Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Matter of Grace

(The following is my article for the Shawnee newspaper, The News Star, this coming Saturday, November 24, 2012.  As it deals with giving thanks, I thought a preview on my blog was appropriate.  Happy Thanksgiving!) 

“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!  Let that grace now like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee:  prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”
                                    Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, 
Presbyterian (USA) Hymnal, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990

            By the time this article is printed, Thanksgiving will be two days gone and all that will remain are the leftovers.  For some of us, we will be setting our caps for Advent, others strictly Christmas.  But either way, the great race of the holiday season is now on!  Even so, I wanted to take a moment and offer up a little thanks. 

            I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving; a whole list of something’s to be honest.  But I want to speak about the one thing that I don’t give thanks for often enough, and that’s grace. 

            For me singing is as much a time of prayer as spoken prayer, and whenever I sing the above verse from the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” I am reminded again of how truly in debt to grace I really am.  I know that in church circles the word grace is bandied about frequently.  We speak it in our prayers, we sing it in our hymns, we hear it in our liturgies and sermons, but do we fully grasp the enormity of what grace, God’s grace, means?  I’m sure I don’t. 

            The concept of grace is difficult to define.  It requires language that I’m not sure we have.  Here’s what I know/believe about the grace we receive from God.  It is unearned.  It is unconditional.  And, much as we don’t like to admit it, it is unfair.  My congregation has heard at least one sermon about the latter.  Grace is unfair.  People I don’t always believe deserve it receive it.  Yet that’s what makes it grace. 

            Truth be told, I don’t deserve grace either.  But I have been on the receiving end of grace more often than I can count, perhaps even more often than I realize.  When I’ve fallen on my backside, literally and figuratively, it has been grace that has picked me up again.  When I have made mistakes that still make me cringe with shame, grace has offered me a hand of forgiveness.  I have met grace in all of its various guises – a child, an old person, a homeless man, a teller at the bank, an unexpected friend. 

            I also echo Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I say that grace is not cheap.  It may be freely given and unearned, but when we recognize its presence in our lives, I think we’re called upon to respond.  Bonehoeffer’s response was to risk and ultimately lose his life.  In the face of that sacrifice, the least I can do is to respond with thanks.

            So what am I thankful for in this season of thanksgiving?  I am thankful for my wonderful, creative children who never fail to keep me on my toes.  I am thankful for family and friends who love me in spite of myself.  I am thankful for a congregation who teaches me new definitions of grace every day.  I am thankful for a home when I know so many go without.  I am thankful for the advantages I have received in my lifetime: education, travel, encouragement.  I also know far too many people live with the lack of those essentials.  Most importantly, I am thankful for grace, which is the underpinning of all the rest.  “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”

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