Posted by: dacalu | 8 May 2018

Grace Moves

This Sunday, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett. Here is the sermon I shared. You can see it on YouTube, as well.

Prayer for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Acts 10:44-48 (“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”) 

Psalm 98 (“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”)

1 John 5:1-6 (“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”)

John 15:9-17 (“abide in my love”,  “love one another as I have loved you”)


I have been thinking about a particular tension in Christianity this week,
	a tension made particularly visible by today’s readings.
God made all things and is present in all things, 
	but God is also specially present in the church.
The whole creation can be called children of God, 
and yet we can speak more specifically 
of Israel or Christians as the children of God, 
and more specifically still of Jesus 
as the only begotten child of God.
We speak of baptism as adoption into God’s household.
So, I must ask: were we God’s children already, or not?
Similarly, we speak of Jesus as saving the whole world, 
but also saving the faithful;
as redeeming the cosmos, 
but more specifically redeeming those who set their faith in him.
Are all saved or only some?
And, in my own work, studying the meanings of life, breath, spirit, and soul, 
I can say that God’s breath moved over the waters, 
enlivening the world, 
but more specifically stirred up the dust 
in God’s creation of animals, 
and more specifically still, turned the mud into humanity.
I can also say that in baptism, we are filled with the Holy Spirit
	and become part of the body of Christ.
Does the Holy Spirit move everywhere or only in the faithful?

Which is it?
Is God everywhere or is God here?
We need to be careful.
If we say that God is everywhere,
	We can discourage people from faith and the church.
		Why do we need a special way of being and believing?
We can also send the message that God supports suffering and evil.
And yet, if we say that God is only here, in this church,
	Then we might close our eyes to what God is doing
		in the wider world.
	We must never fall into the trap of thinking we own the Good News,
		or that nothing new will be revealed.

I want to say that baptism is right and good and joyful,
	without claiming God only works through baptism.
I want to say that the Episcopal Church has somehow gotten it right,
	without denying that God can be found elsewhere.

How do I find that balance?

I think the answer is in today’s Gospel.
Grace moves.

We think of grace and family, salvation and spirit as things:
	present or absent, true or false.
In reality, they are processes,
	actions in the world.
Grace flows from God into the world, through us.
	This makes us part of the process.
	We are adopted so that we may adopt others.
	We are saved so that we may save others.
	We are brought to life so that we may enliven others.
Grace flows from God, through Christ,
	and we, as the body of Christ, are part of that process.

‘Jesus said to his disciples, 
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; 
abide in my love. …
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be complete.”
There is no such thing as static love,
	only love moving and being moved.
At the risk of sounding cliché,
	I will say that love is like a river,
	constantly flowing from God.
Being in love is like being in the river.
Baptism marks us as God’s own,
	as we wade into love.
But the outer sign of baptism
	can mislead us,
	because we dry off again afterward.
True baptism, inner baptism, stays with us forever.
It allows us to walk into the desert and bring the water with us.

And here I will turn very literal for a moment,
	because you and I are made of water.
	In every cell: water.
	Our blood: water.
	Our food and drink are full of water.
Literally, biologically, we are always in a state of flux.
	Air and water and food move in us and through us.
That’s what it means to be alive.

And so, figuratively again, I can say that we are made of love.

We say it every Sunday.
Some of us say every day.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

It is true that one forgiveness leads to the other.
	If you forgive your neighbor, God will forgive you.
But it is also true that the two are intertwined.
	They are two aspects of the same act:
	God reconciling the world.
Forgiveness is love in action.

So, I can say that sacraments like baptism and reconciliation
are concrete and visible signs
	of a grace, which is everywhere, but not always seen.
Grace is everywhere, but Grace does more than sit there.
	Grace moves.
I have no desire to preserve the church as an object:	
	a bounded community, a set doctrine, or even a fixed set of actions.
I would die for the church as a process:
	a moving community with changing theology that responds to the world.

I am not yet ready to see God
	present in all things, 
	so I focus on God, breaking into all things through the church,
	and through concrete acts of love.
I am not yet ready to see all creation as children of God,
	so I focus on my role in adoption and reconciliation.
	Those are things that I do –
		things that we do –
		while we participate in the process.

Jesus said, “I have called you friends, 
because I have made known to you 
everything that I have heard from my Father.”
We have not been called to simple obedience.
	There are no boxes to check that will guarantee grace or salvation.
We have been given more – and less.
We have been given a mission – to bring joy, peace, and love to all creation – 
	and asked to lay down our lives
	for that same vision
	that Jesus died for – grace, relationship, oneness with God.

It’s a tough job.
	It requires more than simple obedience.
	It requires creativity and flexibility.
	It requires stepping into the river and getting carried away.

It is the kind of thing one does for a friend.
It is also exactly the sort of thing on which friendships are founded.
Have you ever noticed that asking for a favor – or doing a favor – 
	deepens a relationship?
Every time you’re there for one another
	you strengthen your bond
	and deepen your trust.
When’s the last time you truly risked something for a friend?
Or leaned on them for a genuine need?
Those are not easy things,
	but they may be the only ways to truly form a friendship.

When’s the last time you asked God for a favor?
When’s the last time you did something really dangerous or difficult for God?
It’s scary,
	but I think it may be necessary
	if we want to get caught up
	in the dynamic process
	of God’s purpose working itself out.
We may need to get carried away.



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