Friday, May 18, 2007

398 Grace

Two weeks ago I bought a book at our public library branch (for sale items by Friends of the Library) titled, "My mother's favorite song; tender stories of home to deepen your faith" by John William Smith (Howard Publishing, 1995). It looked brand new; the publisher's statement on the verso of the title page included a statement about Jesus coming again, and the book flap story appeared to be sound. So for $2 it looked worth the price to purchase "one of America's best storytellers." Now after having read several selections during my morning devotions, I'll say, "money well-spent."

Often when I'm told that such-and-so gave a wonderful, moving sermon (our church has 10 services in 3 locations, and sometimes I wouldn't even recognize the speaker if I saw him), I ask, "Did he present the gospel?" And I get a blank stare or a stammer. That's why I like a liturgical service (we have two); it clearly says, "and for his [Jesus] sake, forgives you your sin." Brings me up real smart, that does. Nothing in what I did or will do makes me worthy of forgiveness. It's all grace.

On p. 121 of Smith's book he writes my story:
    "When I was growing up, I never heard much about grace at church--I mean, in sermons or classes. I slowly figured out that it was important and that we needed it, but we were sort of embarrassed by it."
Actually, I'm not sure I heard about grace at all. We didn't even sing "Amazing Grace" in those days.
    "Now that we've discovered it, we're trying to make up for lost time and make the most of it. It has become an issue. Can we have too much grace? Will grace fix anything? Does grace mean that everybody is saved? Does grace mean that we don't have to do anything? . . ."

    "Nothing crucifes the self more than grace. And nothing is more painful than self-crucifixion. Nothing strikes a more savage blow against our basic pride and sense of self-worth than grace. Being able to accept grace is very hard, because it makes such intense demands. On my road to God, nothing I have encountered has baffled and frustrated me more than grace. It is the most nonsensical, illogical, unpredictable, unreasonable thing in all of God's arsenal of weapons that are designed to defeat the enemy within all of us--ourselves."
Our sermons at UALC are grace-lite, or Jesus-lite, I think because if not done right, they can sound legalistic or harsh. I mean, who wants to be told she is sinful? Who wants to know he doesn't measure up? It might turn off the seekers; it might shake up the members. It's far easier to admonish the congregation to do more, be more, adore more. Grace? You can't earn it, but it sure isn't cheap.