Saturday, January 05, 2013

Vehicles of Grace

December 30, 2012

Ecclesiastes 2: 1-8
Revelation 21:1-6

I don’t know if there is anyone who has led a blameless life. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t made a mistake somewhere in their lives. As much as we may be loved by our families, or highly regarded by our co-workers and colleagues, or esteemed by those who love us, for each of us, there is always someone who does not wish us well. There is always someone whom we’ve hurt.

There are also always people whom we are uncomfortable with, because of the choices they have made in their lives. One of the things that have caused us to hurt them is that we have had to draw back, out of necessity, to pull away from them. We know that continuing to be in closer contact with them means that we will be damaged. We also know people who have made choices in their lives, and we can then say in result: “There! Them! That person right over there! That’s who I am better than! That’s who I can safely feel above!”

For a whole lot of people, that person was a friend of mine from high school. She was wonderful, she was amazing, she was giving, and she has had three husbands. She could spend a fortune as a counselor trying to figure out why, analyze each and every choice, but sometimes that’s just micromanaging. In the end, she has decided that her issue with each one was a belief that she could change them, or that they would choose to change on their own though her love for them.

Anyone ever heard that one before?

None of the three of them did. Surprise. None were what you’d call pillars of virtue, and the one whom she thought was the safest, the one with standing in the community and economic resources, turned out to be the most controlling, even to the point of influencing her doctors without her knowledge.

When she got dropped from his insurance, she discovered that the meds she’d been on weren’t necessary. And she didn’t go jump off a bridge-instead the sun came out, and her mood evened out.

She has two children, one adopted and one by birth from the third husband. And she has learned how to support the two of them on her own.

To everything there is a season. She has met someone. He is strong, and good, and accepts her for who she is, history and children and all. He is everything that the other three weren’t. Yes they fight, sometimes they have what the Irish call “donnybrooks”, but even in the midst of the heat of battle, they never lose respect for each other, they never lose sight of the fact t that they love each other, and have a relationship with each other that is worth preserving. They never try to destroy each other.

Two nights ago, I received word that, in the midst of her vacation with him, it had happened; he had proposed and she had accepted, without hesitation.

There is redemption in our life. We are all worth the best that the world can give us. If anyone ever says “well, you did this and that and so and so, so you must deserve unhappiness,” while there are natural consequences to our choices, we are NEVER less that human beings in the midst of our choices.

Even if we have fallen under the cloud of addiction;
Even if our low self esteem makes us choose ways to live that do not benefit us;

We are never less than as God sees us, and God sees us at our best potential as he created us, which is in his own image.

That doesn’t mean gender. That doesn’t even mean arms and legs and a head. That means that we are a creative force built for love-this is the image of God.

It might be hard to remember that at times in our lives, especially when we read a passage like this morning’s Ecclesiastes passage, where it says a time for war and a time for peace, and a time for love and a time for hate. All of those things we list on the left side of that column, fear, hate, whatever, we need to remember that we do not generate these things; these things come to us all in our lives, in different seasons. But they are only for a season. It is only for a span of time. It is NOT the whole of our lives.

And the revelation passage tells us that final season will not be earthquakes and fires and asteroids and John Cusack driving a minivan over a crack in the earth; when the world ends, it ends by heaven coming to earth. The passage tells us that the New Jerusalem descends to earth at the end of time. God comes to us. God’s place is with us. There’s that bumper sticker that we all know, but uses one of those words we generally aren’t encouraged to use in church, but it is still true: **it happens.

To everything there is a season.

There are times of pain, that keep you up at night, that no painkiller can solve; and there are times of comfort and joy. There are times when money is really tight, and you get tired of the taste of ramen; and there are times you can walk into the meat market and buy the whole ribeye and get it sliced the way you want it. There are times you will be out of your mind with love, and will drive through a snowstorm to be with that person; and there will be times you will feel so lonely you’ll think you’ve dropped into a pit with no light, no heat, and almost no air.

But in the end, heaven comes to us. If you’re in that pit, if you are in the midst of mourning and sorrow, it might be of small comfort. It’s not just my idea, though, it is the word we receive from our ancestors, and those who have also known God and faith. Whether you are a literalist, or see Scripture as a chronicle of how the people of God see God, the promise is the same; God is with us. God is Always with us. God does not choose for us to be in pain; that statement about God not giving us more than we can take? Hogwash. Life gives us more than we can take. But life is not for us to be protected from. Life is for us to live, and to find triumph in. And our strength is not to be found within ourselves. If that is true, we will fail. Our strength is to be found in God. Now, God can manifest Godself through the technology that has been developed in the medical field to help us; God can manifest Godself in the care of us by those around us (I do not remember how many lasagnas we were given when Donna was sick, but it was enough). These are the graces. That grace, that love, that hug, that letting the other driver through the light before you go through; that’s life. That’s goodness, that’s the evidence of God; yes, even just the courtesy of letting the person behind you in the grocery line who has one box of Kleenex when you’ve got a whole basketful.

Heaven comes to us. Heaven can also come through us. Sometimes we’re the person with one item, sometimes were the one with the cart-full.

Sometimes we are the vehicle of grace.

Three hundred years ago, this practice, this technique of the Christian faith, Methodism, was started by an Anglican priest named John Wesley. He wrote a lot, he published a lot, he rode a lot of horses over a lot of miles, and as one of the things he gave to his followers, and to the Christian practice, was a Covenant Prayer.

Traditionally, he would conduct this prayer either at the end of the year or the beginning, and asked his followers to always keep it in their minds; this is the prayer in modern language:

I am no longer my own by yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.--

If you choose to say this prayer, you’ll choke on some of these things. But seek it as a goal.