Fr. Bill Carroll – The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, August 15, 2021
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Once upon a time in the Deep South, a hungry man was having breakfast at a diner. A waitress took his order, and he asked for bacon and eggs with coffee. She brought the coffee right away, and then, a little while later, came back with a heaping plate of food.
He looked down, and, to his surprise, next to the bacon and eggs he’d ordered, he noticed a strange, runny, white mess. “I didn’t order this,” he said to the waitress. But she shook her head and got a funny look on her face. “Honey,” she said, “Those is grits. You don’t order grits. Grits just comes.”
Now to hear my friend Ed Bacon tell the story, grits and grace are a lot alike. Grace is God’s gift, freely given and undeserved. You can pray for it, and you can look for it all over the place. But whether you ask for it or not, whether you deserve it or not, grace “just comes.”
My friends, we are born into a living ocean of grace. We’re drenched in it before we could ever think to ask for it. First and foremost, grace is the gift of the Spirit of love, flooding our hearts. It is God’s gift to every one of us. But grace “comes” to us in countless other ways as well.
One way or another, we’ve all experienced grace. Creation itself is a kind of grace—given by God out of nothing. Life too is a kind of grace–breathed into us by the Spirit of God. But grace doesn’t stop there. Grace begins before we are born, when we are surrounded and protected by our mother’s womb. Then later, we are pushed out further and further into the world. And, as this happens, some people are less graceful to us than the others. Many of them wound us in one way or another. But, in the end, the challenges they provide make us grow in grace. We wouldn’t grow into mature adults without them. Even the challenges are a kind of grace.
We need other people to challenge us. Our families are imperfect, but they do help make us human. In most cases (there are some tragic exceptions), families also provide our basic sense of love, of trust, of home.
Most of us have also been welcomed when we were strangers in a new place. Hospitality is a kind of grace. Maybe it was a new town, a new school, or a new job. Maybe it was a church like this one. Sometimes it happens at a party where we don’t know the other people. Someone approaches us, smiles, and makes us feel at home. They introduce us to others or reveal a connection we didn’t know we had. They show us our seat at the table.
Among God’s greatest gifts are those of friendship, love, and community. But here, we’re not always fortunate. Sometimes, people wound us in various ways. Even the people we trust the most aren’t always faithful. And yet what a gift it is to have someone who wants us and loves us for who we are. God has made us in such a way that we need other people. And, at times, we have been given the gifts of friendship, love, and community.
But finally, there is the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ–and the Eucharist that we celebrate together, where Jesus comes to us alive each week and gives us his Body and Blood. In the thirteenth century, writing to a princess who gave up everything to follow Jesus, St. Clare of Assisi reminds her that she is called to be the Spouse and Queen of Jesus, the world’s true King. And that she has been invited to partake of his heavenly food and drink:
Happy, indeed, (Clare writes) are those to whom it is given to drink at this sacred banquet so that they might cling with their whole heart to HIM, whose beauty all the blessed hosts of heaven unceasingly admire, whose tenderness touches, whose contemplation refreshes, whose kindness overflows, whose delight overwhelms, whose remembrance delightfully dawns, whose fragrance brings the dead to life again, whose glorious vision will bring happiness to all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem…
Jesus said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Let’s not underestimate what he’s giving us here. When Jesus offers his life for us, he offers us his fully human life–with all his needs, all his wounds, all his many loves. In the Eucharist, Jesus is renewing our relationship with him and all the gifts of our Baptism. He is plunging us into his saving death once more. And he is giving us a share in his resurrection. He is calling us (he is always calling us) to follow him. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a kind of altar call, where we give “ourselves, our souls and bodies,” to him.
When Christians think about salvation, we too often skip over the life that Jesus lived. We focus exclusively on his death on the Cross. But, as important as it is, his death doesn’t have value in bringing us to God without the life he lived. Jesus offers up his flesh, his very humanity, for the life of the world. He offers up the particular ministry that he performs with his People.
And, throughout his ministry, Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God has come near. He forgives our sins. He touches those deemed untouchable. And he eats with those others call unclean. He embodies God’s mercy and forgiveness in his human relationships. He has close friends. He laughs. He weeps. He works, he rests, and he prays.
And it is this life—this precious life lived for others—that Jesus offers up in sacrifice. He marches right into Jerusalem, knowing what could happen there and willing to face it. At the hands of Herod and Pilate, at the hands of the religious authorities and the crowds, and at our own sinful hands as well, Jesus suffers violence, betrayal, and death. He submits to defeat, only to rise again.
And he does this to break the power of sin and death in our lives. He refuses to allow his faithfulness to God to be undone by our violence and betrayal. He creates a community of love, in which ALL are welcome. And he breathes out his dying breath as his last, best Gift to us all.
This awesome Gift (the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Lifegiver) is the supreme example of the grace of God claiming the world back for God. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ unleashes the Holy Spirit in a new way, so that he might dwell in us, and we in him. In Jesus, God’s forgiveness and grace win the final victory. He is God’s great “Yes” to us all. He is the “Amen”–God’s great “Amen” that seals and delivers God’s promises to us.
How then should we live? Well, first of all, we should follow Jesus. We should follow him in the way of love. It should change how we treat one another. By the grace of God, we should become more and more like Jesus. That means living from and toward the divine Gift that “just comes.”
It means living lives of gratitude. If we lived our lives out of the abundance of God’s grace, we would be more thankful, more humble, more forgiving. We would be fair in how we treat one another. And all the sins that divide us and cause us to betray one another would start to wither away. Our hearts would overflow in wonder, love, and praise. And, in the power of the Spirit (with all tribes and languages and races and nations), we would worship God, sing spiritual songs, and give thanks continually.
A grateful heart doesn’t mean we retreat into denial or cover up our heartbreak and sin. But it does mean we pay attention to grace—as we turn back to God, day by day.
Even though grace just comes, so we don’t have to earn or deserve it, we want to share this awesome Gift with others. We don’t want to keep it for ourselves. We want to give it away generously, just like Jesus does. And so, in his Name, we welcome strangers, forgive our enemies, feed hungry people, and bear one another’s burdens. We become living, breathing sacraments—the Gospel written in our human flesh.
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
And so, let us approach the Throne of Grace boldly, whenever we come to Jesus to receive his Body and Blood. Let us open our hands and our hearts to feed on him once more.
Let our prayer be, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Come to us, here and now. Just as we are, without one plea, come to us.