July 8, 2018

Proper 9

2 samuel 5:1-5; psalm 48; 2 corinthians 12:2-10; mark 6:1-13

The Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis

What is grace?

To me grace is the gift of my daughter.  She was the favor shown to myself and my spouse after a sad and difficult journey to becoming parents.  So we named her Nori Grace, and Nori Grace was favor shown to us when we were certain there was nothing favorable to be found.

If you look up ‘grace’ in the Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, the first thing you will encounter is the etymology of the word’s meaning.  It is from Latin gratus meaning “beloved, agreeable.”  The dictionary goes on to read, “grace is…favor…shown to man by God.”  In today’s parlance then grace is God’s favor shown to humanity.

There is a ministry in Houston called Grace Place.  It ministers to teens living on the streets.  Grace Place is a safe place with a hot meal, a clothing closet and small community support for youth who have been rejected by their families or aged out of foster care.  Grace Place is where they go to experience God’s favor through the work of the church.

A member of this congregation described for me grace as unearned forgiveness from God that provides a sense of peace.  That peace frees us from the shame of our weakness and our mistakes.  In that sense grace may be the source of that peace which surpasses all understanding.  Any person’s grace place, then, is their peace place that one cannot create for oneself, but it gets created for us somewhat mysteriously from beyond.

Grace is not something one is likely to miss.  Grace is hard to overlook.  My son who is obsessed with lightening and wants to see every illumination.  He will ask me desperately, “Did it flash?!” because he is worried he will miss one such instance.  One may miss a lightening’s strike, but you will never miss the sensation of God’s forgiveness, because it is a moment of relief from some agony - small or large – that refuses to be ignored.

There are little graces in life, like food on the table.  This is perhaps how the southern expression, “To say grace” came about.  On the surface saying grace is to to say thank you to God or to bless what has been provided.  But more than thanking God for the substance of what we may have grown or paid for, it is the food’s power to sustain us that we cannot generate.  The nutritive power of the food is the grace given to us in creation.  So we say thanks to God for that power as we bless it.

St. Paul says a word about God’s grace, speaking to its power dynamic.  He says, grace is “power made perfect in weakness.”   So then grace is the nourishing power of food as it comes to our hungry or depleted frames.  Or grace is the shelter of a church when its roof extends over the lives that are lived in total exposure.  Or grace is the power of the life of a child when it comes the into the care of the otherwise impotent and broken hearted.

When God’s power finds its way to our week places, that is grace.  Paul has me thinking of a God that touches our weakness with all the care in the world.  Paul has me thinking that contact with frailty is what makes God’s power perfect.  The more God’s power can meet what needs healing, the greater God’s power can flow in the world.  It is as though the nature of God is to seek out those encounters to keep the power in God’s power.  If so, then we need not strive to be perfect, nor need we pursue a perfect God.  We need rather to pursue a God who has a power made perfect through weakness; power expressed as grace.

Just as an experience of grace is nearly impossible to overlook, St. Agustine argued that grace is impossible to deny.  Some heady gentlemen in the earlier church asserted that because humans have free will we must not necessarily accept God’s grace.  But Agustine replied that while people exercise free will, there is no will to refuse grace.  For grace is irresistible.  Even when defended or defensive, we are defenseless against God’s grace.

Lay woman from this congregation, Priscilla Burroughs, wrote to me that “Grace is a gentle lullaby sung to us by our God. And, like the 1000 definitions of Love, no one definition [of grace] is the ultimate answer, but all together the one same thing.”

The church says sacraments are graces.  Communion is a grace.  Baptism is a grace.  So, Priscilla has me thinking that the invitation to the altar or the font, is an invitation to hear God’s singing.

The only problem with grace is that we cannot will it for ourselves.  We can only hope to channel it for others.  About this channeling, the Rev. Eric Law teaches about what he calls grace margin.  He says the church can create a margin of grace when we set up opportunities in the church for people to speak and be heard without interruption, without judgement.  He teaches ways for a church to foster the flow of God’s power and grace for its people, for those outside the church and in the church’s very way of life.

At last, if I could pick up my daughter’s play wand and wave it over us all, I would do so first to create grace places in all of us where God’s power could touch perfectly our weaknesses and our shame.  Then, I would wave it a second time in hopes of creating a grace margin so wide that we all would fall in.