Sunday, October 21, 2012

Grace in Ourselves, by Pastor Greg

If you know me very well, you know that I am a sucker for a good night sky ... a starry, starry night. There’s little I love more than laying on my back and watching the dark and silent sky ... and watching and waiting for those magical streaks of light ... tiny bits of space debris entering earth’s atmosphere and creating little blazing streaks against the speckled blackness of the night sky. Once I begin my vigil, it’s hard for me to give it up and go to bed until I’ve seen at least one meteor ... at least one “falling star”. It affirms something within me that needs affirming ... it jangles a note within that tells me that I am not alone in the midst of the enormity of space and time. I’ve noted the kinship I feel with the psalmist who said: “The heavens are telling the glory of God ...” The streaking lights in the heavens somehow let me know of God’s presence amidst the seeming emptiness of outer space ... and the vast stretches of inner space, as well. It’s only a hint, but it’s enough of a hint for me ... enough of a hint of God’s presence ... God’s love ... God’s grace.
We’re talking about grace these first weeks of fall and here’s the working definition we’ve been using: God’s “grace” is the living goodness of God’s being and God’s power and God’s love that is offered to the world and its people without cost, without condition, without limit.
Frederick Buechner is a Christian writer and preacher who has meant a great deal to my faith and ministry over the years. He was a distant neighbor of mine in Vermont, though I’ve only met him once (in Berkeley, of all places). I like how Buechner describes grace. He says: “Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth. A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace.
Buechner goes on to say: "A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. 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” Buechner finally says. “Like any other gift, the gift of grace can only be yours if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
These first weeks of October are a time of considering our stewardship as Christians ... our loving and responsible care and use of all that has been given to us ... all that has been entrusted to us by the loving Creator of all that is and the giver of all good gifts. We have been guided this year by these intriguing words written by the author of First Peter who said to his readers that they were to serve as “good stewards of the manifold grace of God”. Stewards of God’s grace. Stewards of Grace.
That’s us. That’s who we are. That’s what we do. It’s in our spiritual DNA ... it’s in the bloodstream of our faith. We are not only called to be “Stewards of Grace” ... we ARE Stewards of Grace. As children of God and followers of Jesus, it’s simply who we are. In other words, we are inheritors and vessels of God’s being and God’s power and God’s love. We contain these things ... these gifts ... this essential goodness. We may only be “earthen vessels” ... as St. Paul noted ... just “clay pots” with a few cracks ... but we are still being filled up constantly with God’s grace—if we aren’t too full of ourselves or too full of the debris of life and the world. If we are at all open to God’s goodness and grace, God will fill us to overflowing ... and that overflowing is for the world that God so loves.
One of our members here likes to tell the story about the battered and leaky bucket that was carried by a young girl who trekked each day all the way down to the village water pump to gather the family water. At one time the bucket had been new and strong and carried its contents proudly and securely. But now the bucket was old, cracked and worn and leaked profusely. And it broke the bucket’s heart that each day’s trek to the water pump ended with only half of the precious liquid within ... much had dribbled out. One day the bucket cried out to the God of all beings and things in its weariness and frustration, and God said to the bucket, “Do you not notice the beautiful flowers that grow and bring color and joy to the girl that carries you and brings delight to her neighbors because of the water that trickles from you as she carries you home.”
Sometimes simply “showing up” and being open to grace may be all that is asked of some of us, cracked pots and leaky buckets that we may be. God supplies the treasure ... we merely need to be open to its coming, its indwelling in order to be stewards of that treasure.
Two weeks ago we spoke of some of the ways God’s goodness and grace are at work through us in the world both far and near: Hands on mission projects of a variety of kinds ... walking and working for a variety of needs ... supporting missionaries with prayer and money ... extending ourselves to our homeless neighbors and some many others in need. God’s grace is given legs and wings through our “ditty bags” and our “dirty hands” and our “dollars and dimes”.
You may have noticed that this year’s “stewardship campaign” has come around a month early this year. It’s because during the weeks we’d normally hold the campaign, we’re going to be welcoming homeless families to our church who will make our sanctuary their home for the next two weeks. It’s one of the ways we dribble the grace that has been poured into us onto the dry ground that is all around us.
Last week we talked about Grace in the Church ... there’s another cracked and leaky bucket if ever there was one. Sometimes it’s only the flaws of the foibled church that we can sense and see. And we’ll admit it’s true in many ways. However hallowed an identity the church may have—or think it has, it’s also a terribly “human” institution with all of the warts and scabs and scars that are a part of any other human gathering. And yet God still works wonders in and through the local church as some of our humble ministries will attest. And God’s grace is at work among us, seeking to bind us together in love, seeking to mend broken souls and torn relationships, seeking to fill the empty wells of being with blessings and peace, seeking to empower us as a people and a community.
I’m thinking of particular occasions of grace in our church during the past summer and this fall ... occasions where we have paused in our busy-ness, and taken the time and the care to minister to the children among us ... particularly during Vacation Bible School and Logos. If you played a hands-on part in either of these wonderful ministries, you’ll know the grace that oozed and dribbled and showered down in abundance during these times working with our marvelous kids.
This fall I am privileged to lead our Logos kids—our “Magic Penny” kids—in the part of the Logos day called “Worship Skills”. We learn about worship and practice readings and songs in preparation for Sunday mornings. And I must say: singing with these precious and beautiful parts of God’s creation is like bathing in grace. These young “earthen vessels” carry far more of God’s gentle and loving grace within than they may ever know.  I may come to Worship Skills with bruises and burdens, but by the end of our time, as the kids sit in a closing circle with Sandy and offer up their joys and concerns in prayer, I feel like grace has taken a cleansing journey through me, the bruises partly mended and the burdens partly lifted.
You see, God’s grace is not only at work in the world and in the church. God’s grace is also at work in us ... in me ... and in you. God’s grace is not just “for the world” and “for the church”, it is also for you and me. The psalmist reminds us that we are the sheep of God’s hand, the sheep of God’s care, the sheep of God’s tender keeping. God’s care and keeping offers to us release from our fears, healing for our hurts, and resurrection and rebirth from even our greatest failings. Our “Song of Grace” that we have been singing during these weeks of stewardship expresses God’s tender care of us each:
Grace like a stream, flows gently on.
Wash over me until my fear is gone.
Gentle healing grace, show to me your face.
Wash over me until my fear is gone.

God of our hearts, burdened with care.
Help us to feel your love in humble prayer.
Gentle whisp’ring grace, flow within this place.
Help us to feel your love in humble prayer.

Gentle your touch, upon my soul,
Mold all my being ‘til you’ve made me whole.
Gentle saving grace, show upon my face.
Mold all my being ‘til you’ve made me whole.

Dear friends, know and trust we are the sheep of God’s hand, the sheep of God’s care, the sheep of God’s tender keeping. We are the children of God’s good grace.
I said earlier that I love to star-gaze and love to search for meteors ... that somehow the immensity of space, when streaked with bits of light, strangely warms me and reminds me of God’s presence and care: God’s grace. This morning I was up very, very early—even earlier than usual as there was a special occurrence in the sky that I didn’t want to miss. Each year the earth, in its solar orbit, passes through the extreme end of the tail of Halley’s Comet which won’t re-appear in its full glory until 2061. I’ll be 103. Some of you will be even older. J The resulting meteor shower is called the “Orionid Shower” because the entry point for the meteors is in the place where the constellation Orion hangs in the sky.
I sat out in the back yard very early this morning under a beautifully starry night, a blanket over me and a cup of freshly brewed coffee in hand. A light breeze rustled the neighbor’s palm tree. And I watched as tiny streaks of light graced the dark sky. The Orionid meteors can occur anywhere in the sky, but if you trace the path of each meteor back, the paths all converge in one point near Orion’s belt—they all originate from the same place.
I think it’s a marvelous metaphor for the grace of God ... grace manifest in so many places, in so many ways. Grace expressed beyond us and within us, grace worked out through us and sometimes in spite of us, grace sparkling brightly in times and places where all light seems to have dimmed and perhaps disappeared altogether. But all grace, all good gifts, all healing mercies and emerging hope originate from one place, one source and that is the loving heart of the Creator of All. And it is the night sky that hints at that loving heart, and it is also the children of Logos, and it also is your silent and supportive prayer, and it is also your gifts of time and energy and self and substance, among so many other things, that give me and gives us all life-giving and life-saving hints of the wideness of God’s mercy and the Amazing Grace and Goodness of the one who loves and cares for us all ... and even loves and cares for you ... and for me.
We have been loved and served and saved for a purpose: that we might manifest and make tangible and real the grace of God; that we might make tangible and real the living goodness of God’s being and God’s power and God’s love that is offered to the world and its people without cost, without condition, without limit. We have been loved and served and saved that might be Stewards of God’s Good and Amazing Grace.

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