Participating in the Work of Grace (March 3, 2019)
On Monday afternoon, I came to the church for Confirmation class. The ACW quilting group was here, and we started to banter, as we so often do. In the middle of it, one of the women said to me, “You must get so frustrated with us sometimes.” I asked, “How do you mean?” She said, “You keep preaching and we don’t do it!”
And I said, “Well yes, sometimes I do get frustrated. And then I remember myself … that I’m not as faithful as I’d like to be. I mess up just as much as you do … but I keep trying. So overall, no, I’m not frustrated with you. That would be like preparing to pray and telling God that I’d like to confess my neighbour’s sins.”
And she said, “Well you should be!”
Now, at the same time as I was participating in this conversation, I was also thinking about the gospel reading for today. It has three sections, all of which relate to that conversation.
Section 1 — Jesus teaches us that we ought to be careful about noticing the speck in another person’s eye when we have a huge log in our own eye. It’s about judging other people.
Section 2 — Jesus teaches us that living faithfully has to do with bearing good fruit as followers of Jesus.
Section 3 — Jesus teaches us to build our lives on a solid foundation.
And that conversation with the quilting group has something to do with today’s gospel reading.
Section 1 … the speck and the log. I already mentioned that sometimes I do get frustrated. I wonder why we just don’t get it. I wonder why we don’t change our lives as I think we ought to, so that we more closely resemble the gospel.
And then I think to myself, “Who am I to talk?” My life is also messed up. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t live as faithfully as I would like. And some weeks, even I don’t listen to my sermons. And I wish my life more closely resembled the way Jesus lived, with that deep, daily trust in God. So I’m not going to notice the speck in your eye and ignore the log in my own.
Then last week, after the sermon, someone said, “What a great sermon … except for the part where I have to do something.”
But the gospel is always calling us to become more than we are. The gospel is always inviting us to be a conduit for God’s grace. The gospel is always calling us to be open so that God’s grace might flow through us. The gospel is always leading us to change so that we might not block the movement of God’s spirit. The gospel is always inviting us to participate in the work of grace.
And when we accept that invitation, it’s going to change us, and we resist that kind of transformation because it’s scary. We’ve built a pretty comfortable life, for the most part, and we’re generally not thrilled about changing it all up.
But even though we might be afraid of change, nevertheless the gospel calls us over and over again to follow Jesus faithfully, to be transformed, to be God’s people, to be partners with God.
And so I try to live that way. And I am going to trust that you try to live that way. And I mess up. And I know that you mess up.
And when I mess up, I remember our 2nd baptismal promise … “whenever we fall into sin, we will repent and return to the Lord.” Whenever we screw up, we promise to stop and begin again.
That’s why I keep doing this. I will keep preaching the gospel call to be transformed. I will do so in the powerful hope that just as I am trying to live faithfully, so we all are trying to live faithfully. We will make mistakes and we will repent; and we will make more mistakes and we will repent again; and then we will make more mistakes … and so it goes.
And in the midst of that process, I believe that, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, God’s word is not empty, but is hard at work within us to do what God intends. God’s Spirit works in us, and slowly, moment by moment, we listen and participate in the transformation which allows us to become more fully the kind of people God has created us to be.
The God in me will reach out to the God in you, and together we keep participating with the work of grace, together we keep loving, together we keep partnering with God.
That’s the whole point of the gospel. God keeps inviting us to become more than we are. God keeps inviting us to live more faithfully. God keeps inviting us to grow in our trust. God keeps inviting us to become more open, more welcoming, more inclusive, more just, more faithful, more gospel–centred people. God keeps inviting us to participate in the work of grace in the world.
And sometimes … every once in a blessed moment … we get it right.
Then in Section 2 of this gospel, Jesus says, “A good tree doesn’t bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit.” Eugene Peterson translates it this way in The Message, “You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree.”
How healthy is your life? How does your life show the faith you hold? How are we living as the people of God? How do our lives show the presence and love and activity of God?
And then comes Section 3: “When you call me ‘Lord’ and don’t do what I say, it’s like building a house on the sand; when the storms come, it’s going to fall down. But when you act on my words, it’s like building a house with a solid foundation on the bedrock of God’s love.” When you just pay lip service to the gospel, you’re like a dumb carpenter who doesn’t put a foundation under the house.
So here’s a thought.
One of the things I’ve been doing in Confirmation class is to give the two wonderful young guys some homework—Do two things every week just because you are a follower of Jesus. And they do.
They are trying to live out their faith. They look for opportunities to help other people because of their faith. They are learning to see others as God’s precious people. They are looking for opportunities to be gentle … to be kind … to stand up for what is right. And when we talk about that, you can see on their faces how good they feel about doing that.
So let me give you the same homework.
As we get ready to enter Lent, do something every week … every day if you can … just because you are a follower of Jesus. That’s what “giving something up for Lent” is really all about. We give something up so that we can make space for God in our lives. We give something up so that can make space for the work of grace to become effective in our lives.
Is there a neighbour you can help? Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there a lonely person you can visit? Do you know someone who needs a hug? Can you buy someone a cup of coffee and give her some of your time? Is there a group you can volunteer with? Can you stand up for someone or some cause? Can you reach out in love? Can you stand with someone who is being bullied or abused? Can you do your work in the spirit of Jesus?
And as we do that, we’re not just being nice people or good neighbours or great volunteers. We are doing the work of ministry. When we serve breakfast, we’re doing ministry. When we sing at seniors’ homes and care homes, we’re doing ministry. When we help a neighbour, we’re doing ministry. When we help someone out, we’re doing ministry. When we serve with a group to make life better for others, we’re doing ministry.
Do I get frustrated with you? Sometimes. But I get just as frustrated with myself as with you.
And then … I turn around (which is what it means to repent), and I start over, trying to live as faithfully as I can.
Making a change in life can be pretty scary. But there’s something even more scary than change … regret. I don’t want to end my days regretting something I didn’t do, or a choice I made.
So I’m going to try to live my life as a disciple of Jesus as faithfully as I can, with no regret. I want to participate with God in the work of grace, with no regret.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
March 3, 2019 (Last Sunday after Epiphany, using the readings for Proper 8)
Luke 6: 39–49
Isaiah 55: 10–13
1 Corinthians 15: 51–58