Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Will & Grace

These are the sermonic explorations shared on March 5, 2012 at
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Thomas Collier:  Grace – the new topic for the month of March.  (Eric?  What are you doing?  Atonement, was hard enough, then Incarnation in December I had to stretch head and heart on that topic and now???? – Grace!!)
Well, as usual I don’t have a clue what Grace is.  I mean, I understand that the definition of Grace is, a free or unmerited gift, but that begs the question of who is the giver (religiously speaking), and why me?   There are more worthy and more needy people than me.  And if grace is accidental, a positive synchronicity then there is no giver, and without a giver, how can it be considered a gift. So grace, beyond reading the definition of what it is supposed to mean, I can’t say that grace makes a whole lot of sense to me.  The dictionary was not much help, this time. 
Grace – Graceful. Now that makes sense, that I can understand; fluid, smooth, flawless, beautiful.
That is grace I can hold onto – That is grace I can see – That is grace I can hope for.  I hope for you, for me, for us all – Life lived gracefully.  A Smooth, flawless, beautifully lived life.
That would be wonderful if it weren’t so incredibly unrealistic.  Sometimes life is graceful and sometimes life is a bellyflop. 
I struggled to find an image for this grace-less-ness and the best I could come up with is an old Calvin and Hobbs cartoon where Calvin is at the top of Mayhem Mountain and Hobbs is questioning the rationale behind pushing off.  They, of course, GO and Mayhem ensues.  They fly (uncontrolled) through the air, crash into just about everything they could crash into and then end up at the bottom, bumped, bruised, scratched … and triumphant! 
Sure, there are times when life is grace, beautiful moments; then there are times when Grace, the dancer, falls flat on her tukus and everyone stifles a laugh because they know its not socially appropriate to laugh especially when the person sitting next to you is genuinely concerned for Grace.  Yes, I too am concerned for Grace … but Grace just fell on her butt and that was funny. 
A life well lived comes with a fair share of grace-less crash-bang, fall-down, bruises and scars kind of moments.  The kind of moments that really make stories, that make stories great. The kind of moments that make us laugh.  We will wait through the entire series of credits to get to the outtakes – the crashes, the bangs, the epic failures of the movie.  And sometimes the outtakes are more entertaining than the movie.  I am not speaking metaphorically, so don’t go home and ponder that as a life lesson. 
 Look, its OK to laugh when another person has an epic crash because they are part of life, the person and the crashes.  I have done a lot of whitewater kayaking and we, the whitewater community, have gotten over the idea that laughing at someone adds insult to injury.  We laugh because the crash was funny, not because we are laughing at you (plus we have seen a lot of crashes an we know you are going to be OK). 
There have been times when I was laughing hysterically and offering a hand for support.  There have been many times when I was on the receiving end of someone laughing hysterically and offering a hand for support.  Actually the only time that laughter adds insult to injury is when someone is taking themselves a bit to seriously and in all honesty, we ALL crash so don’t take yourself too seriously.  Plus you are killing the potential mirth of the situation. 
In our daily lives, we are all usually in a crash or a state of Grace.  Usually.  There are those extreme times – Joyful times, which are more than just graceful, and Tragic times, where laughter can not penetrate. But the most of our time is spent in a crash or a beautiful flowing state of Grace. 
When life in is in the midst of a crash – when grace is gone – don’t forget to laugh.  The crash you are in may be physical, emotional or spiritual – don’t forget to laugh.  You may be on your knees alone or with a trusted companion - weeping OR pacing back and forth screaming (once again alone or with a trusted companion because its not Ok to do that in public).  Don’t forget to laugh.  It could be huge, “I have to write this down, this is a GREAT story” kind of hysterical laughter or it could be a small “I can NOT BELIEVE how messed up this is”  kind of laughter.  Don’t forget to laugh.    
There is as much if not more God in laughter as there is in quiet solemnity.
There is as much if not more Spirit in laughter as there is in quiet contemplation.
I really wish a beautiful, fluid Graceful life, for you, for us all. 
but when Not-So-Graceful happens
I wish for us all Laughter. 

Erik Wikstrom:  Our Universalist ancestors told the world, and tell us still, that there are no limits to the love of God.  Now we Unitarian Universalists, today, may want to have some freedom to express that phrase “the love of God” in different ways.  For some of us those words themselves are too limiting, they are too inextricably linked to images of a paternalistic Santa in the Sky who doles out goodies to the good and cosmic coal to everyone else.  (As if even God could make such a clear distinction between those two!)
Some people don’t like “theistic language,” or what our recent UUA President Bill Sinkford liked to call “the language of reverence.”  That’s okay, really.  We don’t need it.  In the Christian scriptures Jesus is remembered as saying that “God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike,” a passage often quoted by those long-ago Universalists.  We could just as easily, and just as accurately, say simply that it rains on the just and the unjust.  The sun shines on good people and bad people equally.  Green plants soak up carbon dioxide and exude fresh oxygen whether we deserve it or not.
And now we’ve come to a part of the concept of “Grace” that often causes fits for folks like us.  If grace is, as many would define it, an “unmerited” or “undeserved” gift or blessing, then many of us would draw the line right there.  What do I mean by saying “undeserved”?  It’s not like we’re still stuck in that “sinner” stuff, those old teachings that seemed to emphasize how “unworthy” we are.
Well no . . . we’re not.  And that’s part of the point.  But let me offer an illustration.
When I was candidating for this position the Search Committee looked at a lot of other highly qualified folks.  I had to demonstrate – prove to them and then to you – that I was up to the . . . opportunity . . . of pastoring this people.  And I think it’s fair to say that I earned my place in this pulpit; that I deserve to be here, ministering with all of you, co-creating this beloved community we call TJMC.
But do I – could I – deserve what it feels like when Scott plays?  Is there some way that I could earn the energy in this room when we’re weaving worship together?  The thrill that runs up my spine when I see what’s going on in our RE program, what could possibly make me worthy of that feeling?
Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  These things are completely unmerited, undeserved . . . they’re grace.
As is the sunset that reminds you that life is worth living at the end of  that day when you’ve not been so sure.  As is the look in your child’s eye when they look at you like you know everything and can do everything and . . . are . . . everything to them.  Grace.  Nothing but grace.
So our Unitarian Universalist ancestors told the world, and tell us still, that there are no limits to grace; that it falls on the just and the unjust; that it shines on good people and bad people equally; that no matter what we may know ourselves to be, it’s there – all around us (and within us too!) – just ready for the taking.  They preached that the question of whether or not you “deserved” it, or were “worthy” of it, isn’t really the right question.  Of course you don’t; there’s no way that you could.  So stop worrying about that.
The real question doesn’t have to do with “worthiness” or “unworthiness” but, instead, willingness.  Because grace is all around us, like the air we breathe, but we have a choice about whether or not we acknowledge it; whether or not we accept it.
So there’s the question – the real question imbedded in the concept of grace – are you willing to accept it?  Are you willing to open yourself to it?  Trust it?  Live your life as though it were true?
Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “"The most important question you'll ever ask is whether the Universe is a friendly place."  It’s possible that he didn’t say this, but it’s an awfully good question nonetheless.  And the answer, I’m afraid is not quantifiable.  There is no definitive conclusion to be drawn by looking at the available data, because the available data unfortunately supports both hypotheses.  So we have to make a choice – you and I have to make a choice – with each and every day we’re above ground, with each and every breath we draw in each and every moment-by-moment encounter, we have to decide if we’re going to live in a friendly Universe or an unfriendly one. 
We have to choose whether we’re going to see the glass as half full or half empty because the objective reality is that it is both at the same time, yet it matters mightily which perspective we emphasize.  “It matters what we believe,” Sophia Lyon Fahs said.  A fuller rendering of her poem can be found in the back of our hymnal, but she said:

Some beliefs are like walled gardens. . .

Other beliefs are expansive and lead the way into wider and deeper sympathies.

Some beliefs are like shadows.. . .

Other beliefs are like sunshine. . . .

Some beliefs are divisive. . . .

Other beliefs are bonds in a world community. . . .

Some beliefs are like blinders. . . .

Other beliefs are like gateways opening wide vistas for exploration.

Some beliefs weaken a person's selfhood. . .

Other beliefs nurture self-confidence and ignite the feeling of personal worth.

Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world.

Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life.

It matters what we believe.  It matters how we see that glass.  It matters what we think of the Universe.  And it is up to us to choose.
Buddhists teach us that even though we are breathing all the time we are hardly ever aware of – really, fully, deeply aware of and awake to –something as simple as our breathing.  Yet if we wake up – when we become aware – even something as simple as our breathing is recognized as being miraculous.  Awake or asleep – it’s fundamentally a choice.  A choice each of us has the power to make.  Right now.
And right now again.
Each of us can choose to breathe the air, and feel the sun on our backs, and let the rain drench us to the skin – there are no limits to the love of God.  There are no limits to grace.
Unless we put them there.
That’s really the message I have to share this morning.  The sun is always shining, exuding its energy indiscriminately, lavishing its life-giving power without condition.  Unless we create smog and pollution to block it out.  (And, of course, even so its energy gets through . . . we just make it harder for us to see it.)  The rain falls, and even our going inside does not stop its fall – we just prevent it from getting to us.  But it’s there.  And when it transforms into water vapor and enters the air it lands on even those of us who’ve tried to be safe from its touch . . . we just don’t know it
In the coming weeks we’ll explore this idea of “grace” from several angles.   This morning I leave these fourteen words for each of us to ponder:
There is no limit to grace.  Do you have the will to accept it?
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1 comment:

Scott said...

Anybody who can weave in a reference to Calvin and Hobbes is OK in my book.

I'm a fan of Karl Rahner and his view on Grace - that it is a self-communicated gift of relationship from God that we are free to accept or not.

"Grace is everywhere as an active orientation of all created reality toward God."
Karl Rahner