October 3, 2021 / 19th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
First Reading Genesis 2:18-24 / Second Reading Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 / Gospel Mark 10:2-16
What kind of person would you like to be? Some obvious answers come to mind: a happy person, a successful person, a respected person. Such answers lead to further questions: What makes a person happy? How do you define success? What leads to being respected?
Experience teaches us that ultimately people are not defined by what they have or what they have accomplished – but by who they truly are, by the content of their character. People who are genuinely happy, content in their own skin, who are successful – not in terms of what they have accumulated – but successful in becoming truly human, fully alive, people who are respected, trusted and admired – quite often have this in common: They are gracious. What comes to mind when you hear the word “gracious?”
What is it to be gracious? Gracious persons are marked by consistent kindness and warm-hearted courtesy. Graciousness is more than good manners, it reflects a person’s nature – it emanates from a loving, joyful, humble heart. Good manners are helpful, but a person can be polite without being gracious. Graciousness can’t be faked. Gracious persons are thoughtful and considerate, they take time to consider the needs of others, not just their own. Gracious persons are hospitable and generous, they are willing to go the extra mile. Gracious persons are merciful and compassionate. They give what is needed, not what is earned or deserved. They are gracious not only to a select few, but to all.
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Most of us have come to know graciousness by experiencing it. Who has been gracious to you? Hopefully your parents. As a student I was a consistent procrastinator. In fifth grade we had to do a written report each quarter: a biography, a report on one of the fifty states, one on a country and an autobiography. Each time I put it off until the last moment, and I will always remember my mom getting up early with me on the days the reports were due to apply the finishing touches. Much kinder than I deserved.
You may have had a gracious teacher or next-door neighbor. For many years when I was growing up, we had the ultimate good neighbor in Bud Hoffer. Bud was a gentle soul – and very handy. He was always willing to take time to help you fix something. He always had the right tool to borrow to get something done. He provided the lumber so we neighborhood kids could build a tree house in their big yard.
You probably have experienced gracious kindness from a friend or relative – perhaps even from a stranger. Certainly in this congregation we are surrounded by many gracious souls. Years ago Mike Beatty was on church council. At a meeting I shared that I was having trouble finding someone to watch kids in the nursery during the new member class. You may recall that Mike was the Fire Chief in Lake Forest and a busy guy. Mike said, “I can do that.” And he did. He babysat.
Such graciousness does not go unnoticed. When we experience kindness and generosity, it makes an impression, and we remember it. Of course God is the ultimate model and source of graciousness. The Psalms speak often of the graciousness of God. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8). Gracious is the Lord and righteous; our God is full of compassion (Psalm 116:4). The Lord is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his deeds (Psalm 145:13).
We point to God as the source of every blessing, every good thing. And so we gladly sing:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him all creatures here below.
For us Jesus is the full embodiment of God’s gracious goodness: The law came to us through Moses – but “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) And we gratefully affirm that from the fullness of Christ “we have all received, grace upon grace.”
Jesus is the graciousness of God, walking among us on two feet. To come to know Jesus is to experience the transforming graciousness of God. John Newton, a slave trading sea captain, testified to this experience in his beloved hymn, Amazing Grace.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come,
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
Many love this hymn because it assures us that God’s grace is not something rare or occasional, but rather constant and steadfast. I appreciate what Frederick Buechner says about the nature of our experience of God’s grace:
“The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you."
There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it.
Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
That last part about reaching out to embrace God’s grace points to how you and I can become gracious. Having experienced graciousness in a variety of ways, both great and small, we can learn to be gracious ourselves.