University Congregational Church
Sept. 27, 2015
“Why Christian… Grace?”
Eph. 2: 1-10
In light of current events in and around our world, when the word “Christian” has been and continues to be associated with war and violence, exclusion and appearances, racism and xenophobia, sexism and anti-LGBT, why do we continue to admit to Christianity?
Have you ever found yourself asking,
- Why am I a Christian?
- Why do I hang onto this religion?
- Why do I participate in certain spiritual practices?
- Why do I choose to go to church when I would rather sleep in?
The United States is commonly referred to as a “Christian nation”. We can debate that rhetoric – but to do so misses my point. As a minister, what I am increasingly concerned about for our nation is the American propensity to fear. And fear is not a Christian habit of mind.
My greater concern is that this irrational fear taught to us in the United States can lead us to irrational response. There are always real dangers in the world, sufficient to their day, as Marilynne Robinson points out. However, being fearful can obscure the distinction between a real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that beset those who see threat everywhere.
Robinson says, “Granting the perils of the world, it is potentially a very costly indulgence to fear indiscriminately, and to try to stimulate fear in others, just for the excitement of it, or because to do so channels anxiety or loneliness or prejudice or resentment into an emotion that can seem to those who indulge it like shrewdness or courage or patriotism. But no one seems to have an unkind word to say about fear, un-Christian as it surely is.” You see, fear operates as an appetite or an addiction. You can never be safe enough.
In contrast, we watched the Pope speak to the U.S. Congress this week. He is a man who brings people together with dignity and grace. He spoke of our common responsibility that is both personal and social….
- To recognize the dignity of every human being
- To protect human life in every form
- To honor the storehouse of wisdom in the elderly population
- To acknowledge the working poor as the fabric of society
- To honor our history by welcoming immigrants
- To be especially attentive to religious extremism
- To develop a culture of care for God’s creation
While we may not agree with the political stances he urged, I found his words to be gracious and compelling. He urged us to take the Golden Rule seriously… “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” This, he challenged, should be applied to all situations and all people – immigrants, the poor, those who have committed crimes, children, and the elderly.
As I listened to what he said, I kept coming back to one word: Grace. That’s what he believes in. And he believes it so strongly that it appears to be his ultimate standard for how we relate to one another. He has replaced the “fear” of the “other” with a common theme of our common good and offering grace to one another.
Grace is used in the Old Testament to describe God’s undeserved gracious giving. In the New Testament, grace is not seen as a thing, but as a process. Grace, defined by the Greek Fathers is the deification of human life. When a person allows the Divine Spirit to be a part of his/her life, he/she receives God’s grace and begins to incorporate grace into his/her own life and learns to treat others with that same measure of grace. This is a process indeed.
In other words, grace is not only something we receive – it is something we participate in ourselves. But here is the rub. I think it’s great that God looks on my imperfection and my ugly misdeeds and offers a word of hope. But, I’m not always prepared to look at someone else’s imperfection and their sin and their ugly misdeeds and look beyond all their problems in order to speak a word of hope to them. At least, I reason, they should have to pay for what they have done. They may suffer the consequences of their mistakes. They get to “pay the piper”. They “made their bed; now they have to lay in it.” It is easier to fear the other than to offer radical grace.
Grace is when, like God, we can look beyond all the sin, the ugliness, the hurt, the hopelessness, and speak a word of love and hope. Without judgment. Without penalty. Without conditions. Just plain old grace.
Imagine the world if we all applied a little grace. Actually, most of us can’t really imagine that. So, let’s bring it closer to home. Imagine what it would be like if all the Christians in Wichita, Kansas looked through gracious eyes at one another. Actually, we probably can’t even imagine that. Imagine what it would be like if all the people in this room, including you and me, saw through the faults, the sins, the hurt and betrayal, and gave each other a blessing of grace. Imagine what it would be like if all the people in your neighborhood or your household, or in your extended family gave each other a blessing of grace. Remember, grace is a process – not something that happens in a poof and you’re done sort of way. Imagine that we were all taking part in the intentional, daily process of grace.
I believe this is foundational to our faith. I believe it is possible. The Pope challenged us to it. Jesus taught it. Our traditional word for today speaks of the process of grace:
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:1-10
Several years ago, there were bumper sticker, T-shirts, and every other conceivable item printed with these words: “____ happens”. You still see it around. It resonates with the cynic in all of us. Shit happens. A friend of mine made a gift for me to challenge that saying. My keychain says: “Grace happens.”
Why am I a Christian? Because Grace came to me, to us, to this world of oppression and fear and greed. Grace redeems the suffering of the world; Grace redeems the fear dispensed by the powerful forces. Grace calls out the mighty, the proud and gives hope to the weak, the humiliated. Grace sees starvation, thirst, sweat-drenched, shivering and provides a way.
Grace gives hope. It ushers in a new day, over and over and over again. Grace takes our notions and ideas, and reveals our humanity and calls us out while redeeming all things at the same time.
The grace of Jesus is far beyond complete understanding, but as we practice receiving it for ourselves and in turn, giving to another we get glimpses. Glimpses of the wild grace, the abundant mercy, and the unabashed pardon propel us toward more and more and greater living.