Grace and Gratitude
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and our brother Sosthenes, to the Church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in Him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of His son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Our culture continually gives us the misguided word that human life is something we make up on our own. I'm a self-made person. I got what I got on my own. I have no one to thank but myself. Paul reminds us that we humans have no ground for boasting about anything, even our greatest spiritual gifts, the gifts of speaking or healing or speaking in tongues. These are all given to us by God. "What do you have," he asks later, "that was not a gift in the first? And if you receive it, why do you boast about it as if it were not a gift?"…
According to Paul, there are really two basic ingredients of the complete human life and the complete human community. The first is the grace of God. The second ingredient is gratitude for the grace that God has freely given. So many in our complex, fast-paced, high-pressure world have forgotten that there is such a thing as the grace of God. We've gotten into the habit of thinking that nothing good is going to happen to us or through us unless we make it happen….They stride to get ahead, to stay on top, completely losing sight of the fact that none of us has to earn our right to occupy space on this planet; because we exist, we have every right to be here and to be happy about it, too. Nothing is more important to know than that.
Even more important is to remember that there is nothing we have to do or can do to earn a place of acceptance in the heart of God. We transpose our need to make ourselves into a spiritual need, feeling as if we have to make a place for ourselves in God's own heart. You would think that people who tend to look at God that way had never even been baptized. It is a tendency that I must confess shows up in my own spirit from time to time, and when it does, I try to remind myself that one day long ago a minister held me in his arms and made the sign of the cross on my forehead acknowledging that from the get-go I was a-ok with God.
On my dark days, I take comfort in the fact that there is nothing that I have done since that day, even the things that I am most sorry for, that has changed the fact that I belong to God, that I always have and that I always will through the grace of Christ who gave his life for me on the cross.
A minister friend tells of a confirmation class that he taught in his church one year to young teenagers as they were preparing to join the church. [He said,] "We got to the sacrament section, and so I asked my usual questions. 'Water? What about the water we use in baptism?'" (We pastors have a way of asking such brilliantly piercing questions.) He got the usual answers. Water washes things. We drink water so we can live, and so on and so forth. It cleanses. It purifies.
But one year he asked the question and a kid in the class said simply this, "Water holds you up." That is it exactly. It holds you up. Just thinking about that makes me want to baptize the next baby at my church by putting her in a great big vessel of water and letting her float on her back, as a child learning to swim will float in her mother's arms. The mother would say, "Don't worry, I've got you darling. You're safe with me." You don't have to struggle, my friends, to stay afloat in this life, not with the grace of God beneath you. Your lives are full of grace. The pail is full of water.
The grace of God—in it we live our lives, and if there is nothing we can do to take that away, then there is nothing left for us to do except to be God's grateful people, to offer up an overflowing cup of thanksgiving back to God, a full cup of gratitude spilling out of everything we say and do. Gratitude for the good. Gratitude for the good that can come from the bad. Those of us who follow the pastoral ministry never cease to be amazed by the gratitude people who have suffered great loss continue to feel toward God and toward other people who have walked with them through the valley of the shadows.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "I have noticed that the most balanced minds praise the most, while the cranks and the misfits and the malcontents, they are the ones who are the least grateful." When you read the words of Paul, "And so I give thanks to God always," it makes you want to go out and be less cranky yourself, be more grateful yourself. It makes you want to be less distracted by those … notions that we have to make ourselves. It makes you want to hold on for dear life to the notion that we are floating through this life on the grace of God.…
Let us pray:
For your grace that sustains us, O God, and the self-giving love of our Savior, we give you our deepest thanks and ask that you would hold us close to you now and always. Amen.
Copyright ©1999 The Rev. Joanna Adams
Excerpted from The Full Life, delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN, March 11, 1999 as part of the Lenten Preaching Series.