Grace – not just for meals, by Pastor Noel

March 11, 2018      Fourth Lent, B


      I grew up thinking that grace was the prayer said before meals—a blessing on our food.

      Grace IS a blessing, and so much more than a prayer over our food. Grace is a blessing for our whole life, and for the life of the whole world.

      “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your doing; it is the gift of God,” Paul writes in that wonderful passage we just heard.

      In fact, Paul says that twice, “by grace you have been saved.” God’s grace is a huge welcoming umbrella over us that includes mercy, compassion, forgiveness, joy and all the signs of God’s love.

      God’s grace has been part of creation from the very beginning, when God breathed life into us. God’s grace is available always, all we have to do is recognize and accept it.

      Maurice Sendak writes about God’s grace in one of my favorite books for children—children of all ages, Where the Wild Things Are. It is the story of a young boy’s fantasy, and, more important, of forgiveness.

      He writes, “The night Max wore his wolf suit, and made mischief of one kind and another, his mother called him ‘wild thing.’ He said, ‘I’ll eat you up!’ So he was sent to bed without anything to eat.”

      Alone in his room, Max dreams, or daydreams, about sailing away to the land of “wild things.”

      Sendak had planned to have the wild things be horses, but he realized that he couldn’t draw horses, so he gave us a collection of large, roly poly beasts, that are really rather engaging.

      When Max sails into the country of wild things, they roar and gnash their teeth, roll their eyes and show their claws, and Max tames them.

      Then he sends them to bed without any supper. Suddenly, Max was lonely, and hungry, and then he smelled good things to eat!

      So Max sails home, into his own room, and finds his supper waiting for him. “And it was still hot!”

      Max found grace. When he had expected punishment, he found the hot supper that showed his mother’s love. Max found grace.

      Grace, that unexpected gift that shows us God’s love, has the power to transform our lives.

      God’s grace can bring us home from the land of wild things, whatever they might be, home to life in the unending presence of God.

      We read that we are “saved” by God’s grace, and most folks think that’s about going to heaven.

      God’s grace IS about being with God, and it is much closer and more immediate than heaven.

      God’s grace is about healing. Healing from all those wild things. Sometimes healing comes by facing those wild things in our own lives, and knowing that God’s grace is love, not punishment.

      Like the story about the poisonous serpents Moses and the Israelites had to deal with. They realized that this was not God’s punishment, and that God gave them the way to safety and healing.

      With deadly serpents all around, you’d think that another serpent was the last thing they wanted to see, but Moses raised up a bronze serpent, and when they looked on it, they were healed.

      That, too, was God’s grace at work.

      God’s grace is always there for us, and we have countless opportunities each day to accept and live in God’s grace, or to turn from it, and be a wild thing, like Max.

      We may experience the gift of God’s grace all at once, in one of those “aha!” moments—and know ourselves to be wrapped in God’s loving arms.

      Or, grace may come into our hearts breath by breath, until, slowly and with ever increasing assurance, it fills us.

      That wonderful old hymn says that it is grace that teaches us to fear, and that it is also grace that brings us peace from those fears.

      God’s grace helps us to see the wild things of the world—to see them for the poisonous serpents they are. Then the light of God’s grace shines on them, and we see them in truth, and God helps us turn away, and brings healing.

      God’s grace may not change the situation, but we are healed and given strength to do the “good works” that Paul writes about.

      It is through God’s grace that we follow Jesus with these good works.

      There’s another thing about God’s grace. It is amazing, wonderful, undeserved, unexpected— and it is a free gift. We cannot do anything to deserve God’s grace except to receive it, and live it.

      I have been so aware of God’s grace with my move up to Providence. I miss the ponds I could walk to and find all the birds I love to see and photograph. I miss being close to some friends who now seem so far away.

      So I grumble, like the Israelites who wanted to be back in Egypt—even though they were slaves. And then I say thank you to God for my new home and all the unexpected, grace-filled things I’m finding there.

      But I can’t claim these as personal gifts for me.

      God’s grace is not for us alone, it is a universal gift for all of creation.

      We may feel the healing power of grace working first in our lives, and it becomes ours as we let grace work in us and through us.

      Grace is about being healed and made whole, and grace is about being in community.

      We read in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”

      This is undeniably true, and Good News with a capital G and capital N. Maybe the best known verse in the Bible.

      But this has also been used to say that to those who do not believe in Jesus “you are going to hell.” That is not what the verse means.

      Jesus tells us that God is always inviting us to grace and life in his unending presence.

      When we condemn others, we condemn ourselves, and show that we misunderstand Jesus.

      John 3:17, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved (healed) through him.”

      Jesus’ life, death and resurrection show us that the wild things are not God’s reality, even though we experience them.

      God’s grace is our true reality, and we live in grace as we share in Jesus’ work of healing the world. This is our good works.

      The world is hurting now—people are fearful, and there are many “wild things” for us to deal with.

      God’s grace can be a source of peace and strength to face the economic monsters and all the poisonous serpents that have been unleashed.

      Instead of holding up a serpent on a stick, I suggest that we hold up the power of God’s grace in our lives for everyone to see.

      May we hold that vision firm in our hearts and live it boldly, and may everyone see and rejoice in the gift of grace that God offers through us.




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