June 3, 2013
I started a summer sermon series this past Sunday on “grace.” I’m struggling greatly to know how exactly to organize and convey it. How do I preach for 10-12 weeks on something I know… so little of? I know a lot about “ungrace” as Philip Yancey calls it in his book “What’s so Amazing About Grace.” I know about judgment, unkindness, meanness, lack of love… ungrace… but I know so little of “grace.” It’s not something that has been modeled for me for the most part. It’s not something the Church is very good at. We’re very accomplished at ungrace, but the whole grace thing has somehow escaped us. We’re good at condemnation… not so good at forgiveness and acceptance.
Yancey tells a story about ungrace that is worthy of being repeated here; it’s about the life of Ernest Hemingway.
“Hemingway knew about the ungrace of families. His devout parents—Hemingway’s’ grandparents had attended evangelical Wheaton College—detested Hemingway’s libertine life, and after a time his mother refused to allow him in her presence. One year for his birthday she mailed him a cake along with the gun his father had used to kill himself. Another year she wrote him a letter explaining that a mother’s life is like a bank. ‘Every child that is born to her enters the world with a large and prosperous bank account, seemingly inexhaustible.’ The child, she continued, makes withdrawals but no deposits during all the early years. Later, when the child grows up, it is his responsibility to replenish the supply he has drown down. Hemingway’s mother then proceeded to spell out all the specific ways in which Ernest should be making ‘deposits to keep the account in good standing’: flowers, fruit or candy, a surreptitious paying of Mother’s bills, and above all a determination to stop ‘neglecting your duties to God and your Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ Hemingway never got over his hatred for his mother or for her Saviour.”
Years ago Ellen and I were on vacation and we passed a bar on Rt 22 outside of Monroeville. They had a large sign posted at the entrance “BIKERS WELCOME!” It saddened me to realize that motorcyclists were welcome there but they would not be welcome in my church. I’m not judging anyone at Mt Vernon… I would struggle myself if 20 motorcycles and riders pulled up some Sunday morning replete with leather jackets and pants. And heaven forbid who knows where they might sit! Like I said, I get the whole “ungrace” thing.
I think my “favorite” practice of ungrace is this one: “I can’t believe they wore that to church!” The argument goes something like this: “We should wear our very best for the Lord on Sunday. Those who come in something less are dishonoring God.” Really? Then why are men not in tuxedoes and women in ball gowns? Oh, that might be a little overdressed… wait a minute something isn’t right here. I think what we really mean is this: “you should wear something to church on Sunday morning that’s acceptable to ME and my traditions!” Ah, now I get it… ungrace. It proliferates our lives! Everywhere we turn is ungrace. It’s like breathing pollution… after a while we don’t smell it anymore.
I have no idea how I’m going to do this sermon series. It’s like preaching on automatic transmissions… how do they work?!?! How can you stop at an intersection and the engine not stall?!?!?! Yeah, I don’t know either. But I do know this… there is not one person whose eyes are on this page who doesn’t need a copious helping of grace. (Sorry, I just wanted to use the word “copious” today) There isn’t a soul I know who doesn’t need the reassurance that they are loved, forgiven and accepted by someone… no matter what you have done or who you are. Even the most hardened people need to know that they are not alone in this world… there has to be some realization that someone cares for them.
We’ll see how it goes. I’ll try to keep you posted.
Grace to you my friends.