Jeremiah 31:2-3

From time to time someone makes a comment about a sermon that invites further preaching on the subject. Harolyn does it often. She has this little finger wave. It means “Tell me more” or “Flesh that out a bit more” or “You’re not done with this topic yet.”

Here’s the recent comment from one of our members: I just watched the sermon, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” You said “What’s so amazing about grace is that it keeps showing up.” I would like to hear more about how grace shows up in ordinary human life.

Well, OK, ask and you shall receive.

The sermon for today is Grace Amazing and Always. I’ll reiterate a bit of the previous sermon and try to say more about how grace is operative in the day to day.

First, our scripture lesson: Jeremiah 31: 2-3

A Grace Story

In a recent daily message I talked about Myrtle Morgan, a 95 year old resident of a senior care facility. She lived her life surrounded by people who were ill, incapacitated, or in the last days of their lives. It is a life situation that can be very depressing.

Once when I was visiting with her she became very philosophical; or maybe she was
preaching to the preacher. She said: “I’m not as strong as I used to be. And my eyes aren’t much good anymore. For all practical purposes, I’m blind. But, these eyes have served me well for 95 years so I can’t complain.”

“The way I see it – I have a job to do. I can’t do much but I can go up and down these halls and say ‘Good morning’ and ‘You look so pretty'”.

I laughed and said, “Myrtle, these people you speak to and tell them they are pretty …do they know you can’t see”?

She laughed too, and responded, “Of course they do, but it’s the effort that counts”.

That, I suggest, is grace at work in the ordinary. This is grace amazing and always.

I’ve come to believe that most of us, most of the time, are missing the flow of grace because we limit grace; we only look for it, or expect it, or talk about it in the context of deliverance.

By grace are we saved.
There but for the grace of God go I.
By grace I survive life’s hardships.
All true, and all good, but still,
it is a view of grace as deliverance from one dilemma or another.

Jeremiah 31: 2-3

In our scripture reading for today God is speaking to his people through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah. “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness.”
Beyond surviving the sword; beyond surviving the battles; beyond surviving … the people found grace in the wilderness.

In the Bible the metaphor of the wilderness is broadly used. It means everything from literally being lost in the desert to struggling with chaos and confusion. More generally and most commonly the wilderness is a metaphor for the fullness of life with both its perils and its opportunities.

I’ve often said that the best contemporary illustration of the wilderness is the mall at Christmastime. It is chaotic, you can get lost, it is exhausting, and you have to be careful or you can get stepped on. But it is also purposeful; it can be exhilarating; and, it is a challenge.

Life is like that. Life, itself, can be understood as the wilderness. And our job is to move through the wilderness of life with all its pitfalls and opportunities, and, if we believe in God, discover grace in the wilderness.

The wilderness to which God is referring in this Jeremiah passage is, on the one hand, literally the desert where the Israelites spent some 40 years. It was a rough patch in the lives of the people.

On the other hand, the wilderness is a metaphor for how life plays out under the grace of God. It was in this desert that the people of Israel found themselves; where they hammered out their identity as God’s chosen people; where they developed the norms of life together.

They had survived the sword of Pharaoh, and then found grace in the wilderness.

Grace Flows Down

Grace flows down in times other than tragedy and debilitating struggle.
Grace flows down in ways other than solutions to our problems.
Grace is constant.
Grace is both amazing and always.
Every moment of life is a grace possibility.
Every moment can be what Ann LaMotte calls, “a cup of grace”…if,
If we have eyes to see it, and
If we have the will to embrace it.

Let me try to illustrate how grace is operative in the ordinary. You will be able to recount examples of specific happenings in your life where you believe you found grace. I want to suggest 3 circumstances common to us all where grace can be seen at work. These are circumstances that are very ordinary and yet they are filled to overflowing with the promise of grace.

First, Birthdays – we all have them. If we’re not having birthdays…well, that’s not a good sign.

We have birthdays and to one degree or another, we celebrate. Those who love us send cards or emails or wish us happy birthday on Facebook. Sometimes we have parties, or friends and family come over, and we raise our glasses to the birthday boy or girl. And we sing that little Happy birthday ditty at a tempo that is far too drooped and pooped.

We should be ashamed! We should be ashamed by the paucity and poverty of our birthday celebrations. We should be jubilant, not just happy. We should dance in the streets. Why? Because we’re celebrating life by the very grace of God.

Cards and letters? Birthday cake? Family and friends? Fiddlesticks! It’s not enough. Not for me. I want a parade, a block party, a city-wide carnival with me as the guest of honor. And…and this is important…I will pay for it. Why? Because I’m the recipient of the grace.
Because grace flows down I get to be another year older. So, I will be glad to foot the bill.

Here’s what I’d like to see.

In 2020, I’d like to see 100 Presbyterians take out an ad in the paper…get a big one, full color, spend whatever it takes. And the ad reads: “Today is my birthday. By the grace of God I get to be another year older. I’ll be celebrating all week long and everyone is invited to come by for dinner. Yes, everyone, including perfect strangers. Call and tell me when you are coming because I expect a crowd. ” You won’t do that I’m sorry to say. But at least give me this.

Your birthday is a cup of grace. If you woke us this morning you know the truth of what I’ve been saying. What’s so amazing about grace is it keeps showing up.

And how about this? Count your blessings. Fiddlesticks! I hope you’re taking notes. Fiddlesticks is spelled, f i d d l e s t i c k s. It means, “It ain’t so. Get over it.”
The song says, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one…”

That’s too easy. It’s meaningless. Anyone can do it. Even the most unhappy, pessimistic, you-don’t-want-to-be-within-a-mile-of-me malcontent, can fill a legal pad in 10 minutes.

Because grace flows down our lives are absurdly abundant…embarrassingly abundant.
We need to stop counting our blessings and start using them. Instead of adding up the abundance we need to ramp up our attitude. Instead of counting we need to be investing.

The song says, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” Fiddlesticks! We should all be well past the idea of being surprised at what God has done.

This thing needs to be turned around. We don’t need to be surprised by what the Lord has done. That’s too easy. No, the Lord needs to be surprised by what we have done.
What we have done with the blessings he has so graciously and gracefully given us day after day.

You want to see how grace keeps showing up? Look for how we’ve been blessed to abundance. Then look for people who have gone beyond counting their blessings and
have started using their blessings.

Grace flows down when we are not just aware of our blessings but when we are awake to our blessings.

One more and I’ll stop.

Several years ago, at a church staff meeting on the 1st Wednesday of March, the Worship Director said: “It’s March and we need to be making plans for summer.” I’m thinking
“March! What happened to January and February?”

I know what you’re thinking. Time flies. Fiddlesticks! Time doesn’t fly.

Now, here’s something you need to know.

Much of what I say is clearly optional, but this you really need to know: The clock is not ticking faster. There are still 24 hours in the day. There are still 365 days in the year. You have as much time today as you did 30 years ago.

Time doesn’t fly – people do. Our friends are in a hurry. Our family is in a hurry. Our co-workers are in a hurry. And our remarkably creative response is what? We’re in a hurry too.

Sometime before the shutdown, I was having dinner with friends. This was not a fast-food restaurant. See – even our food is in a hurry. No, this was a nice sit-down place, good atmosphere, good food. But, the service that night was awful. It took forever for the server to take our orders. It took forever for the chef to prepare our meals.

What were these people thinking? What did they expect us to do? Were we supposed to just sit there and enjoy each other’s company?

I was thinking – They should bring us our food so we can get this good time over with.

Here’s something else you really need to know. Grace flows down when we slow down.

In my last job, in Leesburg, Florida, I drove home to Orange Park each week on highway 19 through the Ocala National Forest. The speed limit in the Ocala National Forest is 55 mph but I was going home so I usually drove 65.

But on one trip I came up behind two huge motor homes doing 50. In every straight stretch in the road, there were 100 cars coming. I was hugging the center line peering around this monster motor home, looking for a chance to pass two motor homes. Several times I started around, but had to fall back, afraid the oncoming car was too close.
I was frustrated, the rubber band was stretched almost to the breaking point, my neck and shoulders were aching. I had thoughts too ugly to vocalize…even to myself.

After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave up. I settled in behind the motor home and drove at 50 mph. With a lot of spare time on my hands I began to look around. There are things in the forest I had never seen before. Off to the right there was a sign identifying a hiking trail. I began to wonder – where does the trail go? I thought about how much I enjoy hiking in the woods. I began to recall some of the trails I’ve hiked. I thought about the collection of walking sticks in my garage – each one picked up on some trail in the woods.

The rubber band relaxed. The tension in my neck and shoulders went away. I felt better.

At some point both motor homes turned off the road. A festival of some kind, at a Boys Ranch. Immediately I hit the gas. In no time I was back up to speed, sailing across the bridge over the Cross Florida Barge Canal at 65 mph, making up the lost time.

Then I caught a glimpse of the canal. A straight ribbon of water, dark and mysterious. I began to wonder about the canal. When was it built? Are there still barges on the canal? Is it a good place to fish? Is there public access? I slowed down again. I drove the rest of the way to Orange Park at 50 mph.

Of course, I got home later than I had planned. 6 minutes later. That’s a lot of time, I know. But it was worth it. I saw so many things I had never seen before. Because grace flows down, when we slow down.

Here’s the thing. Grace has us covered! Not just when we hit the wall but when we’re standing tall. Not just when we think we need it, but when we least expect it. Grace covers me every day. Grace is both amazing and always.