Summing up the last three sermons about Grace; Grace may be defined as the freely given, unmerited favour and love of God; grace is available to all people, over 7 billion in the world today; and there is nothing we can do to receive grace for ourselves except make ourselves open to that forgiveness, and trusting that it will come.
Since we have been justified by faith and forgiven for our sins, what are we meant to do going forward? Many people have questioned the doctrine of grace earned by faith alone as it seems to imply that, since we are already justified, we have no need to be good, or do anything in the world. This is, of course, not the case. As children of God, forgiven through Christ, we commit ourselves to live a Christ-like life. As our Epistle reading this morning reads in The Message, “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is.” What does this life look like?
In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace Philip Yancey talks about, “tracing the roots of the word grace, or charis in Greek, and finding a verb that means “I rejoice, I am glad.” He goes on to say that, “In my experience, rejoicing and gladness are not the first images that come to mind when people think of the church. They think of holier-than-thous. They think of church as a place to go when you have cleaned up your act, not before.” As people of grace, we want our lives and our church to reflect this rejoicing and gladness, and we want people to feel free to join us no matter where they are on their journey of faith.
In our readings last week we read the story of Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray in the words we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. It is in this prayer that we run up against the first requirement of leading a Christ-like life. Jesus instructed them to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” The first part is all good, forgiveness of our debts, grace, is central to our lives. The problem appears in the form of one of the shortest, and in this case most powerful, words in our language, “as.” Forgive us like we forgive. It is a powerful word because while we are happy to be forgiven, there is a clear link here between our forgiveness by the Father and our own forgiving of our friends, neighbours, and enemies. Our first task as Christians is to forgive, to pass the grace along, and this is definitely a counter-culture way of thinking.
Yancey quotes Elizabeth O’Connor who puts the dilemma this way, “Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven. Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be.” The human tendency would be to brood over wrongs, hold grudges, plot revenge, and pray that the bad guys get their just deserts in harsh punishments. I have no intention of making forgiveness sound easy in this sermon. It is not. I pray the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime and I often find myself tripped up in the middle and having to go off on a tangent to try to bring myself around to forgiveness for someone else before I can pray the remainder of the prayer. Luckily we have God to help us with our natural tendency towards unforgiveness.
Forgiving others is an emotional and spiritual challenge which we work out mostly internally and through the help of the Holy Spirit. In more practical terms, let’s look at some of the other things we should be doing as recipients of grace, and to be as Christ-like as possible. I referred last week to the ‘means of grace’ which are a gift from God rather than a checklist to be completed in order to receive grace. Steven Manskar describes them as, “… how we grow and mature in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength….This means of grace are divided into two general categories: works of piety and works of mercy.” There follows a nice concrete list…
prayer (private and family) feeding the hungry
public worship clothing the naked
the Lord’s Supper caring for the sick
reading & studying the Bible visiting the jails and prisons
Christian conference sheltering the homeless
fasting or abstinence welcoming the stranger
acting for the common good
These are all things Jesus did and taught his disciples to do, not in order to receive forgiveness but because they were forgiven.
In reading through several recent issues of the Presbyterian Record I saw many examples of these acts of piety and mercy; I read of the power of prayer; of many different styles of worship from Sunday mornings in the established churches to worship around the campfire at one of our many summer camps; I saw ads for different colleges and universities and the elders institute offering both Christian conference and study, I read of assistance given to people from Fort McMurray and the congregation there, of women’s retreats, of congregations sponsoring refugees from Syria and Namibia, of young people identifying needs in the community and starting a program to help, of the church signing a joint statement stating that the church would work to implement the articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous; the discipleship is there, it is active and vibrant throughout the national church.
Is discipleship active here at St. Paul’s? I believe that it is. You put an emphasis on worship through our Sunday services 52 times each year. You regularly meet to share the Lord’s Supper and include in that everyone who attends worship. Worship is based on the reading and interpretation of the Word, and make available monthly books for daily devotion. Meeting in Bible studies, coffee hours etc. there is a chance to share experiences, questions, and insights with each other. You are always ready to welcome people to the congregation, collect for food banks, lead services and help with birthday parties at the Carleton Manor, send birthday and Christmas cards and fruit trays to seniors, celebrate PWS&D Sunday, support the Atlantic Mission Society and Presbyterians Sharing.
Manskar stresses in his article the need to maintain a balance in our works rather than to, “always gravitate toward those that suit our temperament or personality. For example, an introvert may naturally be drawn to …private prayer, Bible study and fasting…and will tend to neglect worship, conference and works of mercy…while an extroverted person will naturally be drawn to those works of piety and mercy that suit his/her temperament but will neglect time alone with God in prayer and reflection. Could we challenge ourselves to stretch and increase our involvement even in the areas with which we are less comfortable? This is a question upon which every individual needs to reflect in prayer, and which our congregations need to discern in order to gain a vision for their continuing ministry within the community.
In a world of ever bigger barns, as individuals and congregations we need to avoid the trap of the greedy farmer, filling our barns with stuff for ourselves rather than with God. We need to look beyond ourselves to where Christ is looking. To the needs of those in hunger, in pain, in trouble with the law, everyone we meet, for as it states in Colossians, “Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. “
We will know we are getting it right when people see a church which is active, vital, open and welcoming; a place to come for help, as well as to offer help, and a place to grow in the love and service of Christ.
Manskar, Steven W. “Opening Ourselves To Grace: The Basics Of Christian Discipleship – Umcdiscipleship.Org”.Umcdiscipleship.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 3 July 2016.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002. Print.
Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997. Print.
Posted in Faith, Reflections
Tagged choices, Christianity, church, forgiveness, God, grace, Jesus, kindness, leadership, love
Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
I was reminded of this verse yesterday. It isn’t that I have been out inspecting other people’s eyes for specks or anything. In fact, I would say I have been keeping pretty much to myself lately (as you may have noticed from the slow-down in post frequency). But someone I love noticed the log that I wasn’t noticing in my own eye, and brought it to my attention.
How is it that we can be oblivious to our own issues? How do we miss our own behaviour and attitude changes? Jesus was really talking about not being hypocritical in our dealings with the failures or problems of others. He was talking about the habit many have of passing judgement on others while not considering for a moment their own guilt. That is not the type of thing I’m talking about here.
There is a lot of value in watching out for the logs in the eyes and lives of our friends and families. Often the first people to notice symptoms of physical or mental illness are not the people who have them, but those around them who can see changes which otherwise might go unnoticed. The biggest signs to watch for for most mental and many physical illness are change. Changes in eating and sleep habits, mood, communication, focus, etc. can be warning signs for many things, but the person who has had them gradually develop in their own lives often don’t even realize they have happened.
Keep your eyes peeled for logs in the eyes of your friends and loved ones rather than the specks. Don’t assume that, just because they are so obvious, the people will notice on their own. If you see one, let them know and make yourself available to help them if they need it. Now, that is love!
It is time for change in our world. It isn’t that this in new information or a new situation, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I have been struggling with what to write, or whether to write at all about my reaction to the past week’s news stories.
One day last week I was driving to school in the morning and listening to a young Canadian girl talking about how happy she was that Moammar Ghadafi was dead. News reports were talking about huge parties which had broken out in Libya and among Libyan populations in other places worldwide. While I understand that it is a huge relief that the dictatorship is ended and that people will naturally celebrate a victory after a hard-fought battle for freedom, how did we come to a place where we are teaching our children to celebrate a person’s death? Whatever else he became, Ghadafi was a man, someone’s son, husband, brother, father etc.
Also last week news articles came out about a young man in Ontario who committed suicide. Sad at any time, this case was made more visible by the fact that the 15-year-old had been keeping a blog in which he was very open with the struggles he had with depression and being gay. He spoke of how hard it was being the only openly gay young man at his school and the fact that it was too hard to wait for “It to Get Better” (check out the It Gets Better campaign fighting against suicide amongst LGBT teens)
On the heels of all of this I just watched an episode of Harry’s Law in which the lawyer Harry Corn was the defense lawyer for a teen blogger who was being tried for murder as a result of the suicide of one of her targets. While she had “outed” the girl on her blog, used terrible expressions to refer to her, and even went as far as to encourage her readers to let her know that they “knew” she was gay, she was found not guilty of murder. There were no punches pulled that the bullying had been horrific, nor about the results, and statistics on this problem were brought forward in the trial. In her closing arguments Harry pointed out that it really took a whole community to create such a huge tragedy.
When Jesus was with us, during his ministry, he already knew change was needed. Jesus was a change maker, a boat rocker! He taught us that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds. Second only to that was to love our neighbours as ourselves. The stories from last week represent what my students might call “epic fails!” We need to spend a lot more time actively working to show that we love our neighbours, even the ones with whom we do not agree! We can each start on our own, and we can join with groups like the Humankind one at my school with campaigns like Grow the Glow, anti-bullying days, Ally weeks etc.
Posted in Faith, Justice, Reflections
Tagged change, Ghadafi dead, humankind, Jesus, kindness, LGBT, love, neighbors, neighbours, teen suicide
I don’t know who wrote this or where it originated, but I ran across it on Face Book one day a couple of weeks ago and it is one of the few things that I actually copied and pasted into my status update.
“Special request to all you kids returning to school in the next few weeks. If you see someone who is struggling to make friends or being bullied because he/she doesn’t have many friends or because they are shy or not as pretty or not dressed in the most “in” clothes PLEASE step up. Say hi or at least smile at them in the hallway. You never know what that person might be facing outside of school. Your kindness might just make a BIG difference in someone’s life! Pass It On ♥”
Unlike the “games” people play on Face Book which involve obscure notices with meanings blocked from the opposite gender or some other group kept out-of-the-loop, this message is clear about its intent and encouraging positive change. This sort of move toward kindness, as you know if you follow my blog, is of great importance to me.
Where have we heard these sentiments before? If Jesus had used Face Book the status update may have read something like this…”
My brothers and sisters, fellow children of God, don’t waste your time while you are waiting for my return . If someone is struggling in any way, hungry, thirsty, friendless, or being bullied, LOVE them and do what you can to help them. Say hi or at least smile at them, share what you have. You never know what others might be facing in their lives. Your kindness might just make a BIG difference in someone’s life, and what you do for them you are doing for me! Pass It On ♥
I took this photo about a year ago after having a lunch out with my husband at a local restaurant. We didn’t sit at the table in the picture, but I have in the past. I took the picture inspired by the quality of the light provided by this creative fixture.
The light falling on diners at this table is not the classic bare bulb used in interrogation scenes in the movies. The light is filtered through the hanging crystals.
The light of life, of Jesus, shines the same on everyone in the world but the filters through which it passes makes a huge difference in how it is felt and received by individuals. As Christians, we are those light fixtures through which Jesus’ light shines for our friends and neighbours. On our worst day we may have an angry red filter making the light show menace. Some days we may just hide it under a blanket (basket) so it can barely be seen at all.
Le us aim to be beautiful, creative, and inviting fixtures so that people will want to sit at our tables!
Posted in Faith, Reflections
Tagged Christianity, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, kindness, leadership, light, light filters, love, reflection
I just came out of a restaurant with my parents having finished a great meal and, of course, feeling over-stuffed! Even having ordered the “mini” plate of liver and onions I was unable to finish all the fries. Don’t get me wrong though, I still had carrot cake for dessert!
A few days ago a friend sent me the following email which included pictures of families with the food they would eat in an average week on display.
“Quite a powerful story in pictures. What is eaten in one week around the world? Very interesting assortment. Note the large amount of drinks in some pictures.This is undoubtedly one of the most interesting e-mails I’ve ever received. Take a good look at the family size & diet of each country, and the availability & cost of what is eaten in one week.
Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide, Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07
United States: The Revis family of North Carolina(Sure hope most American families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food than this family.)Food expenditure for one week $341.98
Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily, Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca, Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna, Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27
Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo, Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
Ecuador : The Ayme family of Tingo, Food expenditure for one week: $31.55
Bhutan : The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village, Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Chad : The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp, Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Don’t know about you, but right about now, I’m counting my blessings!”
It is a pretty stark picture of the plenty with which most of us live, while others are smiling and proud to display what we would consider to be barely enough. Growing up many of us were told to consider the starving Armenians when we didn’t finish all our supper. Obviously our parents were hardly planning to send our left-overs overseas, but they were on track with their mention of the need to stop and think about the lack of balance in food distribution worldwide.
Posted in Justice, Reflections
Tagged change, choices, Christianity, consumption, details, faith, food, gluttony, help, improvement, justice, kindness, love, plenty, problems, reflection
A while back I went out for coffee with a good friend. During the course of the conversation we touched on many subjects. She was sharing with me that she had been going for Reike treatments (is that the correct term?) for a while and she said she had an amazing experience at her last session. She shared the following story with me, and asked as well that I share it with you;
My wish is to have peace and taking part in a Reiki experience has given me this sense of peace and serenity.
My last two experiences have been quite different from my earlier sessions. During these session I encountered my angel. Initially, I saw two glowing lights moving around each other as if they were playing joyfully with one another. I felt happiness and an immense sense of joy, an almost childlike sense that only the present moment mattered. From the lights, a presence developed as an outline. The outline gradually became more visible until I could see a hooded figure there with me. I could not see his/her face. During this time I could see part of a wing that was a vibrant white in color. The energy that was present was very strong and real.
I can’t remember much else regarding this encounter but the feeling that I wasn’t alone. It was as if I was at another level compared to the earthly one. The message that came from this was to enjoy life, have fun and laugh. And more importantly, that I am not alone because my angel that is a very strong one at that is with me at all times. This in turn gives me strength during my spiritual journey called life. Is it possible that this other level is the spiritual parallel place of holiness?
Angels, are they real? I’ll look into this in a future post with help/reference to Calvin’s Institutes.
Photo credit to Miemo Penttinen, miemo.net
Posted in Faith, Prayers, Reflections
Tagged angels, Christianity, faith, God, help, Holy Spirit, Jesus, kindness, love, prayer, promise, quiet, reflection, reike, spirituality, stress, survival, time, worry
I want you to think of the happiest, most joyful event in your
life. Think about where you were. Who was there with you?Imagine that you are right there now and let the feeling of joy fill you up.
Do you feel your spirits rising? You may even feel that if you don’t tell someone about it you may burst! The Spirit of God is just like that. When the Spirit descended on the Apostles they couldn’t help themselves, they just had to share the Gospel!
We don’t like to talk about spirits very much. It brings to mind ghost stories, séances and Ouija boards. Because of this, Pentecost is an event in our church year which gets mixed reviews. It makes us vaguely uncomfortable, but on Pentecost Sunday the church celebrates the gift of the Spirit to the believers. It is the birthday of the church!
The Spirit is not a ghost. The Spirit is the Advocate sent to
continue the work of Jesus. It could not come to us until Jesus departed. The Spirit is the final sign that we have been adopted into the family of God. Can you believe it?
If we are adopted that means that we are all part of the same
family and we will be there to look after each other and come together in a crisis and God, the head of our household, will be there suffering right along with us and being our guide for getting through the tough times.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of the groaning of
creation as if in labour pains. Here he too makes the assumption that the church will be present in the world and active at times of deepest need and that God is present in the midst of the church. God shares our suffering and shares in our work of healing.
The current newsletter of the Presbyterian World Service and Development you can read;
“Three months following Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, survivors are still struggling to rebuild their lives. The disaster claimed over 15,000 lives and over 8,000 people remain missing, according to the National Police Agency of Japan.
Despite the immense challenges evacuees continue to face, PWS&D partners are working hard to provide daily hot meals, medical care, emergency supplies and psychosocial assistance. To date, PWS&D has received over $360,000 for emergency relief in Japan.
PWS&D partner, Church World Service (Asia-Pacific) has organized more than 2,000 volunteers to help distribute food and help clear debris. Cash-for-work programs are providing necessary funds to people who have lost their jobs and are struggling to provide food for their families. CWS is also trying to regenerate local businesses by refitting destroyed kitchens of local restaurants, in order to provide food and jobs for the surrounding communities.
The mental wellbeing of people is one of the biggest concerns as people struggle to deal with enormous loss, survivors’ guilt and other issues. Daycare centres and a single parent hotline are two new initiatives to help traumatized children and parents cope with their circumstances.”
You can see clearly that the church is present in this situation, and you can be sure that God is present with the church. The Spirit does not shy away from the hard times in our lives, and in our world. The Spirit offers help for the present and hope for the future. If we are to lead a Spirit filled life we need to hope
and remain patient.
Please remember the people of Japan in your prayers. You can make a donation to PWS&D’s work in Japan by contributing through your church, mailing a cheque to the office, donating online or calling 1-800-619-7301 ext. 291. Please mark all donations as “Japan Relief. www.presbyterian.ca/pwsd/japan
New Testament:Acts 2:1-21
Epistle: Romans 8:22-27
Responsive Psalm: Psalm
Posted in Bible Study, Faith, Lectionary, Prayers, Reflections
Tagged Bible, birthday of church, Christianity, church, faith, forgiveness, God, help, Holy Spirit, Jesus, justice, kindness, leadership, love, Pentecost, prayer, problems, reflection, stress, survival