October 6, 2013
World Communion Sunday
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
William Graham Tullian Tchividjian, the evangelist Billy Graham’s grandson, is a Presbyterian minister in Florida. In a recent interview, he articulated something that has come up in many of our conversations and Bible Studies. He points out the shadow side of the Protestant work ethic: somehow the freely given love and the unconditional grace of God that we encounter in Jesus is not quite trustworthy.
It feels undeserved. (Probably because it is!)
And so we spend our lives either turning faith into the ultimate self-help program or into the legislation of morality. If we do enough, and do it the right way, vote the right way, eat the right way, exercise the right way, give the right way, appear the right way, maybe we can finally earn this gift. We try to figure out “what can I do for God? What can I do for Jesus?” “What can I do to earn the feeling that God loves me? Is there ever enough? Can I ever be good enough?”
The Gospel answer is that once again we have got it backwards. God, through Jesus, has done all the work. The grace is freely given. Our job is not to work harder and harder to earn the love we have received from God, but to breathe that grace in and then live it out.
Like the disciples this morning, how many of us want Jesus to increase our faith. Instead Jesus offers parables. If you had faith the size of the T-tiniest seed, you could uproot trees and move mountains. If you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, you have no need of more. Jesus is saying to his disciples and to us, “You have all that you need to do all that I call you to do.”
Tchividjian puts it this way:
When I was 25, I believed I could change the world. At 40, I have come to the realization that I cannot change my wife, my church, or my kids, to say nothing of the world. Try as I might, I have not been able to manufacture outcomes the way I thought I could, either in my own life or other people’s. Unfulfilled dreams, ongoing relational tension, the loss of friendships, a hard marriage, rebellious teenagers, the death of loved ones, remaining sinful patterns—whatever it is for you—live long enough, lose enough, suffer enough, and the idealism of youth fades, leaving behind the reality of life in a broken world as a broken person. Life has had a way of proving to me that I’m not on the constantly-moving-forward escalator of progress I thought I was on when I was twenty-five.
If this sounds like a depressing sentiment, it isn’t meant to be one. Quite the opposite. If I am grateful for anything about these past 15 years, it’s for the way God has wrecked my idealism about myself and the world and replaced it with a realism about the extent of His grace and love, which is much bigger than I had ever imagined.
I am coming to understand this. Most of you know that two weeks ago we had a scare that Mary was going into labor way earlier than we had hoped or planned. So we dropped Mira off with Tom and Kate and Mary and Jonah (God bless them!) and headed to Sparrow.
When I described this scene to our confirmands, I said, “there I was, sitting beside Mary, unable to do anything to change the situation, unable to fix anything, so what was my job?”
Their answers were: “buy her chocolates;” “bring her flowers;” “tell her she’s pretty.” Out of the mouths of babes, right?
I told them my job was to be calm. I could not do anything medically. Mary knows I love her and think she is beautiful. Chocolate might have helped, but I would get in trouble with the nurse taking her blood sugars.
My job was to remind her that I was with her, we were in this together, and I’ve got her back.
Was I freaked out about the kid coming way too soon, complicating an already difficult medical situation? Um, YES! And I told Mary as much, because holding that stuff in doesn’t help either of us. But then I got back to working on being calm.
If we cannot do anything to improve the situation with our “doing,” then our job is to improve it with our “being.” Faith isn’t just about what we do. It is also about how we are, deep down.
I have not yet figured out how to remember in every moment of every day that the love of God is freely given and that in that love we are safe. A lot of days are closer to the beginning of our passage from Lamentations this morning.
Remember my affliction and my bitterness,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
Replace affliction with worry over the health of our child and bitterness with freaking out about upcoming surgeries and it is a fairly accurate statement!
But in the mother and baby wing of the hospital I was reminded of something more important. It sounded more like the rest of the passage:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is thy faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
There was nothing more I could do. What better time to remember that, in Jesus, God has done the heavy lifting, and in God’s love we are safe.
Thanks be to God.