It’s About Grace

Grateful

[Week 1 in the GRATEFUL sermon series at Plantation United Methodist Church]

Psalm 100 (New Living Translation)
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

One of my first jobs after college was in the non-credit programming office at a local community college. On my first day there, my new boss called me into her office to pass on what she, no doubt, believed was sage, wise advice. She told me, her newly minted program assistant, that I should never, for any reason, in any circumstance, say “thank you” to someone.

In her office, thank you’s were forbidden, prohibited, banned. No verbal thank you’s, definitely none in writing.

“If you say thank you to someone,” she advised with a very serious expression, “you’ve admitted that you are obligated to them, that they’ve done something for you that you couldn’t do for yourself. Don’t ever put yourself in that position.”

(Needless to say, it wasn’t a super happy place to work.)

I’ve never forgotten her advice though, and have thought back to it many times over the years. Saying “thank you,” admitting gratitude, is putting yourself in someone else’s debt.

What she was so against was creating a “benefactor/beneficiary” relationship.

Benefactor BeneficiaryIn this, the benefactor gives something to, does something for a person, the beneficiary. When the beneficiary receives that something, he or she is now obligated to the benefactor. There is a difference in power here, you see. The more powerful benefactor, the one with superior resources, has condescended to use his/her power to assist little needy me. And now I have to — am required to — show gratitude for their kindness.

In this scenario, the benefactor, that powerful giver of gifts, gives expecting something back in return. It’s not a free gift. It’s a gift with some serious strings attached. I now owe the benefactor.

You may have heard this relationship referred to as quid pro quo, from Latin, meaning “something for something.”

I think one of the best examples of quid pro quo is the little plastic card I keep in my wallet. This card represents a contract between me and a credit card company. That company allows me to borrow money from them to buy stuff.

Do they make that money available to me
out of the goodness of their hearts?
Do they do it because they love me?

No, of course not.

They give because they expect something in return. And what they’re actually hoping is that I won’t be able to pay it all back right away, because then they get more out of the relationship — they get to charge me interest. For some cards, a really, really high interest.

The credit card company has the resources, the power. Entering into a contract puts me in that lower position of beneficiary.

I can see where it would be very, very easy to see our relationship with God in this way. After all, can you think of a situation where there is a bigger difference in power? God, the Creator of the universe, and… us?

For God to give to us, to care for us, to guide us, that is a pretty big deal. But this relationship? It’s exactly the kind of thing that would have terrified my old boss, that she would have deeply resented. This relationship puts us in serious debt. And it’s a debt we cannot possibly repay.

Our scripture today is from Psalm 100. In it, there are seven commands, seven orders or instructions:

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! …
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.

I have spoken with many people over the years who view their relationship with God as an obligation, a duty, a solemn commitment to which they are bound. It is a serious deal, somber and sober.

What then do we do with a scripture like today’s?

Come into worship “shouting with joy” we’re told. The underlying Hebrew word means to call out jubilantly at the top of one’s voice. Enter into the sanctuary yelling out a bold

“HALLELUJAH!!!!”

“Worship the Lord with gladness,” we’re commanded, with joy and mirth! “Come before him with joyful singing,” the Hebrew meaning to come up to God’s face with our voices ringing aloud.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving,” the word for Thanksgiving, todah, meaning to throw, to cast, as an arm outstretched in praise.

“Give thanks to him, and praise his name.” Here the Hebrew, barak, means to kneel in reverence.

Come in to worship God,
we’re commanded,
with voices shouting out our joy,
arms thrown open in glee,
falling to our knees in gratitude.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound a whole lot like quid pro quo obligation or duty to me. It sounds like a whole big parcel of fun and rejoicing!

Because this relationship between us and God?
It’s about grace.

GRACE:
something given or done,
simply because of love,
a gift freely given with no strings.

That is how God gives to us.

“For the Lord is good,” our scripture reads. “His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”

That word translated as “unfailing love” here is one of my favorite Hebrew words: hesed. It means steadfast love, kindness. But my favorite rendering of it is this: covenant loyalty. God’s consistent faithfulness to the promises made to God’s people.

Hesed is really important for us to truly understand what God has done for us, and what God desires our relationship to be!

God, infinitely more powerful than us, to whom we owe our very existence, came down to our level, right down into our messy world, our messy lives. God didn’t stay far above us, distant and cold and calculating. Jesus lived among us, teaching and healing and challenging and, with every breath, demonstrating God’s commitment to us.

And then Jesus
did the unthinkable,
the unimaginable.

Jesus, the Divine Son of God, went to the cross
to die for us.

On the night before he was arrested, Jesus met in a room in Jerusalem with his closest followers, and they shared a meal.

From Matthew 26:26-28: As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”

“This confirms the covenant between God and God’s people.” God’s hesed — covenant loyalty — so strong, so complete, so absolute, that God was willing to come to earth, to become human, and to die to fulfill the terms of that covenant.

For you.
For me.
For people all around this world.
For people stretching back into time
and forward into eternity.

That is grace. Beautiful grace. God’s love, freely given.

Although I do remember and sometimes think about the advice of my old boss to never say thank you, I am deeply grateful that other people came into my life to teach me the exact opposite.

People whose lives reflected God’s love, and through whom gratitude shown forth in their lives, their words and actions. I am grateful to the people who taught me, so patiently, about God’s love, about Jesus’ self-giving sacrifice, about God’s purpose for my life. It’s quite likely that without their witness and example, I wouldn’t be here today.

And so, on this All Saints Sunday, as we give thanks to God for God’s grace, as we remember and celebrate the lives of those who have passed, we also remember that we are here today because people — from generation to generation — have passed on the knowledge of God’s love, of God’s steadfastness and kindness.

We are here today because we were taught, shown, that God offers us freedom and forgiveness and peace and joy in the midst of whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

And what God wants from us in return is simply this…

For us to accept that freedom and forgiveness and peace and joy, and to allow it to work within our lives.

God desires us
to accept God’s love,
not out of obligation or duty,
but as a freely given,
joy-filled
choice.

That acceptance is what leads to better, healthier choices in our daily lives, it leads to healing in our relationships, to peace in our spirits regardless of what the world throws at us. And that acceptance is what naturally leads to the kind of rejoicing gratefulness we see in our scripture:

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! …
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.

And so, this morning, with the saints whose lives we celebrate, with our hearts full of joy and gratitude, we say…

THANK YOU, GOD!
AND HALLELUJAH!!!

This entry was posted in Pondering Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to It’s About Grace

  1. Joan Jett says:

    Dear Pastor Heather, I now have a different understanding of All Saint’s Day. You really gave me a lot to dwell on, so Thank You! Sending blessings on all you , yours and what you are doing. J Jett

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