2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2 (NIV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6 As God's co-workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain.
2 For he says,
"In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you."
I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.
Last week, I was coming home late on a Saturday night, eager (okay, anxious) to get back for Sunday morning. Our plane took off from Charlotte. As we approached destination (the Wilmington airport), fog precluded landing. We returned to Charlotte, hoping we might try again. Then that flight was canceled. I took my place on a long line at the customer service desk to see if I could get on another flight that night. Experience told me I'd be on that customer line for a while. I imagined I might be spending the night in the airport. That's happened before. Fun.
As I stood near the end of that long line, an airline employee approached out of the blue. She asked a few of us to follow her. We passed several gates to arrive at her desk where she managed to get me on a flight home that night. She didn't need to do that. She was not on duty at customer service desk, the front lines where angry anxiety gets directed at airline employees. She could have minded her own business, kept her head down, not dealt with us cranky passengers like me.
But she didn't. She chose to be of service, not because I was worthy, or because I had status, or because I was different from anyone else. It was truly a random act of kindness. It was grace. Interesting enough, her grace, mercy and kindness made me a bit more gentle with the other angry, anxious folks in the terminal. And there were a few of them.
Grace stands at the heart of our faith. But I find that when I try to describe grace, theological categories seem thin compared to stories of grace, e.g., an airline parable like I've told. Examples. Anecdotes. Maybe that's why Jesus told parables. The prodigal son. The good Samaritan. The lost sheep. The lost coin. Workers who get paid a full day's wage even though they worked only five minutes. Maybe that's why Jesus came to live among us, full of grace and truth. We know grace when we see it.
What are your stories of grace? When have you known grace? When have you shown grace?
We come this week to the season of Lent. I don't know what words you associate with the season. Often people describe it as forty days to feel more miserable than thou. We are dust. We are worms. We are wretched. We are unworthy. May I suggest an alternative approach? Think about what Lent has to do with grace.
A favorite verse that you may hear on Ash Wednesday comes from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. He calls that community to reconciliation. He celebrates the possibility of new creation. And he tells the Corinthians: Don't accept the grace of God in vain. That verse always catches me up short. A part of me wonders why anyone would take the grace of God in vain. Why would I?
Then I remember a sociology experiment conducted a few years ago on a busy Manhattan corner. A guy got a bunch of $20 bills and tried to hand them out. Just give them away. No condition. No obligation. He was stunned to find out how many people would not accept them. There must be a hitch.
Part of the broken human condition is that there is something inside of us that acts that way. It's a part that refuses to accept God's gifts, either because we take it as a sign of weakness, or we can't believe we're worth it, or because we're too busy.
Grace is at the heart of our faith, so it must be at the heart of the season of Lent. As you make this journey over the coming weeks, think about ways you can open your heart to the grace of God. Explore those ways in which you resist it, or take it in vain, or take it for granted. And if you can think about the ways grace has come to you, see how you might show it and share it in a world starved, I mean starved for grace.
Here's the text from one of my favorite hymns that also highlights Christ's message of grace:
There's a wideness in God's Mercy, like the wideness of the sea.
There's a kindness in God's Justice, which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth's sorrows are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth's failings have such kindly judgment given.
For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God's Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord.
Many prayers ascend for our journey into Lent and a chance to inspect how God's grace is working in our lives.