Sola Gratia

Who doesn’t love getting gifts?

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith.                                                          And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”   ~Ephesians 2: 8-9

Anytime I receive a gift, it is not my doing.

If I earned it, it’s called a wage.

If I deserved it, it’s called an honorarium.

Being Grandma’s favorite means getting stuff the others don’t. It’s those secret conversations that leave you holding an heirloom, an extra batch of cookies, or a crisp hundred dollar bill.

What’s incredible about Grandma’s favor is that you didn’t do anything to get it.

Well, nothing you know about.  Face it.

Grandma’s grace has more to do with who you are than what you are doing.

Sure, you thought it was because you are the first one in the family to go to college…or the only grand-kid who ever goes to church… but Grandmas are far more intuitive than that. The discernment of that denizen of older age sees more with her aging eyes than your pitifully acute, young eyes ever possibly could.

Grandma sees the person you are, the one you are becoming, and who you may yet be.

So, there is this gift given.  It is a sign of relationship; an expression that is both parts knowing and loving you.

A gift has nothing to do with justice. Juries deliver verdicts. Judges hand out sentences. Grandmas give gifts.

Grace is a gift. It is the favor of God bestowed for no other reason than your actually being known and loved by God.

Grandma gives you an heirloom; you treasure the legacy; preserve it and pass along its story to others.

Grandma favors you with a handmade sweater; you wear it proudly.

Grandma grants you a special batch of homemade cookies; you gobble them with yummy noises and grunts of appreciation between mouthfuls.

Grace is a gift from God. The gift says everything about the gift giver, but it is also saying something about the one receiving the gift.

It says you are loved.

And we say “I love you back” by what we do with the gift.

Gifts, after all, aren’t meant to be left in packages with pretty bows.

Gifts are given to be opened; put to use; acted on; employed.

Grace is a gift.

The question was never what did you do to deserve that?

The question has always been, what are you going to do with that?

 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  ~1 Peter 4:10

 

 

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A Strange Dream

Last night I dreamed a dream.

In a cold room for general purpose  we were gathering.

Just a few.

No one was expecting much of  a crowd.

White clothed tables with pew-like seats began to give the room some character.

Purpose.

A small crowd appeared and sat; scattered

all across the room.

At my table was a young man with Italian dark hair.

I go to bring us the juice.

And now I know the reason we have gathered is Eucharist.

We  will break the Bread together at this table and I pray

O, I pray

Deep, pastoral, and full

I pray for him as he receives the communion juice.

But he slouches. Disinterested. Disconnected. Bored.

Now I am moving across the room to find the Bread.

But when I return he is gone.

Dejected, I go to where the Bread is.

Standing. Alone. I consecrate the Bread and receive its sacred power

nibble by nibble

and scanning the room which is emptying now.

I reach for the juice

but the juice is Wine now.

The trays of juice are being whisked away by the white waist coat type folks.

In its place platters of Wine in tulip shaped glasses.

It feels as if my time is up; my crowd has moved on.

A new party is moving in.

Quickly I take the Wine and complete this Eucharist.

And looking up I see more and more people at more and more white clothed tables with chairs like church pews.

And they love the Bread and drink deep the Wine.

And I know that I want to stay with them.

bread and wine

Broken

Mary arrived early at the tomb to clean up the broken body;

wrap it with soft cloth and spice.

Jesus forbad it.

       Hands off.        Don’t touch.

Broken punctured twisted bloodied naked shredded skin

A glorified body

presented to God in all its brokenness

visible to friends: see my hands, my feet, my side

Don’t hold on to me, Mary.

The world must see me just like this.

You cannot clean him up, Mary.

Let’s all stop trying to wash away the blood

and spice up the body broken.

Lest we all start believing the lie that people are basically good…

That the arc of human nature bends toward justice…

It is the disfigured figure of innocence savagedly razed to life

that testifies against the human race: a depraved race.

Holy Love embodied walks on calloused heels searching out the concentration camps of the soul:

unblinded eyes see the self-haters forgiven who embrace the leprosy-free as they dance with the lame-no-more.

Only one punishment to fit this crime against humanity:

Crucify Him.

No, Mary, you cannot clean him up.

      We must see Him as he is

as we made him

         or we will never believe it is true –

                        in denial

that we are the darkness we fear

               disguised as angels of light.

BrokenBody

Creator of the universe,
you made the world in beauty,
and restore all things in glory
through the victory of Jesus Christ.
We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured
by poverty, sickness, selfishness, war and greed,
the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace,
to the glory of your name. Amen.*

*Revised Common Lectionary, Vanderbilt Divinity Library (online)

Source: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=87

House Guest

a prayer inspired by a prayer of the Columban Fathers

 

Our Father who is above us:

We are magnetized to mercy and love; attracted toward a friendship with the divine.

Distractions and abstractions often get in the way of knowing you more fully.

But you are faithful to sit alone when we have stood you up.

You are loyal to your love for us even while we doubt your motives and question whether or not you’ll be there for us.

 

You reside in the house of my absence; your summer home is the villa of my ignorance.

Why do you keep my place so tidy when I won’t even offer you a drink?

 

Momentary events bring us doubt, but time reveals the quiet work you are ever up to.

You share your life for all and invite us to share our lives with you;

to tell you bluntly of pain and loss, to seek enlightenment when confusion strikes, to sing with you over every little thing that brings us joy.

family gather

Your welcome is like an open door where the family gathers for a holiday

and the long, suffering patience you possess gives room for the skeptic, confidence to the believer

and a passion to spread the good news in fewer words and with greater compassion.

In this way you save us: holding back the closing doors of a narrow mind and broadening the channels of our hearts.

 

Amen.

 

A prayer written to serve my agnostic friends

DSC_0603

A prayer inspired by the 63rd Psalm

 

To the God whom we suspect is present though unseen

because we have come to our limit, like one walking through an empty home

And yet, something acts outside and within.

Like the sound of children playing in the street and the phone that rings,

something beyond ourselves both causes and responds.

And though we believe we are masters of our own space

We find this is too small a power to be all there is to know.

Having put all our hope in our own self, we are robbed of better strength

And a greater love.

There is something which draws us from the lonely house to know who it is who lives beyond our walls.

So we confess, it is Your goodness that makes us alive to hope.

We confess that something we cannot name or explain makes us long to be with the others who live close and the One who created this community.

To the God whom we suspect is present though unseen

Help us. Protect us from the dangers we are unaware of that lurk outside our walls.

Save us from isolation. Rescue us from the arrogance that keeps us alone in an empty house;

An empty house which you must have built. For I live here, but I confess, I have no tools.

When we find the courage to call out to You, hear us. Help us.

In silence, we wait for your knock upon our lonely door.

Be our teacher. Be our friend.

Amen.

Change

It is a beautiful Thursday on this 17th day of July.

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 44. A few days ago I was 43.

Funny, I don’t feel any different. The calendar tells me something significant happened but if I didn’t have a calendar I wouldn’t have known there was anything special about that day. It just felt like another day.

Shadow_Birthday_Cake_medPrayer is like that.

Something life shaping slowly introducing changes to your life and body happens. You may not feel the difference. You might not immediately feel the change.

In prayer, a movement from this moment to that moment happens. We expect something significant is going to happen. But maybe, after the prayer has left our lips, it still just feels like another day.

When I started this week I was 43. Today I am 44. Whether I feel the change or not, something important is happening. At the very least I must introduce myself differently when asked: how old are you? In the tiniest way I am not the man I was. I am becoming someone new: new experiences and new challenges with each passing day and every passing year.

Prayer, though sacramental, is significant for us in incremental ways too.

Please receive this morning prayer for you

God who inspires change,

You know my weakness and failings, and that without Your help I can accomplish nothing for the good of souls, my own and others’. Grant me, therefore, the help of Your grace. Grant it according to my particular needs this day. Enable me to see the task You will set before me in the daily routine of my life, and help me work hard at my appointed tasks. Teach me to bear patiently all the trials of suffering or failure that may come to me today. And when I hear your voice, may I know it, listen closely to it and love it with all my heart.

In Your sacred name may it be so.

To Kiss the Face of God

To be loved is one thing.

To be certain of love is something else.

Words,

Gestures:

Impotent.

Useless.

unless —

linked to a

  Truth.sunrising_holdinghands

Actuality.

Something so reliable it goes without saying:

like, “The Sun will rise tomorrow.”

 

Can I know that God loves me?

More –

Can I know that God loves me now?

God Gives me daily bread. Essentials provided.

Nice. But easily placed under the column heading: moral obligation

What about gifts?  God’s favor and blessing!

Sweet. But if it comes from the surplus of your power, resources, time…

it is only a hand-me-down of the forgotten, easily discarded at the outskirts of

your heart

your passion

your self

Well, what do you want from me?

Something that doesn’t part from you easily

Something that costs you something

Puts you at risk

Awkward

Endangered

A statement that I or they are worth the counter-intuitive, reckless, self denying

action

How do I know God loves me?

That God loves me even now?

Communion.  The  Lord’s Supper.  

True food.  True drink.

A broken body.

A life laid down.

Bleeding.

Broken.

Humiliated – publicly.

The sacrificial

act

of God’s unrelenting love for you

God loves  you.  Loves you now.

In this moment

this same crisis, failure, unlovable-worthless-wreck-of-a-life moment.

 

Don’t think too much on it:
this gesture that embodies the act

Just close your eyes

and receive it…

By receiving communion, we lean into the One who is already leaning in toward us.

God kisses.

We are kissed

with a sacrament that speaks louder than words.

 

communion