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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 28 – Year A

There’s Always Grace

“Hold on folks, there’s always grace.” That’s the message we need to be telling everyone these days. That’s the message I imagine recording on our obnoxious phone machine that calls all the homes in the parish. When times get tough, and they are certainly getting tough, don’t forget there is always grace.

Central to Christianity is the belief that our God is good, our God is loving, and our God does not cause bad things to happen to his children. God wants wholeness, health, peace, love, forgiveness – and in spite of what goes on around us in the world, God is always injecting little bits of these good things into our lives. And that’s grace! Grace is God’s love acting in the world in spite of and because of all the stupid things we humans do to one another. Like a parent who soothes a frightened child with a warm embrace, God’s grace is meant to remind us: things are never as bad as they seem, no matter what there is always hope, and something good can always come out of anything bad. Grace – it’s everywhere, it’s constant, it’s free, and it’s wonderful.

“Wishful thinking Randy,” you might be saying. “There’s a lot of bad stuff our there in the world and there seems to be very little grace.” Well you are right on the first point, there is a lot of awfulness in the world. Anyone who has lost their job, someone they love, or watched illness change their lives, knows how cruel this life can be. But grace is there too. It doesn’t make up for the loss or the illness, it doesn’t necessarily fix what has gone wrong, but it reveals the never ending presence of God’s goodness even in the face of that which is unimaginably difficult. In fact, that’s the message of the cross. Human beings did the unthinkable. We took Jesus, the best that humanity had to offer, and we nailed him to a tree. We killed the one man who had come from God to love us. We murdered an innocent because we couldn’t accept his goodness. But God wouldn’t accept that outcome. God raised Jesus from the dead and promises to do the same for all of us who stake our lives on Jesus. That act of bringing life out of death, meaning out of meaninglessness, hope out of destruction – that is God’s grace.

Think about it in the context of this parish. In 1994 when lightening struck the transformer in the alley setting fire to the roof and destroying our church that was a devastating blow to this community. In fact, in the 173-year history of our church that was perhaps the most devastating thing we have experienced. It was hard work rebuilding this place, it was incredibly costly, and as a downtown parish surrounded by other dwindling downtown parishes, there was a risk we might never recover. But even in the midst of that awful experience grace was abundant. The fire opened up this place in ways we never imagined. It refocused us on ministry. The vibrancy that sprang up in its aftermath attracted new members. It made us see the value in one another, because in facing the loss of our sacred space we were forced to see more clearly the sacredness of our relationships. We learned that the church was not the building but the people in the building. We discovered in our Jewish neighbors to the East a faithful friend willing to share their space with us for more than two years. In no small way they saved us, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. The folks at Beth Ahabah were agents of God’s grace for all of us at St. James’s. No one ever wants a fire, a death, an illness, those are terrible things, but don’t ever doubt – whatever happens in life there is always grace.

Not long ago, one of our own, Ferd Baruch, learned the devastating news that he had Leukemia. On the day he was diagnosed, I stopped by for a visit and a prayer. Janet and Ferd where in their kitchen understandably in shock, trying to wrap their heads around the reality that a man who exemplified the ideal of middle-aged health could in fact have a life threatening disease. We talked for a while and I listened as they tried to make plans about hospitals, treatments, and the like. Near the end of our visit, as I was getting ready to pray, I told them that as terrible as this experience was going to be they would be surrounded by God’s grace. God’s love and care would be made manifest to them in thousands of ways, big and small, they just had to look for it. Well, after weeks in the hospital, undergoing chemo so intensive that we almost lost him, Ferdie has come home. He’s still undergoing treatment, but as of Wednesday he received the good news that he is in complete remission. God is good! Thanks be to God. With Ferd’s permission, I would like to share with you something he wrote to his family and friends while in the hospital.

The last three weeks have been an incredible roller coaster of highs and lows… the lows being the initial diagnosis and then the setback which took me to ICU. The great news is I’m getting stronger every day, and can see the light at the end of the tunnel for this first phase of treatment. The highs have been incredible. Randy Hollerith, our Rector at St. James’s, came over the Monday I was diagnosed, and told Janet and me that we were going to have a sneak preview of hell, but more importantly, that we would witness many grace filled moments as we worked through this process. What an understatement. The outpouring of love we’ve received from so many old and new friends has been remarkable. Thanks to all of you from the bottom of my heart. The grace filled moments have included incredibly deep exchanges with family and friends, the vision of my family here from Florida, New Jersey, Colorado, and Richmond, attending St. James’s the Sunday I was in ICU, witnessing first hand a church community Janet and I have grown to love, and last but not least, a clarity I’ve yearned for in my prayer life. My spiritual journey has ebbed and flowed over the years, but it’s definitely in HD mode at this point and I’m savoring every moment of it.”

Don’t ever forget about grace. It’s all around you. Open your eyes and look for it and God will bless you with it. We are in the midst of difficult times within our country, times that may well get worse before they get better. Already we are seeing the local effects of a global crisis. Some are loosing their jobs; many, myself included, have lost a large chunk of their investments. But as Christians, in the midst of all this stress what do we focus on? We focus on the grace. We may have less money – but that can be grace filled if having less money means we concentrate less on stuff and more on relationships with those we love. We may loose our job – but God can make that tragedy into an opportunity for something new, if we trust in grace. The same power that transformed the crucifixion is alive and well and available to all of us today. On this Christ the King Sunday, let us never forget that God reigns. His love surpasses everything and anything that can happen to us. With our hearts open to one another and our eyes focused on Christ we will be all right. Hold on folks, remember, there is always grace. Amen.

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