Saturday, July 22, 2017

Grace and Gift

love and grace and nourishment...all in a fuzzy package
but the giver of this sweet treat is the real gift

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say, “I will be with you always even to the end of the age.”  This week we hear him say, “come to me and I will give you rest.”  And I’ve been reflecting this week on grace and the longevity of God and on God’s faithfulness…even when we can’t or won’t see it.  How so many times God works in the dark of the tomb to bring forth resurrection.  How God shows up again and again….because God loves us.  And not because we’ve done anything in particular but because God has decided to create us, love us, call us good.  

God has been making this promise to God’s people since Exodus (33:14) when God said to Moses, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.”  

Now remember, at this time, the people of Israel were a grumbly bunch.  They had been liberated from Egypt and had been complaining ever since.  They complained about food and water.  They had been given the Law as gift and guidance from God and had worshiped a golden calf instead.  And yet, as the people asked, they received…grace upon grace…manna in the desert, water from a stone, and a second chance at receiving the Law…those rules meant to help us to live into community as a people of God.  

Grace means unearned forgiveness, radical hospitality, and unfettered love.  (Note:  unearned forgiveness does not equal ignoring bad behavior!)

I want to tell you a story that has stuck with me for the last 20 years or so.

I was a staff member at a week long youth retreat (for lack of a better word) in the Southeastern Synod.  On the day that week we were focused on grace in worship, one of the pastors on staff  Steve told a story of when he was a young boy.

Steve said he had a big sister, and as many big sister-little brother relationships were, theirs was riddled with frequent conflict and name-calling, “pest!”  “jerk”…you get the idea.  And they got a kick out of tattling on one another…seeing who could get whom in the most trouble over silly things. 

Well, their family didn’t have a whole lot of money but when his sister entered high school, and he was still in about the 5th grade, she got to have her room redecorated.  This was a very big deal.  Gone was the little girl room of pastel plaid.  A more sophisticated palette moved in.  Complete with a solid white fluffy rug…reminiscent of a teddy bear skin.  It was so soft, Steve said, that he just wanted to touch it and pet it.  Now, remember their relationship… Sister would have none of it.  Steve was banished from the room.  He was never, ever to come inside because he might get it icky or dirty or look at it sideways and ruin the rug.

But one day, his sister was gone to a friend’s house for a sleepover and Mom and Dad had gone to run a few errands and Steve found himself alone in the house with the rug beckoning from his sister’s room.  So, he tiptoed down the hall (as though the faces in the family portraits might give him away) and slipped inside his sister’s room and closed the door.  He sat down and took off his shoes and felt the soft fibers with his little boy feet.  He reclined a little and saw from the corner of his eye…a red-inked fountain pen, another “don’t touch” according to the law of his sister.  So, he lay down, stretched himself out and rolled in that luxurious stark white carpet, and decided that, in for a penny in for a pound, he would take the opportunity to draw himself a nice picture with that red pen.  But when he took the lid off, red ink exploded everywhere.  All over the rug.  Oh-no!  He tried to blot it up, but that didn’t work.  He tried to flush the stain with water, but that just spread it.  Finally he surrendered himself to the terror that was to come as his sister clobbered him and his parents grounded him for life.  He used some rags to soak up the now giant and screaming pink pool of ink water on the carpet.  Threw away the pen.  Walked out of the room.  And closed the door.  And prayed that if God would just take the stain away…well, he didn’t know what he’d do.

He went to his room, and he waited.  Eventually his sister came home.  He heard her enter her room and suck in her breath.  And he waited and waited for the scream that was sure to come.  But it never did.  Eventually, he fell asleep in his anxious waiting, and finally his mother came to fetch him for dinner.  

All through the meal.  No one said a word about the rug or about the pen.  He waited all through cleaning the kitchen after dinner and all through TV time for someone to say something, absolutely certain that a clobbering or shouting or a terrible punishment was coming.  But no one said a word about the rug or about the pen.

As he walked down the hall to brush his teeth before bed, he looked inside his sister’s room…her door was open…and he could see that she had simply rearranged the furniture.  That giant horrible stain was now hidden under her bed.  And she never, ever told their parents what he had done. 

I think we receive God’s grace (or at least are aware of it) most frequently in relationship with other people.  Now, I know you love this…but think of a time (it doesn’t have to be the most traumatic or life-changing time) when you experienced the grace of God through another human being.  Turn to your neighbor and share that experience. 


Now there are two allegorical ways to look at the story I told you about my friend Steve neither is more right than the other.

One is that his sister is God, and Steve is us, and if you look at it that way you can see that God chooses not to punish us or to hand us over to be punished…even though we do the things we are told by the Law not to do.  Grace handed out undeservedly by God.

The second one is a little more parallel to the gospel lesson for today.  Jesus says, take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy…. What if Steve and his sister are yoked to one another?  What if his burden is halved because his sister shares it?  

What if sometimes grace is handed out by God in the form of someone with whom you can share life’s burdens and labors…with someone or a whole body of someones who adore you and who will risk themselves and their comfort to be with you in the thick of it?

Look back at the person with whom you shared your story a moment ago.  That person who is holding your sacred story is an undeserved, unearned gift of grace from God.  That person is holding your story and offering you welcome, hospitality.  That person is just one of many in your life who will do that for you and who will do that with you for others.

We are given grace upon grace by one who calls us to take God’s yoke and to bear one another’s burdens.  It is in sharing our lives that we really seek God.  It is in serving one another together (even when we feel like the ancient Israelites…grumbly from all that desert wandering) that our burdens become light.

Hear the Good News, people of God:  you are freed, you are forgiven, you are loved beyond measure.  Here in this place of grace you are welcome exactly as you are.  Seek God in your neighbor.  Serve God in the faces of others.  And Jesus promises that your burden will be light.