Date: July 15, 2012
Title: “Dancing with Grace”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Galatians 2:15-21
There is a hymn which is historically sung at the beginning of every Annual Conference session. It is one of Charles Wesley’s songs, which asks an important question for any gathering of Christians. Let’s listen as the choir sings the first verse for us:
And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!
Did you hear the question? Right there in the first few measures of the hymn, we are asked, And are we yet alive? We’re here, to be sure. We see each other, we feel the presence of flesh and blood and bone. We hear the heartbeat of joys and concerns we carry into the sanctuary today. We are living – yes – but still, the question comes begging…Are we yet alive?
It has been another busy week for many of us. Weddings, memorial services, family, friends, summer weather [which I'm sure will be back again soon, I say, as I watch the rain falling outside our window!]. So maybe, on this Sunday morning we are a little tired, even a little frayed around the edges. And we could be excused for wondering “Are we yet alive?”
But that might be missing the point. Because ultimately, the question – and its answer – has more to do with God’s grace than with our own powers, our own stamina, even our own perseverance. Listen again as the choir gives us the fourth verse of the hymn:
Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love;
And still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above.
Out of all the Lord has brought us by his love… and still offers us help, and still hides our life above. That life which is defined and held by Christ. Listen to how Galatians – and Eugene Peterson’s Message – puts it for us this morning:
“I tried keeping the rules and working my head off to please God. It didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man’ so that I could be God’s man… I identified myself completely with Christ… I have been crucified with him.
My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you, or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me.”
Can’t you just hear the huge sigh of relief the author is heaving here? Imagine letting go of all that we think we must do, all that we think we must be, all that we think we must pretend? Imagine letting go of our “impression management” strategies.
Just imagine the kind of energy, the kind of spark, the kind of life that would free up in us! I think this is what we mean when we talk about “justification by faith”. It is knowing that the life we are living is much broader and deeper and richer when we stop thinking of it as our life alone. And remember that it is also God’s life… which God fills and frees by grace alone – that totally unmerited, unearned, and constant love of God.
Someone else put it this way:
If following all the rules of the road will not get us to our destination, then why do we bother at all? Galatians is written to people who prided themselves on their connections, people who thought the rules of the road would save them. But here we see that life is not simply a journey traveled by obeying the rules of the road.
Life is meant to showcase the grace of God to a world filled with people who are terrified of detours, people who have been abandoned on the side of the road, people who have been dented and crushed by repeated hits, people who are sputtering along with very little fuel left to keep them moving forward.
Our lives are meant to showcase the grace of God. Because we know that the question Are we yet alive? is not just about whether we are breathing and our hearts are beating. It is about whether or not we are living with the whole-hearted assurance that God is a part of our lives, as close as our next breath and as essential as our next heartbeat.
W. H. Auden once wrote: I know nothing, except what everyone knows…if there when Grace dances, I should dance.
If you are there when God’s love surprises you; if you receive help when you have no bright ideas left – when you are empty and desperate, when you are tired and worn out and wondering why in the world you decided a Corgi would be a good dog for you! [okay - that was a little personal aside] – when you discover that your best thinking and your most charming charm will still fail you…
If Grace dances in your life, or in mine… then we should dance, too! And by that, my friends, we will be able to answer that question, Are we still alive? with a resounding YES! Thanks be to God! Amen.