Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Struggle of Wonderful Grace

Grace is a powerful force.
It changes lives.
It helps us see beauty in unusual places.
It sets us free.
It is wonderful.
But it always comes with struggle, with pain, with loss.
We forget this about grace.
We want it to come to us easily, without the other parts.
We want it to be a magical pill that cures all our ills.
We want it to be instantaneous.
The faith of God's grace given in Jesus Christ is about a story.
It is about our story interacting with God's story of redemption and love.
I want to encourage all of us this morning to think about our stories.
And to think about how the pain, sin, loss, heartache, and struggles of our lives lead us to know God's grace.

Our stories cannot just be about the end result.
It has to incorporate the other parts, even the ugly parts, the parts we don't want to talk about.
I was talking to someone a couple of weeks ago.
He was a believer at one point in his life, but doesn't currently..
He  wanted to know from me why God had let some bad things happen in his life.
Why had God allowed his father to die?
Why had God allowed him to become an alcoholic?
Why had God not done a better job of caring for him in his life?
What I couldn't explain to him was that all of those things were not of God's making.
But that if he would have looked at his life he would have seen grace.
He would have seen Jesus in his recovery.
He would have seen Jesus in helping him to deal with his father's death.
Those darker turns of his life would have been part of his story that lead him to see Jesus' grace.
We have to go through hell to get to heaven.
In John's Gospel the lifting up of Jesus into glory is both his death on a cross and his resurrection.
Those thing go together.
It is in the death, pain, and heartache that we experience the wonder of the resurrection.
Any story of one's faith has to consider that we experience grace only in those times when we think it is not possible.

We have confused this.
We think that forgiveness comes without confession.
That grace comes without the struggle that goes with wondering why we are here in this moment.

The story can't be.
I did nothing wrong and I am wondering where is God's grace.
The story can't be.
Nothing bad has ever happened to me and now I know God's grace.
The story can't be.
I did nothing wrong now forgive me.

Any faith story has to be more complex.
It is twisted with dying and rising.
It is twisted with sin and redemption.
It is twisted with pain and relief.
It is twisted with struggle.

Recently it came to light that the President of the United Lutheran Seminary didn't put on her application that she was the executive director of a group that worked on "conversion therapy".
For those that don't know conversion therapy is an evil thing, that tries to convert people from being gay into being straight.
It is illegal in many states.
She was the executive director of this group 20 years ago.
Eventually someone found out about it.
There were people saying, "This happened a long time ago. A lot of people used to believe in this. She has changed her mind. Let's just let it go."
My problem is that she never made this part of her life part of her faith story.
It was probably a great story.
All of us have things we used to believe in that we find out later are not good.
All of us have things we have to change about ourselves.
She wanted the grace without the hard work that goes with confession, forgiveness, and understanding of who we really are.

This is what Jesus always confronts us with.
I find it weird that in our Gospel this morning Jesus doesn't really answer the Greeks.
When they ask to see him he doesn't say, "Sure come on in."
Instead he says, "If you really want to see me here is what it means."
It means that you will see me die and resurrected.
To understand me is to know that this will then be your story.
It will mean that glory comes through the hard and uncomfortable work of dying and rising.
It means giving of your life.
That you will have to wrestle with that as long as you are alive.

Isn't that the truth.
Wouldn't it be easier to not have to confront ourselves.
To not have to ask hard questions of our past.
To not have to wonder about who we are, and why we do the things we do.
Wouldn't it just be easier to live a life without care.
Don't worry about who we hurt, or why we do what we do.
Just do what feels good to you.
Just do what you think and believe.
Never have to confront yourself or the world around you.
That sounds like a pretty easy life, it is not a life of faith in Jesus Christ.
That life has costs, it has struggle in those deep questions of who we are and what we are about.

Why do it?
Because the payoff is grand.
Grace is so wonderful and beautiful.
It is so freeing.
It frees us from things we don't even know hold us back.
It frees us from having to hold onto so much resentment, and anger, and shame.
Like the man who came to see me who had lived through so much.
How much would he be able to let go of if he could see his life through death and resurrection, through confession and grace.

Mostly to herself.
She had not done the work of making her life story part of her faith journey.
I pray that she will.
Because I know that on the other side is grace.
The other side is the one who was lifted up so that the whole world would be drawn to God's grace.

May your story follow the story of one who gave his life so that we might have ours.
May your story be one of pain, sin, heartache, suffering, and loss.
So that you might know the glory of God's grace.

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