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The Gift of Grace

This Sunday our Priest in Charge, Susan Carter, reminded us that we are reborn in Christ through God's Amazing Grace

The readings for Epiphany V January 7th 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

In reading and praying over the lessons for today, I found myself drawn immediately to the Collect for the Day – for Sunday. It changes weekly. Sometimes I read it and go: “That’s interesting.”

This one I read and said: “It truly speaks to me.”

Let me share it once more so you can hear it, as well as read it.

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ

These are such words of release, and a deep reminder that we if we sin, if we ask for forgiveness, it is ours. Point. Period. End of sentence.

Sometimes, when we are mired in sorrow, embarrassment or shame for an act we have done and those we have harmed, it’s easy to forget God’s grace. We hide. But God knows where to find us.

Isaiah’s words today help to remind us.

As a prophet, Isaiah is a voice of God. And here God, through the prophet, is chiding people. “Didn’t you know – didn’t you get it – have you missed the news?” he is asking.

Who we are, and what is all round us, is God’s creation. We, the inhabitants, are little grasshoppers. Those who are the rulers of the earth - the princes - they are actually not very much.

No, says Isaiah. It is the Holy One who is the Lord, the everlasting God.

And lest we get too full of ourselves in righteousness, Isaiah cautions us not to think we are so high and mighty.

Instead, says Isaiah, “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Patience and understanding let us grasp the magnificence of God.

The psalm echoes that theme of not dwelling in the trench of pity and self-loathing. “The Lord,” the psalmist tells us “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

For all of us who have sinned, have been whacked and attacked, those are comforting words.

Some of you know that Paul holds a special meaning for me in my life. Maybe it was no coincidence that at one time I was part of the ministry of a church named in his honor – St. Paul’s.

During seminary, I took three classes on Paul, looking at him from various angles. One was at an ecumenical seminary in Detroit, Michigan - another at a Roman Catholic seminary, also in Detroit. A third was through the Religious Studies Department at Michigan State University.

It became very important to me to understand this apostle of our Lord.

In my doctoral program, I wrote my thesis on Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. Actually, it’s a two-act play set in the 21st century. I’ll gladly share more at coffee hour. But know that I am NOT a great playwright. And, tha play has never been preformed.

Why, why was I so drawn to Paul - wanting to explore him – to the point that my seminary in New York said “enough already on Paul!”

Let me tell you why.

It is because Paul, a man who was an accomplice to the murder of St. Stephen, who ruthlessly hunted down and turned Christians over to authorities for trial and possible death, was forgiven.

On the road to Damascus to round up suspected Christians, Paul was struck down, and questioned by Christ. He was rendered temporarily blind and left to consider his sins.

Centuries later, John Newton, a slave ship captain, grasped the meaning of sin and forgiveness when he penned Amazing Grace.

The words are quite familiar to us:

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me I once was lost, but now am found T'was blind but now I see.

It is easy to grasp Newton’s connection to Paul’s experience. Newton, who became a clergyman in England, had also been blind to suffering and to sin.

Sin makes us blind. It separates us from the love of God.

We go forward in our human arrogance. In sin, we forget the cautions of the psalmist: “The Lord lifts up the lowly, but casts the wicked to the ground.”

If Paul could be forgiven for his sins, if John Newton could experience God’s loving embrace, I knew that there was hope for me, as I acknowledged my sins, and asked for forgiveness.

We are blind. We must learn to see.

With God’s grace, with the forgiveness granted us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are renewed, restored, and re-born in Christ.


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