Living in Grace and Gratitude

Translation Of I Peter 4:8-11 by William Barclay: Above all cherish for each other a love that is constant and intense, because love hides a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another, and never grudge it. As each has received a gift from God, so let all use such gifts in the service of one another, like good stewards of the grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as one uttering saying sent from God. If anyone renders any service, let him do so as one whose service comes from the strength which God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ to whom belong glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

I thought I would eventually find a nice 3 steps to living in grace and gratitude list. I’ve looked everywhere. The PC(USA) publishes a children’s curriculum titled “Growing in Grace and Gratitude” and the publicity on it says it is “rooted in the foundation of Presbyterian identity where God’s grace and our gratitude are the heartbeat of our faith, life, and worship.

There should be a way to summarize what that means – maybe with some nice alliteration – God’s Grace, Golly, Gratitude – really didn’t seem quite right. Although Karl Barth, perhaps the greatest Reformed theologian of the 20th Century did say that the closest thing to the grace of God is laughter, and that the simplest form of gratitude is joy. Grace and gratitude, laughter and joy, …like thunder follows lightening, you don’t have one without the other.

United Methodist Bishop, Will Willimon, tells about attending a worship service for homeless persons. Because they couldn’t get everyone gathered and seated in the sanctuary at a set time, they started the service out on the church steps. And they began the gathering by offering thanks to God for the blessings in their lives. A guy in shabby clothes, unshaven, toothless, came forward, “I just want to thank you, Lord,” he said, “I just want to thank you for the fact that I’m alive today.” Filled to the brim with gratitude, for the mere fact that he was alive. A gift that most of us take for granted.

You are alive. You are alive because God desires for there to be a you. Nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less (Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace) –That’s Grace!

So, how do we live in Grace and Gratitude? How do we live at the locus of laughter and joy? My three easy tips were not so easy to find. We studied the obstacles to living in grace and gratitude: nostalgically looking back at a sugar-coated past, stress and anxiety that come from lack of trust, entitlement and lack of humility, disappointments that lead to discouragement, a loss of courage and enthusiasm. Perhaps the opposites lead to a life of grace and gratitude: looking forward, trusting, remembering that all we have comes from God, being humble, maintaining courage and enthusiasm for what lies ahead even in the midst of disappointments. Perhaps.

Yet, I kept coming back to this passage from I Peter. It is not in the lectionary. No one ever preaches on it. It was written just 30 years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection to Gentiles who had become Christians in the northern part of Asia Minor, near Galatia. Christians are being persecuted. William Barclay calls this passage “Life Lived in the Shadow of Eternity.”

Above all, writes Peter, love one another with a love that is ektenes. It is the only time in the New Testament that this word appears. Ektenes. It means constant and consistent…but it is more than that, it is never-failing. The primary definition is “stretched out,” the second definition is “fervent, earnest, resolute, or tense.” Why that word? Our love must be stretched. Like stretching our muscles prepares them for work, our love for one another prepares us for our work in the world. Stretching allows our muscles to undergo stress and strain; it increases flexibility. In the same way, Peter writes, love one another with a love that stretches, so that it is able to withstand a multitude of sins. Love one another, and be hospitable to one another.

You know, love is easier when it is at arm’s length. We know it to be true. Benjamin Franklin famously observed that “Fish and family smell after three days.” To which Peter says we are to be ungrudgingly hospitable to one another. In fact, whatever gifts we have, we are to employ them for one another. For we are stewards of God’s grace.

Anne Lamott writes about her own life. She is Presbyterian, she is a recovering alcoholic, she is brutally honest and funny. She calls grace “spiritual WD-40.” She says it is like water wings for kids in the pool. “To summon grace,” she writes, “say, ‘Help.’ And then buckle up. Grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost, but the phone will ring, or the mail will come, and then against all odds, you will get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness…”

We are stewards of God’s grace. We have been given the incredible responsibility of extending God’s grace. Listen again to Peter’s words, “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s carried grace: whoever speaks, whoever renders service, speak God’s Word, serve with the strength God supplies.” And here are the words that are key to our lives, “in order that in everything God may be glorified.”

The first question of the Westminster Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” “To glorify God and enjoy God forever.” The aim of everything we say, everything we do is to glorify God. The Benedictine monks came up with an acronym, “IODG,” “in omnibus glorificetur Deus” – in all things glorify God.

We are stewards of God’s grace. Every interaction we have is an opportunity for the grace of God.

Next Sunday afternoon we will be assembling scrub buckets. They are 5 gallon buckets with gloves and garbage bags, scrub brushes and cleanser…no magic wand, no quick fix to the disaster that is clean-up after a hurricane or a flood. But, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance calls them “Gift of Heart Kits” because they are an expression of grace. When you are allowed back to your home and look around at the devastation. When you see the mud and mildew, and you say “help.” A Presbyterian church, whose members’ homes are every bit as devastated as yours will open its doors and say, “Come, here is a way to start.” Grace, and against all odds, as people gather, community will form, and as stories are shared there, a carbonated holiness will come, laughter.

We are stewards of God’s grace. Sometimes with our money. Sometimes with our time. Sometimes in our words. Sometimes in our service. Living with grace and gratitude, in all things we glorify God. Amen.