Psalm 34: 1-10 2 Peter 1: 1-11
Why We Need Grace
May the Lord be with you! (And also with you…)
One of the questions that has been running through my head for quite some time, as it has through countless others’, is the question of why it is that so many folks today have seemingly turned their backs on the church, folks that were raised in the church and folks who were always very active. And it’s not just this church or the Presbyterian Church, but really all churches. As most everyone here will know, or perhaps even remember, this very sanctuary was actually built because of the old sanctuary, now Featherer Hall of course, being not a space that was any longer adequate for the numbers of people in attendance. And yes, that was a period when DuPont here was booming and when the gun powder factory was still in operation, but it’s not as if, that with those plant closings, that there suddenly became just not enough people living here to fill this place, and to fill it to over flowing. So what’s it all about? Sure, you have a few churches that are pulling in large numbers, and they do have pretty lively congregations, but overall, the churches today are in no way in the same state of affairs that they had been in not all that long ago.
You know, interestingly if we take a look historically, we see that this massive church boom that had occurred here in the US happened especially right after World War II with what’s known as the Baby Boom generation, and I know that we all know this - it’s common knowledge. Our world was just coming out of a time of amazing devastation from World War II, and even though we here in the US had not had that full impact of war devastation within our own borders, except of course for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there still was an amazing sense of loss overall. There wasn’t anyone who had not either lost a family member or someone close to them, and on top of that, for the general populace, they certainly did have to deal with the hard lessons of going without. The common sense within our communities was that the big picture really was about forming and being community. The war effort had pulled people together, as war efforts generally do, and had forced many into the realization of what was important, what was essential. And at that time what was essential was not having lots of stuff to simply make your life comfortable. People worked hard and they worked hard because they knew that the ultimate purpose had to be about the greater good, the war had drilled that lesson home.
Young people came back from war having seen things that could never be forgotten, no matter how hard they’d try. Images of loss of everything including hope had been seared into their minds. And so when they returned, or for those who’d stayed here, there really was a deep feeling that hope could be something that does vanish, that community is also something that can vanish and that we should never take for granted the comforts that we’ve been blessed with having provided to us. And so what did they do? They went to their churches. They went to their churches because they felt deep down that their God had graced them with the simple, yet amazingly complex blessing of still being here, of being alive. And they went to their churches too because they knew that the big picture really was about being in community, and about being together with your community when giving thanks to a God that really does always shine down upon those who are open to his love. And they went to their churches too because they wanted their children, whom they were feeling so blessed to just be having, to realize as they did, that your community and your God are what’s ultimately important if you want to experience life to the fullest, if you want to know that together with your community, that anything can be accomplished, that life truly can be fleeting, and that it really is essential to not disregard any part of it. They went to their churches and experienced not just community and opportunities to give thanks, but they went to their churches also because they knew that the ultimate lesson you take away with you on a Sunday, should be one of hope and joy, two things that they saw the world nearly lose completely. They’d acquired from their experiences a true understanding of God’s grace, ..what it means and how to respond to it.
But now here we are today, and today we’re in a very different reality; in the church and in our society. Many of the children and grandchildren and especially the great grandchildren of the World War Two generation have in most ways completely lost that sense and understanding of what God’s grace even is. And I tell you.. that that very simply is because they’ve never had to deal with, and in most all ways very thankfully, the kind of devastation that had been pushed onto the entire world in the 1940’s. And even though there have been wars and battles that have happened since, those conflicts have been no-where near what had already been experienced. Most people after the 1940’s didn’t have to have their entire realities shaped by wars that had torn apart all that people knew, and that includes even during the years of Vietnam, as horrible as that all had been.
And so with time and with the birthing of new generations, gradually people walked away from what would have been their churches, feeling that they didn’t need to have the lessons that the church could share with them. Not feeling the need to have a solid theological understanding of where or how God could be in touch with their lives, how they could tap into that, and they didn’t feel that it was a need because they thought that they could comprehend now all that they needed on their own, ..with no church, and with no greater spiritual community. And I will throw in here that today, the far, far majority of folks who aren’t at all active in a church, aren’t active because they reject God and Jesus Christ, it’s because they’ve come to believe that it’s the church that they don’t need. And that could be for a whole plethora of reasons given, none of which I think are very good though, but it’s not that they reject God, that’s important to understand. It’s really because they simply don’t understand all that God has done and continues to do for them, i.e. – God’s grace.
And so what I would like for us to consider today is that simple yet complex concept of God’s grace, because I do believe that even most of us here in the church have in most ways lost touch with just why it is that the church really should be important to our lives. This is not a religious club or just a nice thing to do on a Sunday mornings, and it’s not simply something to be a tradition for the purposes of nostalgia. And I do believe that if there is a greater understanding of God’s grace, perhaps similar to those of the World War II generation, then there really will be a greater understanding of why participation in the church community is actually vital for a more complete life, and then lo and behold, we won’t be wondering why so many are not coming to church on Sunday morning. And so what is grace?
If we first think about God’s grace when coupled with mercy, two important words that are constantly being thrown about together in the church, I think that this may start us off in a much easier way. When we talk of God’s grace and mercy, what we’re talking about is God’s blessing and forgiveness. Simply put, Grace is blessing and Mercy is forgiveness. Mercy by itself is a little bit easier to grasp I think, we’re more familiar with that word and concept. “Have mercy on me, go lightly on me. Don’t hold me completely accountable.” And that’s really getting to the very core of forgiveness. And most all of us will be intimately in touch with mercy, most all of us will have a great amount of mercy for those that we love; for our children, for our neighbors, for our nieces and nephews, and for most people, especially they’ll have an incredible amount of mercy for their pets.
I know that certainly I have more mercy for my dogs than anything else. Our dog Major, for instance, loves to pull things out of the garbage can if there’s a particularly tasty smell. I tell him, “Major, no, get out of there.” And then it usually ends there. Major also loves to help himself to a treat or two or twenty. He knows where they’re kept, and where they’re kept is in a big Home Depot five gallon bucket in the unused shower stall of the downstairs bathroom. If the bathroom door is left open, he’s taken to going in and going to that bucket and being able to push off the top, which then affords him the ability to stick his head straight down into that bucket of dog treats and use it as if it were his own personal feed supply. When I’ve caught him doing it, I say, “Major, no, get out of there.” He’ll slowly back out of the space, but then in all such instances, I’ll also give him a hug and maybe even a kiss, and tell him how he’s such a bad dog for such actions. I show him a ridiculous amount of mercy. But I will say, that I do believe that God’s mercy to us is just as similar to that of mine for Major. God’s mercy to us is clearly his greatest blessing and it’s complete, complete mercy, complete forgiveness for our total depravity.
But it certainly doesn’t end there. Grace is much more than God’s blessing of mercy, God’s grace is also of course very much in regard to God’s practical provision. We have the most basic of blessings which is life itself of course. To be able to see the beautiful blue sky or to see and hear the birds, to be able to take note of the various colors of God’s creation, to have the ability to touch. And I know that many will not even consider these such incredible blessings because they’re so, so taken for granted. But for those of us who are walking and talking and are being able to lead what are considered normal, healthy lives, do we really have the right to complain about much of anything? I don’t really think that we do. And I haven’t even mentioned food accessibility, electric and running water, do you know how many people in the world are living without any form of indoor plumbing? Or what about health care? We can discuss accessibility and quality of health care and cost, but when compared to 80% of the rest of the world, we have nothing to be yacking our mouths about. And what about political freedom? As you know I’ve lived in a few hot spots in this world, and I can tell you that most people in the world don’t nearly feel as able to speak up for what they believe in or think, as people here do. And that can be good or bad, but at least we do have the choice to be involved. That’s why our discussions should always be constructive with one another instead of destructive, which is often the way they play out.
And I have to say, God’s blessing, in other words God’s Grace, truly does encompass every single thing that makes our lives worth living. Our practical needs, our physical needs, our emotional and intellectual needs, they are all to be considered God’s grace to us, God’s blessing to us. And in all complete honesty, when I say that we have really far too much to be thankful for, I mean that right down to the bottom of my heart. We can always strive for what we think will be better, but at the same time we must always be aware of what most other people in the world don’t have…and then, we need to act and react accordingly. Live a thankful and loving life, show God your appreciation for all that he has graced us with, and know that God’s grace truly doesn’t know an ending. When someone gives you a gift, you want to reciprocate, you want to give them something in return, we all know that that’s the decent thing that we should do. For all that God’s grace has meant to us, I want you all to think about just how and what it is that we can give back to God that would be even remotely adequate. …And I know that you know the answer.
And if you still don’t get it, look to the Scriptures, the words given to us that can only lead to a fuller understanding of God’s grace, why we need it and how we are to give back to God because of it. It’s actually what all of Scripture is ultimately about, today’s reading as well as most every reading there is, both Old and New Testament.
Read again 2 Peter 1: 3-8
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.