The Sting of Grace

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Christine…  

Today’s sermon teaser is based on a riddle:
What do a bumble bee, a baseball, and the grace of God all have in common?
They all sting.Another riddle, to go along with that one:
What action do we do to all three?
We swat at them. Right?
To avoid the instant, sharp burning pain associated with those pesky, noisy bumble bees we flail our arms and flap our hands to shoo them away. 
To protect ourselves from the 85 mile per hour fast ball that some show-off decides to pitch at the soft pitch game, we wield a bat and swing it mightily to prevent ourselves from getting beaned. 

And to keep God’s grace pleasant, believable, and comfortable – we flatten it, soften it, and twist it, thereby keeping it at a distance, so we don’t have to wrestle with the stinging implications of grace.Grace, is a deceivingly soft word… But it actually stings like hell.
And let me tell you why.
This type of sting doesn’t dissipate with a cold compress; this sting changes the shape of our hearts, infiltrates our minds, and remakes us into someone we couldn’t create ourselves to be. 
Often, someone, we don’t necessarily want to be.Certainly, grace comforts. But, grace also confronts.This week’s Gospel in a nutshell:
Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. 
Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular. 
Boom. Basically, a mic drop moment. 

And then, most of the people started crawling under rocks.Including me. Honestly, that’s what I’d like to do, because I don’t know exactly what to do with such a stinging lectionary reading. What I’m tempted to do, of course, is soften Jesus’s words to make myself feel better. As in, he didn’t really mean poor, did he? Homeless poor? Dressed-in-rags poor? Begging at the metro poor?
Isn’t there something in here about being poor in spirit
Nope. Not in Luke’s Gospel.Or what about the hungry part? Does he literally mean hungry? Starving for bread? 
Because I haven’t been hungry for actual sustenance ever.
Couldn’t we look at this as having a hungry heart
Again. Doesn’t seem to be Jesus’s point.Now, sad… I’m sad sometimes. But, I’m also not drowning in grief and despair. So maybe this part isn’t directed at me either.Maybe Jesus is exaggerating here, to make a point? Speaking figuratively? Joking around? 
There must be some way I can wiggle myself out of the “woes” column and into the “blessed” column instead. Right? So, I ask the question again: What am I – cozy and comfortable as I am in my healthy, happy, First World, middle-class life – to do with this Gospel reading? How shall I reflect on it? Receive it? Sit with it?I think, the honest thing, the most salvific thing, to do is admit that Jesus is right.
Salvific – one of those words I never, ever used until I entered seminary. Whenever I use it, I always think about what a curiosity it is, however it really is a lovely word, packed with meaning and action. Sorta like grace and blessing and woe, I guess. For me much of the essence of salvation is crying out to God and admitting we needGod.Anyway, Jesus is right. 
Most of the time I am not desperate for God. Most of the time I think I’m saving my own life. Most of the time I am not keenly aware of my need for God’s action in my life. Most of the time I am not on my knees praying with need, ache, and sorrow, longing, gratitude, or love.Most of the time I am not in need of… anything
I have plenty to eat; a warm home; access to health insurance and good health; my children are all safe (and wisely don’t tell me about their college antics until afterwards and they are safe); I have unfettered access to brilliant fun and beauty. I don’t need anything.Which I don’t mean to sound callous, pompous, or arrogant. 
It’s likely that Jesus is right. I’ve already received my consolation, which means all I have is nothing to be proud of, but rather is a stumbling block. Because most of the time, it just plain doesn’t occur to me that I would be lost – utterly and wholly lost, physically and spiritually – without the grace that sustains me.And so, I must admit it stings – quite smartly – when I am faced with the truth that often I don’t value or even realize the blessings and graces in my life. 
When I let the words of Jesus get close to me, it is clear that the dynamics of this world contribute to the shame and disgrace of many. And it’s clear that I, usually unintentionally, contribute to the woes of this day by holding fast to my blessings at the expense of others. 
This stings, like bubbling antiseptic on an open wound.Lord, help me to hear this. Help me not to squirm away. Help me somehow to sit with woe, and learn the meaning of blessing, of grace.Jesus pronounces blessing upon those who otherwise receive no blessing; Jesus grants grace upon those who otherwise know no grace, because the world tells them in a myriad of ways that they are shameful and disgraced.Who would tell them, who would show them, if not Jesus?
Jesus says to all those that the world would throw away, “You are of heaven.”But where does that leave me
Where does it leave the one who is selfish and self-absorbed; the one who is comfortable and cared for, yet far from God; the one who squanders beauty and wealth? 
Where does it leave me?
And if you identify with any of those characteristics, where does it leave you
Outside of the realm of blessing and grace? Doomed to dance with the devil at the Devil’s Ball with my pocket of woes?Maybe, if Jesus was speaking to me, he’d say, “Blessed are those who fall short of my expectations. Blessed are those who have made poor decisions. Blessed are those who are scared to trust Me. Blessed are those who know somewhere deep down there has to be more than this.”I know, I’m taking liberty, but I’m not trying to soften it up. We still have to square up our fortune with the truth that many are less fortunate. We must admit that what we deem blessing in this day, may draw us away from God.But, the good news in Christ is certain, consistent, and clear: Jesus came to save and redeem sinners. And I am one.The sting of grace is inextricably linked to all the times we have not extended grace, and all the times we have not received grace. However, I believe that if Jesus can forgive those who hung him on the cross, he forgives my weakness of failing to receive and grant grace. And I believe that He loves me too much to allow me to remain comfortable with that sin. I believe that Jesus can do no other, because I believe it is in his very nature to bestow grace upon all humankind.I believe that Jesus was and is God’s Beatitude – God’s blessing – upon the whole world. 
If God can create the universe by speaking it into existence, then I think God can and does make us into His beloved, blessed, and graced by simply saying it is so.
Therefore, you, too, are of heaven.