“God’s Grace in Your Life”
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; Sept. 3, 2017
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 23; Hebrews 11:1-6; 12:1-2
Over the course of the summer, we’ve been searching for God’s grace in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures. We looked at Jeremiah who is called at a young age to bring a tough message to God’s people. Even though the people pay him little mind, Jeremiah presses on because he recognizes the hope available for all who repent. Esther showed up in our survey. When given a choice of protecting herself or protecting her people, Esther seeks justice no matter the cost. In the person of Rahab, we witness God’s redemption provided for insiders and outsiders because all who believe are welcomed into God’s loving embrace. Daniel lives a life at odds with Babylon. At a young age, he stands up for what he believes in. As an old man, he continues a life of disciplined prayer—come what may. Hannah is without child. Incessantly mocked by Penninah (Elkanah’s other wife), no one can help her so Hannah takes her plea to God and God has mercy. Joseph is his father’s favorite—a fact that is made quite obvious to his siblings every time they see him walking around in his special coat. Through trial and adversity, eventually, Joseph grows into his coat and becomes a man of substance through whom God accomplishes amazing things. We examined the life of Enoch. Enoch’s story is simple: Enoch walks with God. Enoch’s story is extraordinary: Enoch walks with God and then he is no more for God took him. Moses resists God’s call. But in the presence of the Great I AM, Moses is transformed into a man who eagerly seeks the face of God. Ruth, a woman from Moab, a foreigner, a widow, speaks incredible words of love and commitment to her mother-in-law—words that redefine the meaning of family and faith—words that demonstrate what the loyalty of God looks like.
As a church, we have been searching for God’s grace. Surely, we have found it! God’s unmerited favor abounds—which brings us to those oh-so-familiar words penned long ago by the psalmist:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. The shepherd is in control. Often, we want control. Don’t we? But the role of the Shepherd is already taken. We are the sheep—our job is to follow.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. When will we lie down in green pastures? Not when we feel threatened but when we feel protected and cared for. And this right path? It may not be a path to earthly fame but it is a deeper path set before those who long to be near our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. The Lord carries the staff in hand. When need be, the Lord carries us.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Imagine a lovely meadow with a stream passing through it.
There sits a rough-hewn table and chairs and, lo and behold, God appears with a tablecloth to spread across it. Then God looks at you and me and beckons us to come forward. God prepares the table—oh what a gracious and hospitable God we serve.
Yes, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
God’s grace abounds for all who have faith. And what is faith? Scripture tells us faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen. Faith in the Living God shaped the lives of the Hebrew people. It shapes us, too, if we have the courage to answer the call to be ambassadors for Christ.
Christ the King Catholic Church in San Diego has a statue of Jesus on their property. In 1980, the members of the church were astounded when it was damaged. Vandals broke off Jesus’ hands so that his arms now end at the sleeves. Although there were many offers to repair the statue, after much prayer and consideration, the church decided against it. Instead, they placed a plaque at the base of the statue that reads, “I have no hands but yours,” a reference to the well-known poem by St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Christ has no body—Christ has no hands—but yours!
As I worked on the sermon this week, I kept thinking about the work of your hands. I imagined Sissy Almand preparing the elements for Communion today; Kerri Routsong, Tom & Sue Miller, Libby George & Carol Busch chopping onions and peppers, galore, for delicious salsa to be sold at the Christmas Toys & Treats event. Donna Gosnell came to mind because with her hands awe-inspiring music pours forth from the piano and the organ and the flute. With their hands, Elise Phelps and Chasey Grodecki create beautiful drawings that are works of art. I thought of Brian Almand who made the swivel stand on which our sanctuary Bible rests and Grayson Powell who built the clock that graces the church office. Becky Stewart came to mind because she has the creative gifts to make everything around her more beautiful. Then I imagined all of you pitching in to help whenever and wherever needed—serving on Session and church committees, organizing events, singing in the choir, assisting with the Father Daughter Dance, the Bun Run, Break Bread Together, or Stop Hunger Now. And finally, I thought of the good work you do out in the world—caring for people, offering medical care or legal or financial advice, planting and harvesting and tending to God’s creation, providing needed services like accounting, teaching, or making travel arrangements for 21 people who are about to journey to Scotland. There is no doubt, in innumerable ways, you are the hands of Jesus in the world.
And Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of our faith beckons us onward.
What’s that in your hand, O Lord, our Shepherd? All that you need, my child.
What’s that in your hand, Jeremiah? My excuse note. Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.
What’s that in your hand, Esther? My purpose, which is to do the will of God at such a time as this, even if I should lose my life in the process.
What’s that in your hand, Rahab? A crimson cord that will bring God’s saving grace to all who are hidden safely in my house—even though I am a foreigner.
What’s that in your hand, Daniel? Only hands stretched out in prayer and praise for the God whom I serve, who has come in the night to shut the mouths of the hungry lions.
What’s that in your hand, Hannah? A baby. I have named him Samuel for I have asked him of the Lord.
What’s that in your hand, Joseph? I hold forgiveness in my hands—forgiveness for my brothers who intended to do me harm, but God intended it for good.
What’s that in your hand, Enoch? Just an old staff I use when I go on my daily walks with God, through the fields of wildflowers and honey suckle, just over the ridge…forever.
What’s that in your hand, Moses? A shepherd’s hook for God has given me another flock to care for—God’s flock—God’s people.
What’s that in your hand, Ruth? The hand of Naomi for where she goes, I will go. Where she lodges, I will lodge. Her people shall be my people and her God shall be my God.
What’s that in your hand, Jesus? The bread and the cup. They tell my story. They tell your story. Do this in remembrance of me.
What’s that in your hand, my sisters, and brothers in Christ? The power to continue the story of God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s grace in a world desperate for shalom—healing, wholeness, a full life.
At this time, let us turn our attention to our hands—those instruments that are a gift from God. 1 Peter 2:9 instructs, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” Presbyterians believe in the priesthood of all believers so it’s not just the Minister or the Church Staff or the Elders who work in the Body of Christ. It’s all of us and it is all kinds of work. I invite you to join me in the litany printed in your bulletin after which we will humbly receive the anointing oil as a symbol of God’s blessing upon our hands of labor.
*Cover Art “A Tender and Grimy Grace” © Jan Richardson; Subscription.