I have a dear friend and colleague whose sermon writing advice can be summed up in a simple question, “where is the grace?” Indeed, where is the grace. This is the challenge that so often confronts us, not just in reading scripture, but in living in this world, at this time, in this place. Where is the grace?
I am no stranger to death or despair, or hopelessness. Working as a pediatric chaplain, made me a close companion to dying gasps and primal screams. I often said, in my time there, that I wished I could go back, to that time when children seemingly never died (or at least not ones I knew) and I could blithely assume that I, and those I loved, would be safe.
My time as a pediatric chaplain was a loss of a kind of innocence...but it was not my first loss of innocence. As school children clustered around the television, we saw the Challenger explosion live--from wonder to horror in seconds. The death of my father when I was a senior in high school changed everything I thought I knew. And, as a young youth minister, I drove to the church I served and heard the first tower fall and arrived in time to watch the second go after. The violation of spaces and places we trusted to be safe--schools and shopping centers and now this, a marathon where a vibrant celebration of life and potential became a scene of tragedy. Death again, sudden and unexpected, like a bolt of lightening striking seemingly at random.
Where is the grace?
Where is the grace?
Where is the grace?
In the Gospel of John this coming Sunday, we hear Jesus state clearly that merely hearing and telling the truth of God’s love in the world will not be sufficient. So, instead, Jesus uses works of power in order to make manifest a truth that cannot be conveyed by mere words. And so, moving beyond words, I look for the grace.
The family gathered at the bed, the organs taken from one broken body in order to restore another. The gentle care of nurses doing one last thing, one last act of ministering to those they fought so hard to keep. The doors opened, the lights left on, the meals warmed and cups of coffee poured. Children comforted, death and life explained, the words of the saints calling us to remember the helpers. The strangers who rushed in where angels fear to tread and where the blood poured knowing no friend. Grace in la pieta, the famous sculpture of Mary holding the body of her dead son. Grace in the midst of pain, grace made manifest because of the power of love conquering the forces of evil in the world.
Conquering these forces not with violence but with love...not with imagery of destruction, but with that of care. The messiah has not come with weapons, the messiah does not come as a conquering king, the messiah does not destroy everything in favor of one thing. Instead we are given a shepherd, a voice calling for us, acts of healing and a final and complete act of defiance--no one can snatch the love and life of God from any of us. Grace walks, God walks, beside us, through these valleys in which the shadow of death would attempt to rob us of light.
One of my favorite children’s books is “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’engle. Early in the book the protagonists are taken to observe a planet that is being overcome by the forces of evil, and as they watch they see bright flares of light. These flares spark and then fade. They ask what they are seeing and they are told that the lights are the moments in which stars sacrifice themselves in the ongoing battle against the darkness. And, in their sacrifice, the shadows and fear go away--leaving behind the clear, gentle wholeness of creation as it was intended.
Yes, evil all too often destroys those who bring light into the world...peace makers, innocents, prophets and saints. But, still the light bringers sally forth into the darkness...a pin prick of light visible even in the deepest of nights.
Light bringers, there is a litany of them is there not? In A Wrinkle in Time their names are called out
“Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteaur, Madame Curie, Einstein, Schweitzer, Gandhi, Buddha, Beethoven, Rembrandt, St. Francis, Euclid, Copernicus”
Light bringers, companions in the darkness bringing us into the light...who are your light bringers? Who has brought light into the world this day, this week, this month, this year? Who has brought light into your life? Who brought love when there was loss? Who brought peace when there was fear? Who carried you when you could not go on?
Please, take a moment, and think of some names. Names of those whose lives have brought light into the world. I invite you (if you feel so called) to share those names in the comments.
Because, in these names, I think we have the answer to the question, “Where is the grace?” The grace is here, it has brought us here and will carry us home, the grace surrounds us and is in us, the grace imbues our every step with light and with promise. Light bringers, life bearers, grace resounds even as fear abounds.
Two of my light bringers (there are more, but these are the two I want to remember today)--Mr. Olson and Karen Anna--may they rest in peace and light perpetual shine upon them.