Lavish Grace – 7-9-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s epistle reading is here.

When was the last time something was lavished on you? Luxury? Hospitality? Kindness? Thanks to our Puritan forebears, we may not associate words like “lavished” and “riches” and “pleasure” with our life in God. But Paul lays it on thick when rhapsodizing about God’s generosity toward us in forgiveness and redemption: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

How we feel about being forgiven and redeemed is entangled with whether or not we feel we need forgiving and redeeming. Some people feel guilt and shame pretty easily – for them, these are words of life. Others are offended by the notion that we, good creatures made in the image of God, might be characterized as “sinners,” and find the whole notion of repentance oppressive. I’ve been asked why we talk about sin in our worship services, as though the word itself conveys a wrong emphasis. Perhaps we should talk about hurtfulness; most people get that.

St. Paul had no problem talking about guilt and shame – he knew how prideful and arrogant he had been as a follower of the Mosaic law, and how zealously and violently he had persecuted the Christ-followers. He had a visceral gratitude for the forgiveness of his sins and redemption he came to understand as God’s gift through Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. Recognizing how destructive he could be allowed him to understand the true cost and immeasurable value of God’s forgiving grace.

John Newton, the repentant slave trader who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, understood what that unmerited redemption was worth once he came to see how lost he was, how depraved in his disregard for the value of other human beings. It took seeing his sinfulness to understand the extent of God’s transforming love – a love that not only restores individuals, but is part of God’s larger plan to restore all of creation to wholeness, “things in heaven and things on earth.”

Can you think of a time when you have received “amazing grace” from a person and/or from God? It can be simultaneously humiliating and exhilarating to be on the receiving end of forgiveness when we’re aware of how hurtful we can be.

And have you been called upon to forgive an extraordinary hurt? How did you come to that forgiveness? Was it connected to grace you’ve received? This is one reason we include confession in our prayers – to remember who we are, and how loved we are because and in spite of who we are.

Our nation saw grace “lavished” when members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, even the families of those massacred there, freely offered forgiveness to the murderer. Many observers took offense at that, feeling that the shooter did not deserve to be forgiven, especially as he seemed unrepentant. To which the Christian says, “Exactly.” Those who offered forgiveness understood that, from the perspective of God’s holiness, none of us deserve it, yet God has lavished grace upon us.

Only as we understand that we need, and have received, that grace for ourselves are we truly able to lavish it on others. As we do that, God’s plan for the cosmos becomes ever more complete.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

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