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Grace, sweet grace – The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: Grace, sweet grace.

Date/time/service: Sunday – 2nd Before Lent 2021 (Zoom & Live Stream Euch)

Passage of scripture: Colossians 1.15-20 & John 1.1-14

‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’

These days I am not sure that there is anywhere else that you would ever hear anyone talk about grace, but in church and we tend to talk about grace quite a lot here. It’s a churchy word, a holy word but maybe we should be thinking of it much more beyond the world of church? So ….. what is grace? What does it mean? What does grace look like?

To start off, here are a few examples of what grace looks like in the life of Jesus. When a woman, caught in adultery, was brought to Jesus by a baying mob full of self-righteous hatred, everyone saw the woman as evil, wanton and shameful, someone who deserved the punishment of death. When Jesus saw the same woman he saw a sad, troubled and damaged lady who had given way to temptation, but who deserved forgiveness and another chance at life. That is what grace looks like.

When people saw Zacchaeus, a tax collector, they saw a greedy, intimidating, bullying crook. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus he saw a small man who was rich by his ill-gotten gains but lonely and isolated, so he invited himself to dinner with Zacchaeus and the tax collector changed completely. That is what grace looks like.

When Jesus was being crucified people saw the soldiers hammering the nails as evil, fearsome, unthinking brutes, servants of the Roman occupying force. When Jesus saw those soldiers looming over him he saw men, brutalised by violence, blindly following orders who deserved forgiveness and encouragement to live in a new way and so, as the nails ripped into his flesh, he forgave them. That is what grace looks like.

In the life of Jesus grace is seen in his generosity of spirit, his willingness and desire to take a moment to look carefully at people and situations. Jesus did not order his world as we do, by labelling people. He did not order his world by only seeing things and people as being either good or bad. He did not order his world by counting people as either in or out of my tribe, my team, my social class, my religion or denomination, my political party. Jesus ordered his world by loving everyone and that only happens when you are full of grace, when you take time to see the glimmer of goodness, or even the glimmer of the possibility of goodness, in all people.

A famous song of the 1960’s said that ‘What the world needs now is love, sweet love’. We would all agree, but the world will only start being full of love when we start filling it with grace sweet grace, a generosity of spirit which does not succumb to labelling or lazy binary thinking, that is not swept along by the tide of public opinion because public opinion is nearly always ill-informed as so much of it is manipulated these days by influential people to further their own ends.

I have just finished reading ‘Living in Love and Faith’ the recent Church of England book about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. In the final paragraph we hear the conclusion of a conversation of a few parishioners in a church in a small town in England. They are talking about divine judgement, someone wonders if there will be such a thing as gender in heaven. Someone else says that if we decide definitively what we think is right and wrong then surely we are putting ourselves in the place of God? But ultimately God is our only judge. They conclude that it is right for each of us to come to a view on the important issues being discussed but the final sentence of the book is this, from an unnamed parishioner, ‘As long as we’re open to the possibility that we may be wrong, then I think that’s what will qualify us when we meet God.’ As I read that, it struck me that we rarely see that attitude today and that that is what grace look like in our everyday lives. If we all took that position a little more often, how would our religious and political conversations be transformed? How would the world be transformed?

What the world needs now is grace, sweet grace. Perhaps as we prepare to enter into Lent and hopefully to begin to emerge from some of the restrictions under which we have been living, on and off, for almost a year, it would be good to reflect on grace and particularly how gracious we are in our own lives? Let us try and ensure that our conversations and the way we are with each other, especially those we find it difficult to love, are full of grace. It is right that we should have a point of view on important subjects. It is right that we should disagree. But we should do so acknowledging that though this is what I think is right, I know I might be wrong, and I am always ready to listen to others and to change. Absolute certainty kills grace. Let’s relate to each other, not as labels but as individual, complex and nuanced people. Let us make sure that there is more grace in our lives, in our dealings with others at home, at school, at work, and in our church. If Jesus can be so full of grace that he could forgive those hammering nails into his hands and feet, surely we can fill our lives with grace and deal kindly, politely, respectfully and creatively with everyone with whom we share our lives, including those with whom we disagree?

‘As long as we’re open to the possibility that we may be wrong, then I think that’s what will qualify us when we meet God.’

‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’

The best way to emerge from lockdown is to seek to ensure that our lives are full of grace and truth.

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