2021 Dying for Grace

“Amen, Amen, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, an those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12:24-25)

To receive God’s grace we need to die.  And we don’t want to die.

The story/joke/cartoon at the beginning was about a little girl with a cat, who complains to the cat, “Grownups are always asking me what I will be when I grow up.  I will just be me, only taller!!  Why do they always ask me that?”  The cat replies, “Maybe there is less air up there.”  

I think it’s something else.  It has to do with dreams, not height.

We, as adults, ask children what they will be when they grow up, because we know the dreams and visions we had of what our world would become when we grew up.  They were not manifested.  Our dreams changed.  We took on a sort of shell, a persona, a presentation, and hid our essence and our dreams and our visions, our hopes, our light, inside that shell.  We want to justify our giving up our inner life, our souls, by trusting that children will too.  “It’s just the way the world is…”

Not in God’s world.  In God’s world, Jesus said, you have to be like a little child to enter.  (Mt. 18:2-5) Jesus said in another place, “Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them.  For to such belongs the Kin[g]dom of Heaven.”  (Mt. 10:14).  And in another place, He says that John the Baptist is the greatest prophet there ever was, and that in Heaven, the least are greater than he is (Mt. 11:11)

Let me talk about grace for a minute.  According to John Wesley there are three kinds of grace: prevenient, justifying and sanctifying.  For purposes of clarity and understanding, I rename them thus:  Coincidental, Forgiving, and Empowering.  You have experienced all three at one time or another.  You may not actually recognize it, but… well, for example.  Your partner.  Where did you meet?  Did you know them before you went to wherever that was?   That was God directing you toward a good life ahead.  That was God in your life incognito; you may have called your meeting “coincidence.”  

Or that job you hated, that you either got fired from or quit, and the next job that was the Best!  That was God working God’s GRACE in your life.  I went to the little junior college in my hometown.  I met the man who would become my ex-husband there.  When he got drafted into the Marines, another person came into my life: my best friend, Eddie Galloway.  He took me to a drama class one day after our music classes were over.  I worked in the theater while I was married to Bob, and after I left him, that ‘s how I supported myself and Melanie.  And when we left Michigan, we headed for California, so I could maybe become rich and famous from my acting.  

The first California apartment we moved into was a block from the grocery store, where I worked for ten years.  Two blocks the other way was First UMC of Burbank.  More prevenient/Coincidental grace.  

Shortly after I was hired at the grocery store, I got a “pay or quit” three day notice at the new apartment.  Hadn’t had my first check yet.  Wouldn’t have it in three days.  In the mail box was a “residual” check from a movie I’d made in Detroit five years prior.  It, with my savings, was enough to pay my rent.  At the mail box, I recognized that God had always been there for me: protecting me, providing for me, encouraging me.  That’s when I realized that God loved me unconditionally, that the “sin,” the “missing the bullseye” of marrying badly, had been forgiven.  That is Forgiving Grace.  

John Wesley went to a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London one evening, and leaving there, he “felt [his] heart strangely warmed.”  Wesley had that feeling because “an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  Forgiving Grace.

Last week, after asking all of you to figure out your sin, the result of which might be Jesus on the cross, which you could then name, and repent from, and be healed by that repentance… well, I did that last Sunday, and realized I preach like a Presbyterian.  I didn’t know the doctrine or the man who created that doctrine until I learned about him in Seminary, but basically, as a child I knew I had to Work Really Really Hard to Be Really Really Good because getting into heaven was not an automatic given, when the truth is, as my daughter reminded me, “Grace, mom!  God’s Grace, don’t you remember?”  

And we, the Christian Church (I believe) falsly cling to that “law” of blame and punishment and we think God sent Jesus to pay for our sins, to be punished for our sins.  When that is not the truth.  God and Jesus worked it out, so that God Godself, God made manifest, came to offer us GRACE.

Grace that looks like Coincidence is God’s love, leading us where it would be best for us to go.  Forgiving grace is when we realize God has had our backs all along, and has walked with us even when we made those bad choices and fell into those pot holes, and “missed the bullseye” (the actual definition, in both Hebrew and Greek, of the word “sin.”).  God figured out ways to get us out of those bad places, and has blessed us with God’s forgiving grace.  God forgives us because God loves us unconditionally.  Our difficulty is receiving God’s forgiving grace and thereby forgiving ourselves.

Empowering grace is God’s power working in us.  Empowering grace is the grace that gives one the courage to go to the grocery store every other day for two weeks, and fill out four applications, and say, finally, “I’ll bag groceries!”  Empowering grace is probably something you have already experienced, tho’ you may have thought of it as rebellion, or great need, or doing for your family.  Empowering grace enlightens you to your gifts and their uses and/or to other people who can help you in one way or another.  It gives you courage,  wisdom, strength, energy and/or determination.  It is God giving you the tools to achieve the vision God puts into your heart.

Part of the trouble in the world today is, I think, because we don’t teach our children, we don’t ourselves see and trust and share God’s Grace.  When some folks reach an end, a place where they can’t see a way forward, they react violently, like that man who shot those Asian-American Spa workers.  What if he had known about God’s grace?  Maybe he could have hollered at God, “What do you want me to do?” Maybe he could have talked out his needs and his hatreds. Maybe 8 people would still be alive. 

Some folks wrap themselves in a shell of “I deserve” or “I’m entitled,” or “It’s my right” or “those people Have to be less worthy/important than I am.”  And that shell, at least, needs to die.  Not those women; not that couple.  The shell of entitlement because he was a white man needed to die.

Cause that’s how grace works.  The part of you that you cover yourself with, that you allow to define  who you are, is probably not the real you.  The shell is not the part that grows, that brings life and light to the world.  Inside the shell is your essence; your life.  And if you hang onto that shell with all you have, the essence inside will die.  If you let that shell die, the essence within you can grow into who God knows you to really be.  And you will find yourself where you need to be, and you will recognize God’s love and life power within you, and you will be given the strength and courage and wisdom to grow into who you Really are.  And you won’t kill anybody.  And you will see the Grace of God and God’s love, beauty, and power in yourself and all others.  Ring a bell for the eight.  And for all the others who have died from the Covid and from Hatred and from War.  God’s Grace to You.  Amen.

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