A Message given at the Jubilate Praise Service of St. James' Church,
Kingston, Ontario, October 24th. 1999
Scripture Reading : 1 Peter 4:7 -11, 5:5b -11
I am glad you have asked me to speak about grace. People love to sing "Amazing Grace." They want grace before they eat at a wedding banquet. We say the grace to finish off a service. But very few could explain what grace means.
A few years ago at a lecture here in Kingston Virginia Mollenkott gave a definition I will never forget. "Grace is knowing that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you could ever do to make God love you less." Do you believe that? Think of the worst sin, or failure, or disaster in your life. Would God still love you? Yes, He would. Yes, without any ifs of buts.
But the grace of being forgiven is only one small facet of what Peter called "the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10).
There are dozens of manifestations of electricity. If you imagined that all electricity could do was to power light bulbs, you would never turn on a computer, toaster, coffee maker, vacuum cleaner, oven, television, CD, or radio. Similarly the love of God is expressed in innumerable facets of grace. If all you know is being loved and accepted, your Christian experience is very limited. Grace is the expression of the love of God in multifaceted ways.
But if grace is the multifaceted expression of the love of God, we should begin with a definition of the kind of love we are talking about. People love pumpkin pie, and skiing, and horror movies. When a guy says "I love you" women had better know if he means "I love you so much I want a one night stand." A very different proposition would be "I want us to enjoy loving one another for the rest of our life together."
You see God's kind of love means caring for the freedom of the other. Parents who love prepare their children for the freedoms needed to fly on their own. Keeping them permanently under their control isn't love us at all. A happy creative marriage is when both the woman and the man care deeply about each other's freedom. That is what grace is about. I call it creative love. Grace is love creating the freedom of the other.
So let me suggest three ways in which the creative Love of God creates our freedom. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit each create our freedom from a different angle.
When your mother was expecting your imminent arrival in this world she got the crib ready. She made sure you had the freedom to sleep and breathe. Diapers were at hand to free you from smelly discomfort. With interminable baby talk, telling stories, and reading she gave you the freedom to communicate. Your parents taught you to swim and skate and drive so you would have the freedom to enjoy life. They watched for your health and safety.
But your parents didn't invent the grace of parenting. God the Father (of if you prefer, God the Parent) created them as part of the environment you have needed for your freedom. Even when your parents made mistakes, God's grace was watching over their shoulder. And throughout your life God's grace has intervened in hundreds of ways for your freedom to live and grow and love. So faith is looking to God as Parent, trusting him, thanking him for your freedom.
But God the Father isn't just interested in our personal family environment. He put us in a country (in my case four different countries) specially designed for us to develop our freedoms. As Paul said in Athens on Mars hill, "He made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us. In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:26-28). God's grace has designed Canada, or the United States, or whatever country, for our freedom. Admittedly some individuals and some nations reject the freedom God has in mind for them, but only for a time before He graciously steps in to give them freedom again.
So you have the right to look to God the Father for any concerns about the environment of your home, your neighborhood, the country He has given you to live in.
Whereas God the Father creates the environment for our freedom, God the Son graciously creates the relationships we need for freedom. Some of our friends have a wonderful way of creating deep personal relationships. They know how to draw out the other, laugh and cry, share their feelings. When we are with them we feel happy and free. In marriage there is all the difference between the instant chemistry of falling in love, and a lasting marriage based on the ability to create a mutual heart to heart relationship.
But here again humans did not invent their ability to create personal friendships. It was the Son of God who from the beginning designed a world for the relationships with Himself and with others that are needed to free us. Our ability to create relationships is derived grace. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). And at the heart of all human relationships is His longing for a personal relationship with us.
In the Garden of Eden the Son of God wanted to go for an evening walk with our first parents. But they refused and hid themselves. God loves us totally but grace can be rejected. The grace of our Lord includes freeing the shy and embarrassed, freeing the lonely and withdrawn, freeing those who would love to have friends but quickly lose them. Jesus said "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). Perhaps some of you are still hiding from the Son of God. Every day He longs to free you in ways you haven't even dreamed of. He wants to be with us and talk to us every day. Now is the time to come out and meet the Lord of grace.
At another level we see individuals who easily become the center of a group of friends. Just by their presence they create a literary, artistic, musical, religious, or political circle which exerts a huge influence in the world. Every major change for good in the history of the world begins with a circle of friends who long to bring new freedom for others. And without that creator of relationships the group would soon disintegrate into unhappy ineffective individuals. But there again the gift of being able to create circles of creativity is a derived grace.
Long before we even thought of that kind of creativity, the Son of God planned for us to be involved in circles of relationship. That is why he said "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Christian fellowships and church congregations are meant to free disciples to love one another. As Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." And as we have seen, love is caring about the freedom of the other.
Admittedly Christians often fail to love one another. Philip Yancey is to my mind the best evangelical writer since C.S.Lewis. He wrote "I rejected the Church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else" (What is so Amazing about Grace, 1977, p.16). At its best the church is where the Son of God creates the grace needed for the freedom of the world.
We have seen how God as Parent graciously creates the environment, and the Son creates the relationships, for our freedom. Finally we consider how God the Holy Spirit loves us by giving us the grace of inspiration both as individuals and as a church for our creative task.
How would we experience this divine inspiration? As in the case of artists, sculptors, composers, writers, coaches, and national leaders, nobody thinks of seeking inspiration if they are satisfied with their current abilities. Self-satisfaction is the hack artist's rejection of inspiration. In our reading Peter said "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5b) Humility is being open to receive the multifaceted grace of God.
Just as the Greeks named the Muses to express different forms of inspiration, we also need to distinguish the varieties of grace that the Holy Spirit longs to give us. For this, the Bible offers us some categories to work with. The Hebrew work for Spirit was ruakh (Arabic ruh) which was originally the ordinary word for wind. And wind has many different functions. Wind moving can lift the gulls, make eagles soar, take sailing vessels across the Mediterranean. In Holland they used it to power windmills. Wind breathing gives us the oxygen needed for life. Wind burning can be dangerous in a forest fire, or a house in flames, but quietly controlled it can cook a meal, warm a room, soften metals, refine gold.
Similarly we can think of the Holy Spirit of God graciously lifting us, enabling us to soar, moving us when we are becalmed, empowering us far beyond our own strength, purifying our motives. The Spirit can inspire us for artistic, musical and literary creation, give us wisdom for leadership, give us prayer according to the will of God, prophetic speaking and writing.
There is also the awesome ability to inspire others to do what they would not have thought about doing themselves. An outstanding teacher inspires students to achieve far beyond the average. A coach can vitalize a team to outstanding success. A conductor brings an orchestra to life. A great Artist does not just paint for himself but is able to inspire a whole group into new forms of creativity. And occasionally there are political leaders who can inspire their people for freedom and greatness.
But as in the case of the grace of environment and relationship creation, we did not invent the ability to be inspired and to inspire others. All inspiration is ultimately derived from the creative love of the Holy Spirit. He gives inspiration for all that we long to do as individuals, but could never do alone. He also give the gracious inspiration needed to animate (give life to) a circle of people, a Bible study group, a fellowship, a local congregation to free themselves and others for unexpected and astonishing creativity.
I hope you can see that "the multifaceted grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10) is far wider than merely knowing you are loved and forgiven. And all this vast ocean of grace is free for our receiving. You can't earn it, pay for it, or strive for it. It is yours for the asking. Knowing you are forgiven is just the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface there is all the grace we need to be really free. And life is an empty miserable sham without it. So I invite you to open your heart to the grace that can transform every area of your life. Why not begin with your present longings and frustrations ?
A Moment of Silent Prayer Don't worry if you don't know whether
to talk to God as Father, or Son, or Spirit - they never say "You've got
the wrong number." Just admit you are longing for the grace that you need,
and let God get on with it. Immediately that grace will begin to envelop
you, draw you into creative relationships, give you the inspiration you
never knew was yours. It is yours for the asking.