If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
-II Corinthians 5:17-6:3
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.
For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple, we should take God at His word;
And our lives would be thanksgiving, for the goodness of our Lord.
-A favorite hymn text
Last week, I was coming home late on a Saturday night, eager (okay, anxious) to get back for Sunday morning. Our plane took off from Charlotte. As we approached destination (the Wilmington airport), fog precluded landing. We returned to Charlotte, hoping we might try again. Then that flight was canceled. I took my place on a long line at the customer service desk to see if I could get on another flight that night. Experience told me I’d be on that customer line for a while. I imagined I might be spending the night in the airport. That’s happened before. Fun.
As I stood near the end of that long line, an airline employee approached out of the blue. She asked a few of us to follow her. We passed several gates to arrive at her desk where she managed to get me on a flight home that night. She didn’t need to do that. She was not on duty at customer service desk, the front lines where angry anxiety gets directed at airline employees. She could have minded her own business, kept her head down, not dealt with us cranky passengers like me.
But she didn’t. She chose to be of service, not because I was worthy, or because I had status, or because I was different from anyone else. It was truly a random act of kindness. It was grace. Interesting enough, her grace, mercy and kindness made me a bit more gentle with the other angry, anxious folks in the terminal. And there were a few of them.
Grace stands at the heart of our faith. But I find that when I try to describe grace, theological categories seem thin compared to stories of grace, e.g., an airline parable like I’ve told. Examples. Anecdotes. Maybe that’s why Jesus told parables. The prodigal son. The good Samaritan. The lost sheep. The lost coin. Workers who get paid a full day’s wage even though they worked only five minutes. Maybe that’s why Jesus came to live among us, full of grace and truth. We know grace when we see it.
What are your stories of grace? When have you known grace? When have you shown grace?
We come this week to the season of Lent. I don’t know what words you associate with the season. Often people describe it as forty days to feel more miserable than thou. We are dust. We are worms. We are wretched. We are unworthy. May I suggest an alternative approach? Think about what Lent has to do with grace.
A favorite verse that you may hear on Ash Wednesday comes from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He calls that community to reconciliation. He celebrates the possibility of new creation. And he tells the Corinthians: Don’t accept the grace of God in vain. That verse always catches me up short. A part of me wonders why anyone would take the grace of God in vain. Why would I?
Then I remember a sociology experiment conducted a few years ago on a busy Manhattan corner. A guy got a bunch of $20 bills and tried to hand them out. Just give them away. No condition. No obligation. He was stunned to find out how many people would not accept them. There must be a hitch.
Part of the broken human condition is that there is something inside of us that acts that way. It’s a part that refuses to accept God’s gifts, either because we take it as a sign of weakness, or we can’t believe we’re worth it, or because we’re too busy.
Grace is at the heart of our faith, so it must be at the heart of the season of Lent. As you make this journey over the coming weeks, think about ways you can open your heart to the grace of God. Explore those ways in which you resist it, or take it in vain, or take it for granted. And if you can think about the ways grace has come to you, see how you might show it and share it in a world starved, I mean starved for grace.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.