Friday, October 7, 2016

Friday's Essay - Living in Grace and Gratitude

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
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Image result for grace and gratitudeI think two of the most important concepts within the Christian faith can be summed in the words “grace” and “gratitude.” As a matter of fact, I believe that one could argue that a life of faith can be reduced to these two words. Let me explain.

To me, grace represents the action of God, an action that’s grounded in his very nature. It’s motivated by his love for us and not our actions toward him; therefore, it’s the result of his initiative, of his desire to be in a mutual relationship with us. And so it ties the love the creator has for us with the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for the sake of those who cried for his crucifixion and the continuing inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Now, for me, that’s what grace is all about. Or, put another way, it’s God reaching out to us in a way that’s unconditional and irresistible.

And gratitude, well, that’s our response to this incredible gift. You see, unless you’re a preadolescent boy with an enormous crush on Mary Tyler Moore (something that of course has nothing to do with me when I was a preadolescent boy), relationships always have two legs, with both parties reaching out and responding to the other. And that’s certainly true in our relationship with God. Grace is God reaching out to us and gratitude (along with trust) is our response to him. And even though, in practical terms, this gratitude, this gratefulness is directed to both God and neighbor, it still represents our appreciation for what we’ve received. You see, in a very real sense, faith and gratitude complete our relationship with God, because it’s the acknowledgment that what we’ve received is far greater than we deserve. In other words, as I read in an article last week, “God acts first toward us in grace, extending forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, peace, and abundant and eternal life even though we don’t deserve it. Because we are thankful for all of these blessings, we live lives of gratitude which send us outward as missionaries to our context who seek to serve and love the world.” Or as the great theologian Karl Barth wrote, “The only answer to grace is gratitude…Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.”

And you know, because these concepts are so important, I think it’s worth taking a little time exploring them in greater depth. And since the Fall is the time when churches often focus their attention on stewardship, this would seem to be the right season to focus on how we might live in both grace and gratitude. Therefore, in the worship services during this time leading up to Christmas, this will be our focus. And I hope, by the end of this six-part series, we’ll have a deeper appreciation of the grace that God has given and a greater willingness to show our gratitude to those around us.

Below are the passages on which we’ll focus each week:

  • Sunday, October 9 - Deuteronomy 26:1, 5-11 (The Relationship Between Grace and Gratitude)
  • Sunday, October 16 - Luke 7:36-50 (Our Understanding of Grace Shapes the Gratitude We Show)
  • Sunday, October 23 - Matthew 18:21-35 (Our Gratitude Must Be Directed to Other, Not Just Toward God)
  • Sunday, October 30 - Acts 4:32-36 (Grace and Gratitude Can Change Both Our Values and Actions)
  • Sunday, November 6 - Luke 17:11-19 (Showing Gratitude May Take Courage)
  • Sunday, November 13 - Luke 19:1-10 (Generosity Can Bring Great Joy)

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