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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Standing on Grace

Romans 5:1-5

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

I lived a large part of my life in California. During that time, I had the opportunity to see the beauty in the state.

· The greatness of the redwoods in Sequoia National Park

· The green hills of Marin

· The volcanoes of Shasta and Lassen

· The rugged coastline of Half Moon Bay

· The grandeur of the Sierra Nevada mountains

· The starkness and beauty of Death Valley

The awesomeness of God is on full display in these places.

My favorite things to see are a lot smaller:

· The tide pools of Moss Beach

· The ripples of streams in the Santa Cruz mountains

· The sand of the beach on the shores of Monterey Bay

Things that might be called the minutia of God’s greatness. Yet, these small elements of creation show us God’s attention to detail and give us a glimpse of how God’s mind might work. We might even say that the minutia represents the wisdom of God, God’s plan for all of creation. Including us.

At times, we all question whether or not God is present and if God really has plan for us. Especially when things go awry, we are lost and wish we had a GPS for life or had a roadmap to the future.

In times like these we are told to turn to God. A pat answer we think to ourselves. Been there, done that. I’ve prayed seeking direction or for God to make everything better. It doesn’t seem to change anything. Recall what God has done before to bolster your confidence that the Lord is faithful and will be this time, too. That doesn’t help, either.

A step further is to look at the evidence for God’s presence. See the largeness of God’s creation – the majestic mountains, the vast oceans, and the meandering rivers. A blue, cloudless sky and the lightning of a storm.

See the evidence of God’s creative and caring hands in the smallest of creatures:

· Dragon flies floating gracefully in the air on their double wings

· Lightening bugs blinking on and off on a summer evening

· The hummingbird flapping its wings at breakneck speed while calmly feeding on nectar

· The spotted ladybug alighting on a windowsill

· Even the spider, or at least it’s intricate web in the corner of the garage

Note God’s attention to detail:

· The unique design of each snowflake

· The complex design of a daisy

· Minerals in granite, each with its own identifiable characteristics

· The fingers and toes of a little baby

Our God is an awesome God, yet his eye is on the sparrow.

High school graduations are upon us. Every ceremony includes many speeches, some by the soon-to-be graduates and others by school officials, community leaders, and a keynote speaker. Some are more engaging than others. Some are longer than others.

Listening closely, there are distinct differences between the speeches of the graduates and those of the adults. The student speeches tend to focus on the need for each other, the importance of honoring all people, and the inevitability of challenges that can’t be surmounted alone.

The adult speakers, on the other hand, often instruct the graduates to follow their passion, find your place in the world, and follow in the footsteps of those who have successfully navigated the post-high school years. You can do it!

The wisdom of the graduating seniors is worth a listen. They tend to brush aside the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps or that if you work hard, you will get what you want. Of pushing through obstacles rather than letting them stop you in your tracks.

Instead, the students paint a vision of a caring community and mutuality. Of working together to create new things or a new way and sharing joys and sufferings in a collaborative way. Their words and aspirations focus on being communal, embracing differences, and working together to overcome obstacles. The primary message is that you are not in this world, this life alone.

These ideas resonate with God’s desire and plan for his people. God’s intention is that we become a community of faith. A people who appreciate the strengths and weaknesses as well as the talents and gifts of others. Those working together with God and each other to overcome those obstacles in the path. God’s message is that we are not in this life alone.

Where is God when I need him, then? A good question that we all ask. One answer could be to review a couple of the basics of the Christian faith.

· We are justified, made right in God’s eyes, by faith. Our faith in God not by our works or deeds

· We have access to God’s grace if we choose to accept it through God’s forgiveness, mercy, and unconditional love

Although these are true theological statements and are important beliefs to hold on to, they may not be particularly helpful in answering the question of where God is when I need him.

Let’s consider another perspective on God’s presence.

I imagine you have heard of Mr. Rogers and his show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” If you remember, he began each show by walking through the door, saying hello, putting on a cardigan, and sitting down to change into his walking shoes. Then he would often head out into the neighborhood to meet someone to learn about them and what they did. A visit to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe was always part of the show.

At the close of each show, Mr. Rogers would put away his sweater and change back into his dress shoes. Then he would look into the camera and say,

“You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.”

Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor. His ministry was primarily with children, but adults could and often did listen in. In his television world, the phrase, “I like you just the way you are” resonated with people of all ages. In expressing his Christian faith, I would imagine he added, “God loves you just the way you are.”

You don’t need to be or become someone different so God will love you. God loves you just the way you are. It doesn’t matter what you have or haven’t done or how you see yourself, God loves you just the way you are. You are always standing in the grace of God.

However, we don’t always recognize that we are standing in the grace of God. We sing, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,” all the while feeling like the sand is giving way under our feet, just like when a wave washes the sand out from under our feet as we stand at the edge of the water.

Let’s turn to today’s passage in Romans to look for wisdom and encouragement. Paraphrasing the NRSV version I read earlier, suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint.

There you have it. Suck it up and suffer so you can continue to suffer for longer. More suffering results in strength of character. Then hope takes over. Hope for somewhere or something different than where you are or what you have. Hope that the suffering will end or that you can be strong enough to withstand the crashing waves. Then you will have passed the life exam and graduated to a life of peaceful existence.

We know life is not a linear progression that leads to a happily ever after place. Rather, life is more like a spin cycle that never ends. The purpose is not to follow a map or GPS arrive at our eternal life goal, and, in the meantime, to enjoy life, and then suffer, develop endurance and character so that we have hope. Then, when our hopes are dashed, to develop a new plan, find a different map so that we can enjoy, suffer, endure, build character, and find hope while we head towards a new destination.

Over and over again. Sounds pretty depressing and unhopeful.

Remember, though, God says we don’t have to go it alone. We have each other. We have God placing our hands on the handholds and our feet on the footholds as we climb the cliff of suffering. We have the hands of others to hold while we walk across the street.

Hold or imagine holding the hand of the person nearest you. How does it feel to be connected to another?

Holding another person’s hand is but a small, simple picture of God holding our hand and walking us through sufferings, helping us to take the steps of growing in endurance all the while standing behind to catch us when we fall. As we take those steps forward in faith, learning to hold the hands of others, we become more like Jesus with each hand we grasp. The hope that develops is not a temporal, wishful hope, but the sure and certain hope that God has a plan and purpose for us. God’s hope never fails.

Imagine standing on a hilltop with the sun’s rays surrounding you. Basking in the brightness of the light. This image is an analogy of being surrounded by the light of God’s grace. It’s where we always live even when it doesn’t feel like it or when we aren’t sure God is there.

Always standing in God’s grace. And God’s grace is enough.

Amen.Standing on Grace

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