Grace Upon Grace

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Second Sunday of Christmas, Year A

Jeremiah 31.7-14; Psalm 147.12-20; Ephesians 1.3-14; John 1.[1-9]10-18

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace and peace to you from the One in whom we have received grace upon grace, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

It may seem a little strange to hear the words “Merry Christmas” on the 5th of January, but it is still the Christmas season. On Christmas Eve we heard the Christmas story according to Luke.  We heard of the baby in the manger, the angels and shepherds.  Today we hear about that same baby in the manager except in a totally different way in the “Christmas story” (the incarnation) according to John.  We don’t often hear what we just read in John and think of the Christmas story or the manger scene, and yet we are given a language to God the Word coming to earth in flesh and blood in Jesus Christ. In the season of Christmas we celebrate and remember the grace of God that comes to dwell with you and me in the world.

Four years ago this week I sat in a circle with 5 Haitian women in Haiti (Haiti shares a small island with the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Ocean about 750 miles southeast of Florida).  The women ranged in age from 20-60 years old and all belonged to the brand new Eglise Lutherienne d’Haiti, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti.  The church itself was less than a year old.  I was invited, along with a few others, to spend the week with 35 leaders in the church, including the four pastors of it, to teach and learn from one another and simply be together.  It was essentially a week of seminary, where Lutheran theological concepts were taught and discussed (there was just as much heated argument over infant versus believer’s baptism in Haiti as there is here!).

It was beautiful and thought-provoking.  I was like a kid in a candy store that week because I was conducting research through first hand interviews in order to write a master’s thesis on Lutheranism in the context of Haiti.  Here I had 35 people at my fingertips to observe and interview.

I was so curious what Lutheranism in Haiti and God’s mission for this young church might be in a place that is considered 80% Roman Catholic, with 100% of the people influenced by the culture and religion of Voodou.  Haiti is also a country wrought with poverty and enormous challenges, yet the people are deeply faithful and clearly love and believe in Jesus.

So I sat with these 5 women who had overcome incredible odds and had a conversation with them because one of them knew English.  What became evident to me over the course of our time together was how much all of them spoke about God’s grace in their lives.

The oldest of the women, Marie, said this: “I came so far to hear the good news in this place.  I believe that God can do everything.  God’s grace comes to me when I am healed from illness.  I have had 4 daughters by God’s grace.  Every day it takes hours for me to get water and four hours for me to walk to the market, but by God’s grace I do it.”

One woman, named Margan, said, “Grace to me means a lot of things.  First, when I have to face hard things, I sing. I know I am not worthy to even speak the name of God, yet I can call on God whenever I need to.  There are people who I would not choose to love, but by the grace of God I do.”

Another young woman, named Naomi, told me that she was supposed to be dead by the time she was 18 due to illness.  She looked at me and said, “Now I am 20 and it is by God’s grace.”  She went on to say: “God’s grace is how I deal with things when someone hurts me.  God’s grace is forgiveness when I sin.  I have one friend that says, ‘When I am in your home we will talk about the Gospel…the grace of God.’ It is so important to me to have these kind of people in my life and that is the grace of God.”

Vilia, who experienced the death of one of her children, simply said, “Living is the grace of God.”

These women who struggle each day to simply survive had such a profound sense of the presence of God in their lives and all of what they had and did was a gracious gift of God.  Breathing, eating, walking, wellness, friendships, life…these things weren’t just luck or happenstance, they named them as the way God was working in their lives.  They had a deep understanding of John 1.16: “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace (John 1.16).”

I mention these women because not only do they have a story to tell and their faith to witness to, but because we can learn from them. The way these women spoke about the grace of God in their lives struck me because I rarely hear people talk openly about God’s grace in their lives in the United States.  I have all kinds of theories about why, but I’ll save them for another day.  Mostly I want to get us thinking and talking this morning about how God’s grace has come to you in your own life.

Grace, like love, can be a foreign concept and difficult to name at times, perhaps this is one of the reasons it is hard to talk about.  It is something that if you feel you haven’t experienced or felt it for yourself, then it can seem as if you don’t have it.  Yet we hear in John 1.16…”From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

This is not meant to make anyone nervous, but I would like you to think for a moment and then turn to someone next to you and share one way you feel how God’s grace has come to you in your own life.  We are going to practice thinking and sharing about the grace of God.  I have given some of the examples from the Haitian women to spark some thought…so perhaps you have had similar experiences, or maybe something totally different has happened to you.  Regardless take some time to share with one another…

How many of you were nervous to do this exercise or found it hard to have something to say?  The grace of God in our lives doesn’t need to be something huge and obvious.

It can be opening your eyes this morning to a new day; someone giving you a second chance when you know you don’t deserve it; not being dead right now; receiving or giving a smile; having an opportunity for treatment; sharing the peace with someone this morning; being invited to the communion table; going to worship without fear; the food you will take into your body today; the water you will drink; the air you will breath.  The hope that comes to us when we hear: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Some of the things I have named we experience on a daily basis, yet we do not think of them as God’s grace being poured out upon you and me.  (On a day like today, heat is the grace of God).

What if we could begin to say and believe:

“Because of God’s grace I woke up this morning to a new day.”

“By God’s grace I will overcome addiction.”

“Because of God’s grace I can forgive.”

“Through God’s grace I can trust God.”

“By grace I am saved.”

“From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

This week I will be heading to Decorah, Iowa, for an event and fundraiser I have been working on called “Lespwa fe nou viv,” which translates in English to “Hope Makes Us Live.”  Essentially it is a concert where music is shared, life is celebrated, and people are remembered, especially people who died in the Haiti earthquake four years ago.

As far as I know all of the women I interviewed lived, but 300,000 others died, including my husband Ben.  It is a strange and necessary thing for me and for all of us to think about the grace of God in our lives this week and every week.  I have found that God’s grace most profoundly comes to us in times of sorrow and suffering.

I have been thinking a lot about a song Ben wrote called “Grace.”  In it he lays out how he thinks about God in his life and grace that is mystery, yet a part of us.

 GRACE   (Listen to “Grace”)

 Struggling to live my life simultaneously saint and sinner

Struggling to live my life understanding your nature

All the power streams down in your glory

Confusing ‘cause there’s nothing I can do to be with you

It’s all, it’s all grace (2x)

Beginning to understand all there is about you will never be learned

Beginning to see my eternity can never be earned

Beginning to see that all good things are reflections

All good things are reflected off of you

It’s all, it’s all grace (2x)

All the love you show, the love you give, it’s all grace

Help us see your grace

Every sermon I open by saying, “Grace and peace to you…”  God’s grace and peace are offered to you.  Grace is always meant to be given and shared.  May our prayer today be, “Help us see your grace, O God.”