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Reflections on Grace

Speaker: Kristie Rubendunst

August 9, 2020

Sermon Sunday August 9, 2020: 

Kristie Rubendunst, Guest Preacher

“Reflection on Grace”

I was thrilled when Ginger invited me to give a reflection during today’s worship.  It is almost a year since my internship at First Church and I am excited to have the chance to “see” you all again -- you had welcomed me unconditionally and patiently helped me navigate my first long-term ministry as part of First Church’s worship team, encouraging me through some rough spots, taking me into your church family, and, as my gramma might say, raising me up as one of your own. I am ever grateful for these treasured times, and especially for your constant gift of Grace.

Please join me in a moment of prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for the gift of your Word and as we think on these things, open our hearts and our minds to hear you. Amen. 

When the shut-down began, I joined a spiritual care group online. Every Monday, eight of us meet online for an hour and a half of guided meditation and time when we share where our spirits have carried us over the past week.  Last week, I mentioned among other things, that I was writing a reflection on “grace.” The conversation rolled on to others sharing their experiences, when one of the gang hesitantly said, “I feel embarrassed to ask, but I do not know what “grace” is. I’m not really a church person, so I don’t know what it means. I guess I know it is good…it seems magical, but I don’t really understand.” Another person chimed in, “Yes, I get grace - practically speaking - but what does it mean in a religious sense?” And a third added, “I grew up Catholic and heard it in church a lot, but I don’t know much about it.”

As is so often true, at least with me, I take for granted what I think I know -- until someone asks me a question.  Perhaps you, too, wonder about Grace.  Let’s explore together and start with a few definitions and characteristics of Grace – or Charis (khare-iss), as it appears in biblical Greek:

  • In the writings of the New Testament, charis and its derivatives include meanings such as: good will, loving-kindness, favor, gratitude, and bounty.
  • Grace is also deployed as a verb – as in being graced or gracing: it saves, it invites, it cleanses, it favors, it gives, it forgives, it welcomes, it heals, it actively empowers other actions to take place.
  • Grace is relational – it is given and received and can express how people are with one another.

We also learn that Divine Grace is more than Grace Supercharged. More on this a bit later.

The other day, I was chatting with a friend and asked him what he thought God’s Grace might be. He sat silently for a few moments, then said, “Have you ever wanted everything to be perfect – no worries, everything going smoothly, nobody judging you or shaming you? You and your family and friends have your health, enough to eat and live modestly. There is not so much hatred in the world, a kind of peace and contentment fills you up, and you think the world is a good place, and life is good.  I know we can’t get to that perfection, and I don’t know if this is right…” He paused, his hand slowly rising and circling his chest and tapping his heart, “but I think God’s Grace feels like that. I think you feel it here.”  It struck me that he was describing Grace as a sense of internal peace that comes from feeling secure and right with the world.

Grace takes many forms—helping with a task, or silently gracing others with patience, or risking to speak up in solidarity against injustice. Another friend offered this idea about what Grace may be, gleaned from Lynne Steger Strong’s novel on friendship, Want: In our interactions with people, each “small good thing” – our companionship, a kindness -- is nourishment.”   The gift of bread that First Church gives to visitors offers the Grace of Welcome. Grace may be a casserole gifted to a family during an illness or grieving loss of a job or a loved one. A phone call or card to say “You’ve been on my mind” is a Grace of “seeing” someone despite absence. In many instances, such “small good things” may be more needed and healing than we imagine.

So, how might we begin to understand God’s Grace?

Divine Grace – or God’s Grace -- does not work on a merit system based on effort and reward. It is not a one-time gift or event; it cannot be bought. Divine Grace flows in one direction – from God to humankind.

The Gift of Life -- is a Divine Grace. Through the Grace of God the Creator, we are called into being and infused with God’s Loving Spirit. We embed this idea in our worship preparation when we take a moment to settle and “breathe in the Breath of God and breathe out the Love of God.” 

God’s Grace is ever-flowing, ever-lasting, and ever-present. a continual unbroken invitation to participate in Divine Love, whose redeeming activity seeks to unite us with God and empower us to love each other and love God in the same way that God in Christ loves us.  Such Grace is transformative, expanding and empowering, designed to embolden us in our faith and in our own lives, so that we may continue Christ’s ministry in the world.

God lavishly pours Grace upon humankind – because Grace is God’s gift of Love and covenant with us.  Sarah Young, author of Walking in God’s Grace, characterizes God’s intent this way: “You have received the glorious gift of grace… No one and no set of circumstances can strip you of this lavish gift.”

A covenant is the Grace of God’s unfailing promise to us and God’s open-ended invitation to us to respond.  And God hopes for our cooperative response -- placed front and center by the United Church of Christ – you hear Divine Grace echoed every week in Ginger’s invitation to worship: “whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!”  That gift of unconditional welcome into community is emblematic of God’s Grace.

Paul, in his letters, tells us that “ For the Grace of God – the Grace that saves – has shone upon all humankind” (Titus 2:11), and – today’s Scripture reading -- that God “has saved us and called us to a holy life -- not because of anything that we have done but because of God’s own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Tim. 1:9 NIV).

From the wellspring of Divine Grace flows Love, Mercy, and Goodness. Once we experience God’s Grace, it seems to flow through us and into every cell of our being. We cannot “undo” that resonating awareness of God’s Grace. When Grace fills us in this way, we feel gratitude. We may also feel a release from shame, sin, or self-condemnation. We may have a sense of belonging and of being in God’s loving care.

Divine Grace matters because we all need forgiveness and love. This saving Grace galvanized Paul’s experience of his conversion epiphany – Paul could not fathom Christ’s sacrifice apart from a Divine Saving Grace intended by God, flowing out of God’s Love for humankind – and that idea is central to our understanding of our faith today.  Salvific Grace centers us and calms us.  It is the Peace that surpasses all understanding.  We realize that when we embrace God’s Love, we grow in love - and our capacity to hold love and give love increases.

We may so desperately and earnestly want to have answers, fixed ideas that we can rely on, that we can integrate and forget about, or at least not question. But God is always creating something new in us, and through us, and around us.  Thus, (as we learn in Acts 20:24), the Grace of God empowers us and trains us to live in a new way.  

God already sees us and knows us, better than we know ourselves, God knows the deep and hidden chambers of our hearts, the convoluted folds of our mind and thoughts. God is not looking for us to clean ourselves up before we respond.  It doesn’t matter if you are “new” to church, or still wondering whether you believe, or have been a Christian for years. Whether we are aware or not, God is always present, loving us despite all our messes and showering us with blessings and grace.[1]

Out of an abundance of Love for humankind, God manifested Grace to us in the infant Jesus, the vulnerable child of God, who loved both God and humankind with all his heart, and soul, and strength, and mind.  And Jesus teaches us that if we wish to fully experience Grace and live a full and abundant life, we must love as he loved -- by loving God and our neighbor with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind.  Experiencing God’s Grace makes us conscious of our God-given purpose in our God-given life: to Love as God loves us. 

It takes dedication, mindfulness, and practice to live a life of faith. We may hesitate or falter but that is ok, because we live in God’s Grace.  And, strengthened with the gift of faith, when we struggle with unfulfilled needs, personal insecurities, or uncertain futures, we may find comfort knowing God walks with us through these storms. And we may continue to strive to live into the Grace freely given us, loving our neighbors and our enemies, serving the poor and oppressed, healing the afflicted, and uplifting those who suffer.

We may rest assured that, created in God’s likeness, and alive with knowledge of God’s Grace, our presence becomes a conduit for God’s Grace in the world.  (2 Corinthians 8:7) Paul urges that, to excel in the “grace of giving.” (Colossians 4:6 ) and to “Let [our] conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (2 Corinthians 4:15 teaches, ) so that the “Grace of God reaches more and more people and an overflowing of thanksgiving that overflows to the glory of God….”

Let us be ready to see the world through Christ’s eyes, to meet people where they are, and love them as completely as Jesus loves us.  Amen.

[1] Diana Lipps, Five Ways to Recognize & Experience God’s Grace, 5/8/2019

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