University Congregational Church
Dec. 7, 2014
“Stirring Up Advent ~ Recipes for Relationships: Grace”
Jeremiah 31: 33-34
Picture it with me: a couple in the delivery room. There is pain, and pushing, and then birth. A child is born into the world. And with the first cry, the parents’ hearts open (pain is forgotten for a moment) and upon seeing the child for the first time, there is an overwhelming sense of love in the room. It is palpable. Complete and utter love for this tiny newborn, who has done nothing but take a breath. This is grace, my friends. It’s not based on the merits of the baby or the circumstances surrounding the situation… but undeserved love and mercy. It’s how all of us want to be loved.
No wonder God chose to come into the world as a child. In this, God showed us something inconceivable – that God’s love is not based on someone’s actions or deserving – but on love alone. Grace.
Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NRSV)
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Today we continue our discussion on recipes for relationships – the ingredients God has stirred up in our hearts to form loving, lasting relationships with others. With the model, or recipe of how Jesus came into the world, these stirred-up ingredients spill over into our relationships with one another. Last week we spoke of the difference between contracts and covenants. It is quite impossible to separate covenant from grace. Grace is what makes a covenant possible. God has given us grace in order for a relationship to exist. In an atmosphere of grace, we respond out of love and forgiveness for one another.
Karl Barth said, “Grace must find expression in life, otherwise it is not grace.” Sometimes when we think of grace we think of something that is intangible. And though grace is intangible in some respects, in other ways it’s very tangible. Think of Marlon Brando ice skating in The Freshman, massive and shy and full of grace out there on the rink. Grace.
Think Jackie Gleason shooting such great stick at the pool table in The Hustler, strolling around the table to take each new shot in total presence, total command. Grace. (Anne Lamott “Traveling Mercies”)
Think Mohammad Ali painstakingly walking up to the podium to speak – his long ago injuries incapacitating him. Grace.
Think former Superman, Christopher Reeve, after a horse-riding accident made him a quadriplegic, struggling for breath through a ventilator, and telling an audience about his optimistic view of life and living. Grace.
Think of a family – full of grief over the murder of a one they couldn’t bear to loose – choosing to forgive and even advocate for the murderer on death row. Grace.
You can actually see grace in action. The incarnation of Jesus is the best example of the manifestation of grace. We are told he “became flesh and dwelt among us … to reconcile the world to God.”
We all want grace.
* When we hurt another – we want forgiveness: “I’m so sorry,” we say, and really mean it. “That’s okay.” We want to hear in response.
* When we forget that we said we would do something – we want the other to immediately reassure us: “Don’t worry about it.”
* When we are late to work because of the train – we want our co-workers and boss to identify with the frustration: “Oh, that train has kept me waiting forever!”
* When we sleep late, wake up in a bad mood, or wear sweats to the store, we know that those who love us won’t think any less of us or judge us.
It doesn’t matter that we were wrong, ill-mannered, throwing a temper tantrum, or just exhibiting bad judgment. We all want grace to look lovingly upon us and bless us with a breath of kindness that blows our faults and shortcomings away.
How then do we justify the words we say and the thoughts we have about another.
+ “He made his own bed, now he has to sleep in it.”
+ “I did my part and I’m done – now the ball’s in her court.”
+ “That kid deserves what he got.”
+ “That mother can’t control her kids. They won’t have a chance.”
+ “Teenagers now-a-days don’t know the real meaning of…”
+ “Those old people need to get a grip.”
+ “I’m glad I’m not that fat. Look at what he ordered – fries – like he needs them.”
When people get into trouble of their own doing we have a tendency to think they deserve the result. It’s different for a Christian. Because we celebrate God coming into our midst – though we don’t deserve it – we extend the grace we’ve received to others.
Yes, we may have every right to bark at the clerk who has been rude to us and slow to figure out the cash register. But is it Christmas grace to do so?
Judgement of others spoils the recipe for grace.
In that traffic jam where you find yourself, and with those drivers around you who just don’t know how to drive, Christmas grace translates into patience. The Greek word for patience is a descriptive one. It figuratively means “taking a long time to boil.”
Anne Lamott – an unlikely theologian – speaks of grace as having a commitment to – or at least an acceptance of – being ineffective and foolish. She says that our bottled charm is the main roadblock to drinking that clear cool glass of love. She says grace is “the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook. It is unearned love – the love that goes before, and greets us on the way.”
Grace! Let’s show it this Advent season by inviting someone who wouldn’t normally be invited to the party. Let’s show it this season by being messengers of kindness to people who don’t deserve it and don’t even appreciate it. Let’s show it this season by being generous to the people who may not pass it on. Let’s show it this season by forgiving someone who did us dirty and hasn’t apologized. Let’s show it this season by smiling, hugging, or being nice to someone we don’t like.
Grace doesn’t just say good morning. It makes the coffee. It not only says, “Merry Christmas”, it helps load the packages into the car.
Grace is not always easy to confer. It is not always easy to be gracious. It is not easy to gracefully respond to those who, during the season, have abandoned all graciousness themselves. However, that does not take away our responsibility and privilege as God’s people – Christmas people – those who understand and live the Christmas story.
In her book, A Gift For God, Mother Teresa shared an occasion when some people came to Calcutta and asked for advice to make life worth living. In her own simple way, Mother Teresa said:
“Smile at your wife. Smile at your husband. Smile at your supervisor.
Smile at your screaming children. Smile at each other.”
After hearing her advice, one of the women responded to Mother Teresa by saying, “Are you married?” Mother Teresa graciously took the question and responded, “Yes, I am married to Jesus, and sometimes I find it very difficult to smile at him. Jesus can be very demanding of who I am.”
May each of us this Christmas season reflect Christmas grace in our words and actions.
Resource utilized: Lamott, Anne “Traveling Mercies”