Timothy C. Ahrens
The First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
April 9, 2000
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 14:15-24 (Part IV of VII in Lenten Series "God's Amazing Grace")
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
Why is it that some people just don't get it? No matter how many times you invite them to drink deep from the cup of God's gracious salvation, they refuse to show up for the dinner party. No matter how much preaching you do about "grace," no matter how you seek to live out God's grace as you understand it, some people close their eyes tight, cover their ears completely and their mouths still infuse conversation with "that's impossible," "it can't be done," or "it will never work around here" or "I can't believe that . . . "
Now, I am not saying that "some people" means "you people." Only you know in your heart, if you fit the description of said gracelessness. But, I can tell you that in the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Luke 15:14-25, Jesus must have felt intense disappointment. Road weary and weary from the frustration of so few of God's people responding to his constant invitation to grace and joy, Jesus told this story of the wedding banquet invitation. He knew that the prophets before him had invited people to the great good news of God's kingdom. And he also knew that they had rejected invitations in the past.
And so he turned his eyes to the latecomers - the Gentiles who had no history with the God of Israel. While the old-timers, the Hebrew people, had been listening to the story so long they didn't appreciate what they had anymore, the latecomers were eager to step up to the table and take their place. The fact remains, the latecomers had never previously been invited to a dinner party. Being poor and disabled and blind and socially outcast meant they never made the short list of those who were suitable as guests. On this one day, to this one party, they were invited and they came. Delivered from gracelessness to grace, they responded to the invitation to gather at God's table.
How often have we, the members of First Church, and friends and visitors present for this banquet of worship today rejected a state of grace by our closed ears, closed eyes, closed hearts and opened our mouths to utter words of ungrace? My expectation is, if you and I were honest, every hand in this place would be lifted higher than every eye. But, our God speaks to us out of God's "nevertheless." "Nevertheless," God says, "I forgive!" "Nevertheless," God says, "I love you!" "Nevertheless," God says, "I offer you grace upon grace!" Poet and playwright, Eugene O'Neill once wrote, "Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue."
God's grace delivers us from our own worst selves. God's grace meets us in our contented places of ungrace, serves us with a spirit of "Nevertheless," mends us, embraces us and delivers us to a place of new beginnings. In her brief life of 33 years, Simon Weil wrote often of God's grace. In a collection of her writings entitled, Gravity and Grace, Simon writes, "All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception." Most of us remain trapped in the gravitational field of self-love, and thus we fill up the fissures through which grace must pass" (Simon Weil, Gravity and Grace, New York: Routledge, 1972, pp. 1,16). If we are to live our lives as Christians - that is in Grace - we must escape the gravitational field of self-love and be met by God whose gravity is grace. We escape the forces of gravity when we recognize our neighbors also as sinners, nevertheless, also loved by God. Essentially we look at the world through "grace-tinted lenses."
This past Wednesday, I was present for the Lenten Luncheon series as Fr. Richard Burnett and Mons. Joseph Fete brought their gathering of 25 people to First Church to meet in our Gothic sanctuary. Debbie Anderson led them through the story of our church's structure and tapestries and windows. Most of the people present had never been in our sanctuary before. Most of the people do not belong to any of our downtown churches. They drive past our building daily on their way to offices all within sight of our steeple. As they entered the sanctuary from Broad Street, I watched their faces light up. I was reminded once again what it feels like to see this space for the very first time. As we were walking through the sanctuary, one woman who identified herself as Roman Catholic said to me with absolute delight, "this is a life giving space. You have no stations of the cross. There is no art or Windows which speak of death - only God's grace." And Fr. Burnett pointed out that unlike Catholic or Episcopal cathedrals on whose walls are ornate paintings and statues, First Church's walls have great open spaces which draw the eye ever up, ever into the clearness of healing and God's grace. My friends, we worship in a space of grace! The windows and tapestries speak one after another to healing, to life, to grace! Here of all places, let us not fill up the fissures through which God's grace must pass. Rather, let us allow God's grace to blow through the light and openness to heal and mend us.
In her book Children Are Images of Grace, pediatric oncologist, Diane M. Komp, M.D. tells several stories of school buses and her young patients. The parents of an eight-year-old boy with cancer avoided discussing his impending death from cancer or any matters of faith despite obvious signs that he would die within a few days. One morning the boy took them by surprise with the report of a dream.
In the dream a big yellow school bus pulled up to his house and the door opened. In the school bus he saw Jesus, who told him of his impending death and invited him to go with him on the bus. In his dream, he accepted Jesus' invitation. The school bus had a hidden meaning to his father. When the man's older daughter had stood on the street corner her first day of kindergarten years before, the father had been overcome by panic when that big old, yellow school bus pulled up. All he could remember was his terror as his oldest daughter got on the bus and the door slammed shut and he watched his daughter taken away from him. Upon sharing this story, the son held his father's hand and said, "I will be okay, dad. Jesus drives the school bus." Jesus will take care of me and he will take care of you, too. (This story binds together several "School bus stories" from Diane Komp's Children Are Images of Grace, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996, pp.61-65).
The first question I asked today is, "why is it that some people just don't get it?" My friends, I don't wish for you to be counted among those who don't get it, those who don't and won't receive and respond to God's invitation of grace. God's desire is to deliver us from the gravitational field of self-love and from the self-consuming attitudes of judgment and ungrace. God has invited us into this space of grace to meet Jesus again for the first time. Please don't be like the old-timers in the parable of the kingdom banquet who just don't care enough to come to the feast. Instead, be like the late-comers who join with Jesus at the table - stepping beyond their fears and limitations - to recognize and rejoice in the one who delivers us into grace. Yes, the one who drives the school bus, even Jesus Christ our Savior, who says to each of us, "I will take care of you." Amen.
Top of the Page