comes when you least expect it or deserve it, and in that moment it changes you. It softens you and makes your heart beat a little faster. Like forgiveness or love, you can’t see it but you know when you’ve experienced it. Grace is about acceptance, forgiveness, love and as hard and bitter as this is to swallow, it heals you unlike anything else.”
Imagine for a moment that there is a child sitting up here near the front. Perhaps it is one of our smallest members: baby Jude or little Emily. She is smiling and giggling as she looks out and makes eye contact with each person around her. As she looks out on each of you, she recognizes human faces and smiles. And then she looks to the next person, focuses in and smiles and laughs. It doesn’t matter whose face it is – whether young or old, pretty or not, bored or happy, worried-looking or peaceful expression, tired eyes or wide eyes – she responds with absolute delight in each face. It is beautiful to see.
Our sanctuary would take on a heavenly atmosphere! As we watch young children play with any adults who allow it, we can imagine that this is how the Holy looks at us – with delight and joy – to see the good of human creation in reflection of the Divine. Writer Kathleen Norris says that she suspects that only God and well-loved infants can see humanity this way… and that it is the definition of grace. God can see our potential and finds us, blesses us, even when we feel the most alone. God will find a way to let us know that wherever we are, however far we think we’ve run, God is with us.
For progressive Christians who believe so strongly in God’s love for others, it is sometimes difficult to accept God’s grace deep within our own lives. We have looked deeply into racism and rejected the sin of systemic racism. We will examine the sin of sexism and consider gender equality. We will think about the #metoo movement. For today, however, I want to affirm that you matter.
Life can be hard. This allows a lurking belief that life is hard because we are doing something wrong, that it is somehow our fault. That other people are doing it better and we just can’t get our act together. We see others’ marriages, parenting, financial status, professional accomplishments, friendships, etc. and think “what is wrong with me that I can’t live that way?” Social media can increase this comparative feeling. The truth is that life isn’t hard because we are doing something wrong – it is hard for everyone. The hard that someone else experiences may be a different hard – but it is still hard.
The good news of the gospel is that we are completely loved exactly as we are. We feel squeamish about this and even a bit afraid that we are taking the easy way out. It’s like we would rather be in control of our worthiness. Sometimes our biggest critic is the one inside our head. It is that nonsense that tarnishes our hope, keeps us from getting better.
But what would it look like if we opened ourselves up to receive the compassion, forgiveness and love that God freely offers without condition? When we fail, we can let ourselves off the hook. It sounds too good to be true. Especially for all of the type 1’s out there! But Romans 8:1-2 echoes the other traditional words I’ve shared: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
Truly giving yourself grace isn’t about giving yourself anything. It’s about being open to grace and fully accepting it! I wish I could give you a list of things to do to accomplish this task. I wish I could print something helpful in the bulletin on how to best achieve grace. I tried to find 3 easy steps to accepting grace. But that is the hardest part. You don’t have to do anything.
Just as the baby smiles at you because you have a face she sees, so God looks upon you with love and grace. And so it is. And so it will be. Smile back if you will. You are forgiven. You are accepted. The future is open.