This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, September 15, 2013.
All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.
8 “Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? 9 When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”
Luke 15:1-10, Common English Bible
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
It was a pretty nasty correspondence that I received recently on my blog. It wasn’t the first time someone had disagreed with me (you should have seen the discussion when I brought up capital punishment). But, the tone of this comment was particularly pointed and harsh: clearly meant to harm.
My standard protocol for comments like these is to email the person who wrote it so that we can move past hate speech toward constructive conversation. So, I emailed the person back…the reply I received was that the email was undeliverable. This comment was a hate-filled anonymous correspondence.
I was more than a little peeved that someone who seemed so passionate about the topic had taken such a cowardly act. I mean if you truly care about something, you shouldn’t be sending anonymous correspondences. If you really care about an idea, you should be willing to put your name and face to it.
What this individual had forgotten is that no electronic correspondence is truly anonymous. In fact, I know that the comment originated from someone in a specific VA Hospital that deals with psychiatric and geriatric patients. Nevertheless, this anonymous, hate-filled and cowardly act was irritating.
I commented to a number of my clergy peers about the situation. The conversation that followed was fascinating in a number of ways. First, that they had all received such nasty correspondences—electronically and in letter form—in the past. To which one clergy friend replied in private, “I don’t know why some people think they can be so hateful to clergy and get away with it.” Another thread of the conversation revolved around how to handle such criticisms: some of my colleagues thought that anonymous correspondences needed to be ignored (“if it doesn’t have a name, it’s not worth reading); others said that it needed to be noted and the person found out and dealt with; and still others took a stance somewhere in the middle. The conversation was fascinating. But, one comment in particular stood out to me. It simply said, “Be gracious.”
What does that mean? really? in practical terms?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “gracious” as being “marked by kindness and courtesy” or “marked by tact and delicacy” You can imagine my surprise when I found these definitions.
Really? Being gracious has everything to do with manners? Is that really what grace is about?
Surely, in a spiritual sense, this cannot be all that it means to be gracious. I kept reading through the list of definitions… And, it was there that I found a now obsolete definition: to be gracious is to be Godly.
There’s an interesting commentary and discussion that could be shared on why this definition has fallen out of favor. There’s a story to be said about faith’s waning influence in our society. Or, perhaps, the most challenging story—illustrated by this definition change—is that we’ve so domesticated God that we’ve turned God into a polite being that treats us cordially and gives us what we want.
Those are discussions and sermons for another time. However, if you want to learn more about this idea and what it has done to the church, and what we need to do about it so that a new generation will come to know the radical, transformational love of Jesus Christ, I highly recommend the book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean.
Regardless of the situation that caused this definition to become obsolete, I find it compelling…
Be gracious: be Godly.
So what does it mean to be Godly?
In our lesson for today we find people complaining about the company Jesus is keeping. He’s eating with people who have made some pretty serious mistakes, people who might be described as being a “drain on society.” People were complaining, “How dare you Jesus associate with such people?” To which Jesus replies, I came to seek and save the lost (see Luke 19:10 and Matthew 18:11). I came, says Jesus, to show you the Way that leads to life (see John 10:10).
It seems to me that this provides a perfect understanding of what it means to be gracious. Being gracious isn’t a passive politeness. It’s active, reaching, and even aggressive in standing up to evil and healing the brokenness of this world.
God didn’t say, “Man, they’ve really mucked it up down there. I hope they figure it out!” NO!
God came—took on flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ—to show us the way, the truth, and the life (see John 14:6). God took an active, reaching, and, at times, aggressive posture in standing up to the waywardness of our human condition. God came, in Jesus Christ, to show us the way that can restore the world to the way God originally intended life to be.
The challenge is that grace can be rejected. It isn’t irresistible. But we’re called, nevertheless, to live into God’s grace—to show people what a restored world with healthy relationships looks like—for God’s healing love never gives up. Never. And, neither should we. Friends,
9 Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. 10 So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity…
Galatians 6:9-10a, Common English Bible
Let us prove to the world that God’s love never gives up; in fact, it’s constantly searching for people who believe God to be far away. Let’s join the search with Christ so that those who think they are furthest from God will experience God’s love in this world. Join the search and share God’s love. Be gracious. For God’s love never fails and it never gives up—not on me, not on you, and not on anyone else (not even on an anonymous commenter on an obscure pastor’s blog).
“Gracious.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed September 15, 2013. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gracious.