Grace is Amazing
(Romans 12: 9-21)
About a week and a half ago I was watching CBS This Morning. Gail, Nora and John were discussing the school shooting that had just happened in Kentucky where a fifteen-year-old student entered the school and shot numerous students wounding several and killing two. A young man who was a classmate of all those involved, including the shooter, was being interviewed and made the comment about how they had to forgive the shooter and pray for the families. Gail King commented that she was amazed that people were already talking about forgiveness. John Dickerson very quietly said: “Grace is Amazing.” Wow, I thought, thank you John for saying that. He didn’t read it off the teleprompter, it wasn’t scripted, it wasn’t coached, it wasn’t planned. It was heartfelt. I wondered if people thought, in the midst of all this carnage, students still fighting for their lives, lying in hospital beds, students who witnessed the murders of two of their classmates, funeral arrangements yet to be made, the suspect not yet formally charged, what is this grace this guy is talking about that is so amazing?
Anyone who has suffered a tragic loss has, in all likelihood, experienced the Five Stages of Grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These senseless school shootings seem to be happening on a weekly basis. I want to deny that they are happening with such regularity. I want to deny that our schools have become target rich environments for anyone who wants to make a statement. It makes me angry that nobody is really trying to do something about it, especially considering I have two grandkids in school. Surely, we can strike some sort of bargain. What can we do to make this stop? There must be some sort of common ground. I hate to watch the news. It’s all bad. Sadly, there is no quick fix, and it makes me depressed. I don’t see anybody doing anything about it. Because it appears we are powerless to prevent it, I must accept it as a reality. It is what it is. What’s interesting about the five stages of grief is that you don’t see grace or forgiveness in the process. Admittedly, even those of us who have faith, will go through the five stages, if and when we grieve, but we do know that through the grace of God and the fact that we can forgive we will be able to move through the five phases and come out on the other side intact and in better shape than most.
This is what I think the Apostle Paul was telling the readers in his letter to the church in Rome. Rome was probably a difficult place to be a Christian. You had the Roman Empire that was always suspicious of new movements eyeing them as potential threats. Rome was a very cosmopolitan city that afforded innumerable opportunities to be led astray. Paul is writing to give them encouragement and instruction. He tells them that love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good, he tells them. Love each other like members of your own family and be the best at showing honor to each other. He encourages them to be enthusiastic and on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord. He exhorts them to be happy in their hope, to stand their ground when they are in trouble, and to devote themselves to prayer. He reminds them to contribute to the needs of God’s people and welcome strangers into their homes. He says to bless people who harass you, bless and don’t curse them. Don’t let them get to you. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Be aware of what other people are experiencing. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, he tells them, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Be proactive and positive in your nature. Sounds pretty logical and good rules for living. How hard can that be? As long as nobody gets in my business, I can do that. Well, then Paul gets down to that part of human nature we don’t like to admit lies just under the surface. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. You mean I’m supposed to take this stuff lying down? I’m not supposed to strike back? Yes, Paul says, if possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Great advice, but some people make living in peace pretty difficult. Paul tells us not to try and get revenge for ourselves, but to leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Paul says, revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. (Deuteronomy 32: 35) Instead, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. (Proverbs 25: 21-22) Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
Revenge is an uncontrollable monster. Each act of retaliation brings another. It is a boomerang that cannot be thrown without cost to the thrower. The revenge cycle can be halted by forgiveness. Sometimes forgiving a personal attack shows more strength than lashing out in revenge. Trying to prove one’s power and authority often proves only one’s fear and self-doubt. Overflowing love is the natural response to forgiveness and the appropriate consequence of faith. But only those who realize the depth of their sin can appreciate the complete forgiveness that God offers them.
Paragraph 102 of our Book of Discipline, Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases, tells us that grace pervades our understanding of Christian faith and life. By grace we mean the undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit. While the grace of God is undivided, it precedes salvation as “prevenient grace”, continues in “justifying grace”, and is brought to fruition in “sanctifying grace”. We assert that God’s grace is manifest in all creation even though suffering, violence, and evil are everywhere present. Despite our brokenness, we remain creatures brought into being by a just and merciful God. The restoration of God’s image in our lives requires divine grace to renew our fallen nature.
In Luke 11: 2-4, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray and part of that prayer was, forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. If you are refusing to forgive people, you are missing a wonderful opportunity to experience joy and share it with others. Make your joy grow; forgive somebody who has hurt you.
Please pray with me.
Most loving, merciful and forgiving God, how undeserving we are of your love. How grateful we are for your grace and your forgiveness for those times that we fail you. Keep us mindful of the fact that, because of your mercy and grace, you do not hold our past sins against us and that we too should extend the same grace and forgiveness to those who we believe have wronged us. By your amazing grace you have saved us and have helped us to see the truth of your light and your love. Your grace has taught our hearts to fear and your grace has relieved our fears because of our belief in your mercy and unfailing love. How thankful we are that you have brought us through so much, that your grace has gotten us this far, and your grace will lead us home. In the name of your precious son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.