Sunday’s Prepared Message – Deep River Friends -May 1, 2016
One of my NetFlix shows that I Iike to watch is Daredevil. Admittedly, he’s a Marvel comic superhero character that now has it’s own show and it’s intensity level is a bit beyond what I remember comics to include. But I like it and I am fascinated by the storylines…the battle between good and evil.
Daredevil, whose name is Matt Murdock, can’t see. He’s blind. After saving a man from an oncoming truck, he lost his sight due to radioactive material being spilled out. Because of that, his other senses such as touch and taste, have been enhanced. Also, his hearing has been enhanced. Often in the show, a scene will have him standing on the edge of a New York City building, cocking his head to one side, as he “hears” the cries for help all around the city.
Now, not to equate myself with a superhero or Daredevil, but that image of him “hearing” the cries but not being able to “see” resonates with me. It’s kind of how I found myself sharing my message last week on grace…and kind of why I find myself still staying with the theme of grace. I’m often not quite “seeing” where God is leading when it comes to these messages, but I find that what I’m “hearing” around me leads me to my messages…and what I’m “hearing” is a world desperately in need of a refresher course on grace….and that includes good, faithful church people as well.
We may hear different things, but what I hear is brokenness, alienation, addiction and loneliness. I hear fear…fear of those that are different…fear of punishment…fear of the future…fear of simply living an authentic life. I hear anger, frustration, and incivility. I hear bigotry, hate, and meanness of spirit. I hear despair, futility, and resignation. I don’t hear these all at once or all the time. But I hear them enough that I find that “grace” is a reality that doesn’t seem to be showing up much. Either in people’s lives, their souls, or their conversations.
But I guess I’m not ready to give up on the possibility of grace.
In her most recent book, “Living Wise”, author and broadcaster Krista Tippett writes: “The discourse of our common life inclines towards despair…in an immersive 24/7 new cycle, we internalize the deluge of bad news as the norm – the real truth of who we are and what we’re up against as a species. But our world is abundant with beauty and courage and grace.”
Krista Tippett challenged me…either I am going to see the world as it is communicated to me by the 24/7 news cycle and internalize is as the norm…or I am going to see the world as abundant with beauty and courage and grace. I choose the latter…and I do so based on personal experience as well as my faith journey. But I also choose the latter because that is the kind of world I would much rather live in..and that is the kind of world I would much rather reimagine and help create.
“Grace” is a big word but I tend to favor Dallas Willards definition…”Grace is God acting in our life to do what we cannot do on our own.” Grace comes from a root word meaning “kindness and blessing”. Grace is God’s disposition of kindness and mercy turned toward the world…turned toward you and I…so that our lives may be made whole and our lives and our world may flourish. The Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians that it is by grace we have been saved…and this is the gift of God. It is because of God’s goodness and kindness and mercy that our lives are in the process of being made whole again…and it’s nothing we have done…God starts the process for us. And God is not just seeking to save us but all of creation. God’s grace seeks to restore all of creation to wholeness and a state of flourishing.
To say that the world is, in Krista Tippetts words, “…abundant with beauty and courage and grace” is to say that the world is filled with God’s presence and goodness…and it’s often in and through the abundance and kindness of people’s lives and actions and courage that grace is made manifest. It occurred to me that Jesus probably never directly used the word “grace” to describe himself…probably because his whole life was a living example of grace. He didn’t have to talk about it…he lived it…and when we see Jesus we see grace in action.
In fact, I would like to think that our lives can increasingly become abundant with beauty and courage and grace. When we do, we bring a different presence to this world. We bring a presence that offers civility, graciousness, and hope. It’s a presence that believes in possibility. It’s a presence that has no reason to judge the other since we are all on this journey together and all in need of the same grace and mercy. It’s a presence that brings beauty to this world through forgiveness and reconciliation…a presence that is willing to bridge the divides rather than widen the gaps simply because someone believes differently…votes differently…or takes an opposing position on cultural issues.
But this means I need to make an effort…which brings us to our Scripture for today. The Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and work for his good pleasure.”
Our salvation journey is not a one time experience to simply a receive…it is a process of “restoring to wholeness” that is to be worked out in our everyday living throughout the course of our lifetime. As Dallas Willard put it, grace is opposed to earning…but it is not opposed to effort. The “grace” part is God graciously at work in our lives…recreating us…remaking us…tenderly showing us who we need to be. Our part is choosing to make an effort to engage God’s graciousness in our life by making decisions and choices and taking the kinds of action that will move us in the direction towards greater wholeness and flourishing.
When I think of this dynamic, I can’t help but think of going to a gym but never working out. A person buys a membership. They buy all the right workout clothes. They take time to drive to the gym. They get out and go into the gym. But once they are in the gym they simply sit and watch everyone else work out. They may talk to one of the trainers and tell them their problems and groan because they don’t seem to be getting any healthier or in shape. And then they leave…only to come back and go through the process all over again.
Maybe it’s not much unlike our spirituality today? A person goes to a church but never makes an effort to work out their faith or salvation. They secure a membership. They put on all the right…or appropriate…clothes. They take time to drive to the building or meeting house. But once they are there they mainly simply sit and watch others work out…or maybe watch others sit and watching others work out. They put in some money to maintain their “membership”. They may talk to few people and lament on how their spiritual life seems “stuck” or they don’t seem to be growing spiritually or they aren’t being fed spiritually. Then they get up and leave…only to come back and possibly do the whole thing over again…the next week.
Very simply…God brings the grace…we bring the effort. God brings the energy for transformation and change…we bring the willingness to change and grow towards our best selves. God brings the possibility and opportunities for choosing a journey towards flourishing and living well…we bring the capacity to accept that responsibility and make the choices that will move in that direction.
Grace is God at work in you and around you…on your behalf…for your well-being and your wholeness and your flourishing. God doesn’t work against you…God is at work for you. God puts people, moments, opportunities, circumstances, and situations in our path that serve to bring possibility and wholeness to our lives. But God won’t make the choices or decisions for us. As my friend, Trevor Hudson, likes to put is…God doesn’t gate crash our lives and force compliance. It is all by invitation.
Knowing how God is at work in me means I need to be paying attention to what is going on inside me and around me. I need to be attentive to the ways God is at work in my life. I need to be aware and open to those “grace moments” that come my way and ask myself questions like: What is God speaking to me through this? What might God be inviting me to do? What is the next step I need to take? Who is God inviting me to become?
God is at work everywhere and anywhere in our lives…God is at work in our grief and sorrow…God is at work in our addictions and attachments…God is at work in our fear and judgmentalism of others…God is a work in our stale and sometimes dead marriages…God is a work in our depression and anxiety…God is at work in all of it. If it matters to us…it matters to God…because we matter to God!
When God’s grace is at work, our efforts matter…because our efforts and practices help to maximize the grace God extends to us for our well-being and flourishing. And these efforts may not be dramatic…they may be simple…but they may be significant in our continuous growth.
It’s possibly making the effort to make that phone call to a counselor or treatment center…maybe making the effort to reach out to someone and apologize or ask for their forgiveness…maybe making the effort to seek to understand a person’s point of view or position before declaring them wrong or unchristian…maybe making the effort to work on a character flaw in your life by seeking to live or respond in a different way. I read this yesterday: “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.” That takes effort on my part…but a good and necessary effort.
In his wonderful use of words, author Frederick Buechner has this to say about grace:
“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
It is a gift…and it’s a gift that is extended to you and I…a gift that promises to make us into different people…the kind of person we would rather be or want to be…the kind of person that brings an abundance of beauty and courage and grace to this world.
God has done God’s part – grace has been extended and is extended everyday…
I need to do my part – to make an effort to do what needs to be done in order to maximize capacity of grace to change my life and make me whole…
How is God at work in your life? Where is grace showing up? Where is God’s kindness most evident? What do you now need to do? What’s your next step?