May 6, 2012

From the lectionary, the texts will be John 15:1-8, about being “pruned branches,” and 1 John 4:7-21. Notable, in the first letter of John, is that little phrase, “We love because we are first loved.” Before we can make love practical (like the sheep in last Sunday’s message), we must claim that “first love.” This, for me, is the core meaning of “Grace,” and as per Ephesians 2:8, which we looked at recently in our Lord’s Prayer study, “Grace” is what finally rescues us. Receiving “Grace” is feeling God’s unconditional, no-strings-attached, positive regard at the core of our being. Nothing we have done or ever can do will separate us from the love of God, nor can it earn our place in God’s holy realm. We have nothing to prove, nothing to defend, nothing to earn by merit. All we need do is accept it, trust it, and live it. It gives us inner peace. It builds for us outer harmony. And it relentlessly motivates us to “feed the hungry and cloth the naked.” We do it as an overflowing expression of our hearts, and not for recognition or “merit badges” from God. The problem is that sometimes, people wear their religion on their sleeve (as I imagine the goats from last weeks sermon). People can become defensive, competitive, intolerant, insensitive, all the while praising Jesus and dropping their dollars in the plate. Before we can reach out and genuinely love others, we need to feel that “first love.” Before we can be confident and self-assured and at peace in the world, we need to accept that “first love.” Before we can open our arms as a church, be “open and affirming”, and welcome others without judgment, we need to do the same within our church family—everyone, unconditionally, no-strings-attached. And that means embracing God’s Grace, freely gifted to each and all.