Amazing grace how sweet the sound ...
Grace ... what is grace? It’s a word that gets bandied about a lot by people like us. And it’s a lively question for us this month as the word and the notionof grace are at the heart of our thinking about stewardship. Grace is at the heart what it means to offer our all in support of God’s good work in and around and beyond us.
So here’s a working definition of grace: 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. (repeat)
Perhaps you can be thinking or searching for your own definition of grace in the days ahead.
For Paul writing in his epistles—his letters to the churches, grace was all about “salvation”—God’s gift of an unbreakable bond created between the heart of a human being and the heart of God and the eternity of God. But grace and salvation are not to be thought of as some kind of private transaction in which you escape with your hide and “devil may care” about the hides around you. That modern saint, Dorothy Day, was fond of saying: “None are saved until all are saved.” If Christians are only concerned for saving their own skin, their own souls, only concerned with locking up theirown “private path to heaven,” they’ve completely missed the wideness of God’s mercy, and the intended “all-ness” of God’s gift.
And let’s give up the thinking that would suggest that “grace and salvation” are strictly “spiritual” matters ... concerned only with the spirit and the soul—the ephemeral and the eternal, but not the material or the physical. Grace and salvation are also interested in other matters like health and poverty and opportunity and oppression— Grace and salvation are also interested in the neighbor in need. When hunger causes your ribs to show, when disease stalks you and takes your children, when war robs you of your neighbors and your livelihood, it’s hard to care too much about the “eternal security” of your soul. And it’s equally hard to imagine that anyone calling themselves “Christian” could ignore the “neighbor’s” plight while yet thinking of themselves as “saved” and beneficiaries of the “grace of God.”
If “grace” is particular, it is also “universal”. If it is a gift intended for “me”, it is also a gift intended for “us” and the two are inseparable. God’s gift of life and grace and salvation—in the broadest, deepest and richest sense of those terms, is intended for one and for all. To hoard them, protect them, or privatize them is to destroy them.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. ... This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.
One of the things we feel we know to say about grace is that it comes to us through God’s gift of Jesus: God in the flesh, God incarnate, God upon this earth as one of us, uniquely human, yet divine. For us, Jesus is the way to God’s grace. So let’s combine that thought with the familiar words of the 16thcentury Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks in
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Fellow “stewards of God’s grace”, we are partners in the “dispensing” and “enacting” of God’s grace. It is the living out of the interrelatedness and the mutuality of God’s grace for one and all, in tangible and compassionate action, that God’s grace becomes realized and made manifest.
Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. This is a day when we symbolically break bread and share the cup with Christians the world over ... in every place and every condition. On this day of communion and grace, I would simply note three ways that we help dispense and enact God’s living and tangible grace in this world that God so loves.
ONE: Seafarer’s “ditty bags” ...
TWO: I’m thinking of the work that we support in Haiti ... and especially the work of our missionaries there, Nzunga Mabudiga and Kihomi Ngwemi, a husband and wife team who are natives to the Congo.
Nzunga and Kihomi serve as a vital link between International Ministries and the Haitian Baptist Convention. Nzunga teaches theology at the Christian University of Northern Haiti, trains assistant professors in teaching and writing books, administers a scholarship program, and visits and preaches in churches. He also administers the "Kids for Kids" goat project that provides needed school and personal supplies for children and university students.Kihomi works with families in the areas of counseling, family planning, and women's health issues. She also coordinates and advises the women's association of the Haitian Baptist Convention, representing women of all the Baptist denominations of Haiti at international conferences.
Nzunga and Kihomi are also deeply concerned about the merciful medical ministry of the hospital we support in Limbe: “The Hospital of the Good Samaritan.” Several years ago we, as a church, gave a significant gift toward the purchase a new generator that would help supply the hospital with a reliable source of electricity so they wouldn’t have to rely only on the unreliable local power “grid”—if it could even be called that. It was a huge boost to the hospital’s care they offer to their neighbors in need.
THREE: Heifer ... a gift that keeps on giving (as opposed to guilt ... Keillor)
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
At this time I invite us to begin to draw near to the table that is laden with rich hints of God’s goodness and grace: bread and the juice of grapes. The bread and the cup symbolize the world’s physical hunger and its satisfaction. We may not be able to “live by bread alone”, but without bread, we cannot live at all. The bread and the cup symbolize the sustenance and nutrition all beings need to live. And they also symbolize the deeper sustenance and nutrition without which we also have no real being: the sustenance of our souls, our hearts, our dreams, our spirits, our purpose, our living, our humanity. God is also concerned with these things and all things—with the “allness” of all people—and God promises to feed all who come together in love to this love feast with that which satisfies and fulfills our bodies and minds, hearts and spirits.
So let us come and join together with the children of God’s heart the world over in partaking of this food, this meal, this grace.
Christ invites us all to this Holy Feast.
As we gather this morning,
we remember our sisters and brothers
from above and below the equator,
from the North and from Down Under,
from every time zone around the globe.
As today's sunlight inches across land and sea
Christians gather to celebrate their place
in God's family.
All are invited and all are welcome.
Come, for the meal is ready!