"Grace" is who God is

Ten years ago on Larry King Live, a well-known Christian musician was telling his life story and it was exactly the kind of story pastors either love or hesitate to tell from the pulpit.  As King peered at him through his owlish glasses, the musician told of being raised in a warm and loving Christian family and of discovering in high school that he was blessed both with a vibrant faith and with a rare musical gift.  Eventually, shaking off the dust of his little town, he took his faith and his keyboard and headed off toward the bright lights of Nashville, aiming at a career in gospel music.

          In Nashville, he found some success, but, unfortunately, he also found drugs – lots of drugs.  A life once young and hopeful soon spiraled out of control – a faith once alive soured into despair.  One desperate night, he came completely apart emotionally, and found himself lying face down on the floor of his kitchen, sobbing uncontrollably, crying out to God for salvation.  “I woke up the next day,” he said, “and I haven’t been the same since.  That way 28 years ago”

          “I just give credit to the Lord,” he said, reflecting on three decades of sobriety and productivity.  “I think God just rescued me.”

          To tell you the truth, such stories sometimes make me uncomfortable – maybe because I don’t have a similar story to tell about my personal life, and if I don’t, does that make my faith any the less than people whose stories mirror his?

          And if I’m really honest with myself, the real reason stories such as this musician tells cause me and others I know such discomfort is that they bring us too close to the molten core of the Christian faith.  We prefer to domesticate the gospel – to make faith about spiritual enlightenment or ethical ideals or the broad love of God that inspires tolerance.  But the fact of the matter is that the gospel IS at root a rescue story – a rescue story about people who frankly need saving because they’re in such a mess 

          Just listen again to the words from today’s reading from Ephesians.  It’s vividness startles us – “you were dead.”   

          You were dead.  Can it get any more graphic – more in your face – than that?

          To see this statement as applicable to us – to swallow even one ounce of this claim – we must admit a cluster of truths about ourselves we would rather not face – that we are captive to cultural and spiritual forces over which we have no control -  that they have drained the life out of us – that we are unable to think or feel or crawl our way free – and that we are in urgent need of a God who comes to rescue us.  In short – we need saving.  We need saving by Jesus, whose name literally means “the Lord saves.”  As Paul wrote in Ephesians, we need a God “who is rich in mercy, [who] out of great love for us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”

          Several years ago a very disturbing call came into the office of a Methodist church.  A part-time staff member, who had been out in his neighborhood walking his dog, had been mugged, stabbed in the heart and rushed to the hospital and was now in intensive care with virtually no prospect of survival.  When the word spread among the church staff, they gathered spontaneously to pray.  Standing around the communion table, each person prayed.  The pastor and others offered sincere prayers that spoke of comfort and hope, prayers that had already faced the hard facts of almost certain death.

          Then the custodian prayed.  The pastor said that it was the most athletic prayer he had ever witnessed.  The custodian wrestled with God, shouted at God, anguished with God.  His finger jabbed the air and his body shook.  “You’ve got to save him!  You can’t let him die!” he practically screamed at God.  “You’ve done it many times Lord!  You’ve done it for others – you’ve done it for me – now I am begging you to do it again!  Do it for him!  Save him Lord!”

          “It was as if he grabbed God by the lapels and refused to turn God loose until God came with healing wings,” the pastor said.  “When we heard that prayer, we just knew that God would indeed come to heal.  In the face of that desperate cry for help, God would have been ashamed not to save the man’s life.”  And so it happened – he was healed and he lived.

          This story makes me realize that I am – that we all eventually are – like that musician – face down on a kitchen floor somewhere in life – like that man in the hospital – powerless – near death – praying like mad.  “You’ve done it for others, God.  I’m begging you to do it for me.”  I admit that’s how I prayed for our son Matthew – 11 years ago now - when he was hurt and possibly dying.  That’s how I’ve prayed for others who are hurting and in need of God’s help.  That’s how I’ve prayed for myself. 

          And when I have found myself lifted up into new life and hope, I am more grateful than I can say that, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing.”

                   “Grace” is who God is.  “For God so loved the world that God gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

          No matter where we find ourselves in live, God is moved by nothing more than love – to come to us and live among us as Jesus – to bring us back home to him – to restore us to fullness of life in Jesus Christ.

          In love God invites you to wrestle with him when you find yourself face down on the floor.   In love God invites you to come to him in prayer.  In love God invites you to come to the table – to eat and to be filled with his grace.  And all that we, in love with God can say, “Thanks be to God who has given us new life in Jesus Christ”  Amen.