Grace, by Pastor Noel

Proper 22,C   October 5 & 6, 2019


     It’s all about grace. My Theological Dictionary of  the New Testament gives these definitions of the Greek word charis: to rejoice; joy; grace; to give freely; to bless; gift; gratitude, thanksgiving.

     Today we celebrate Eucharistia—do you hear or see the word charis in there? Our Holy Communion, Eucharist, is all those things. But mostly it’s grace.

     Grace is God’s gift showered on us when we believe. Or even when we wonder. John Newtown wrote, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

     Grace is both our awe when we think about God, and our joy, thanks, and peace when we realize God’s love for us.

     Sadly, way too many folks think God is about judgment and punishment, and they miss the gift of grace.

      Since we are honoring St. Francis today, I thought a couple of dog stories would be appropriate. The first may help explain the second. Actually, these are cartoons.

     One dog is saying to another that he’s concerned about his human’s memory because he keeps saying. “Who’s a good boy?”

     The other one makes me laugh and cry, and it breaks my heart.

     A dog is sitting looking out into space and wondering, “What if I never find out who’s a good boy?”

     God said at Creation that we were good. The Common English Bible says, “God saw everything he had made and it was supremely good.”

     When we know this, we have grace.

     What makes me cry about the cartoon is that the dog doesn’t know he’s the good boy.

     “Supremely good.” God says we are all “good boys.”

And girls and women and men. Everyone. What makes me cry is that so many people don’t know this and don’t recognize God’s grace in front of them. In them.

     When we live with grace we still have all the same problems everyone has, but grace helps us to see God’s love and mercy and find God’s peace.

     When we wake up every morning saying “thanks!” and walk with God all day we are living in grace.

     How we do this is faith. Faith is trust. Trusting in God—not that God will magically make everything all better, but that God’s grace will surround and fill us to get through whatever we face.

     This leads us to faithfulness. Faithfulness is how we life our response to God’s grace.

     Sometimes faith comes first. We realize that God IS, and that belief, that trust, leads us to realize the grace that has been there all along.

     Sometimes grace comes first—as it did for John Newton. He realized God’s love for him and responded with a life of faithfulness.

     Habakkuk says that righteous shall live by faith. I was stunned when I first read this in seminary. I had always thought that for Jews, righteousness came from keeping the laws.

     The law God wants us to keep—yearns for us to keep—is the law of loving God and everyone. Would that all our laws and our lives were based on that.

     Faith, faithfulness, grace—these are qualities of life. The disciples seem to think that faith, and faithfulness, are quantities, and we can get more of them.

     The response Jesus gives them is a strange idea—what good would it be for mulberry trees to be growing in the ocean?

     He’s telling them that they have the wrong idea about faith. More faith doesn’t help. What helps is being faithful, loving, caring, and trusting God.

     Bishop Jake Owensby says, “Faith isn’t about knowing things. It’s about trusting a person. A divine person. Trusting that God will be faithful to us. Really be God—the God who is love through and through—no matter what.”

     Faithfulness is responding to God’s love by being loving and caring and sharing God’s grace.

     We honor St. Francis this weekend, and because of his love for animals many churches will have a blessing of pets, and other critters, this time of year.

     I’ve blessed cats and dogs, horses, birds, snakes—that one was by proxy with a fuzzy, stuffed toy, thankfully. A friend in NH blesses the Clark Trading Post bear every year with a handful of M&M’s.

     Francis is remembered for the first outdoor nativity scene in 1223. According to Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.”

     But Francis legacy is much more than animals.

     Some facts that may you already know. Francis was born in Assisi, Italy, to a wealthy family. He gave up his wealth to live simply, in a cave.

     The story goes that he heard God’s call to rebuild the church and he went to restore a building. He realized that God’s church is not just buildings, and he began a life of prayer and service.

     The religious order that bears his name is called the Order of Friars Minor. They are known for living simply and for their devotion and help for the poor and outcast, the sick and vulnerable.

     Clergy and lay people can be members of the Order of St. Francis. There is an active Order in the Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church.

     Francis said something like, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”

     Even if the exact words aren’t his, the idea is.

     How about “Homes First”? Medicine Hat, Alberta, puts homeless folks in housing (not shelters, housing) and then helps them deal with whatever made them homeless. Most places tell people to get off drugs, or stop drinking, or get mental health help first. It’s hard to get that kind of help when you are living on the street. “Homes First” treats everyone with dignity first.

Utah has done the same kind of thing. Pure grace. 

     That’s a big undertaking. Not something we can do by ourselves. But there’s lots we can do by ourselves. And together as a parish.

     How will we live the gospel when we leave here? I try to let folks into traffic. And smile when I pass them on the sidewalk. I give to Episcopal Charities and others.

     What else can we do to live in faithfulness and grace?





The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details