As I write this, seven more persons have died because of a drive-by shooting spree. I just read that a woman drowned because of the negligence of a 911 dispatcher. It is unbelievable. We have had 283 mass shootings in the United States since January 1. It seems that we grow more and more callous to human need with each day.
At the risk of being offensive, “Thoughts and prayers” are not going to do it. But if it is not “thoughts and prayers” what will make the difference? What will bring an end to such evilness? What can and will bring about the changes needed for us, as human beings, to live in peace with one another and the world?
Over the past several years, you have been challenged to recognize God in your midst. You have been asked questions like, “Where have you seen God this past week?” and “Where have you experienced God recently?” I am convinced that when we experience God in our everyday lives our everyday lives change.
Being Known By God
This is what I have learned. As a child, I put on my best behavior on Sunday mornings. I dressed up for God and for the Christians around me. It never occurred to me that the church was a place to be honest. I confess that it has taken most of my life to allow myself to be known by God.
After years of ministry, God spoke through my pride, while I was reading a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 7:22 Jesus says, “…many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”
Jesus did not say “You never knew me,” or “You never knew the Father.” I had that part down. I had preached sermons, taught Bible studies, led work teams, help build a hospital, and started schools. You get the point.
Do You Need God?
I not only did good things I was a good human being. But God’s grace gripped me when I read the commentary on Jesus words, “I never knew you.”
My goodness, me being good, was not enough. At that moment I realized that what counted was “being known” by God. My relationship with God was based upon full disclosure. Thomas Merton wrote, “We cannot find God unless we know we need God.”
Since that grace experience, I have grown to understand that my wounds, defects, and failures, are the very cracks through which grace can pass. I once read that God holds each of us by a string. When we sin, we cut the string. Then God ties it up again, making a knot, bringing us a little closer to God. Every time our sin cuts the string, God ties another knot. With each knot, God keeps drawing us closer and closer.
Thirsty For Grace
Once my life changed, I began to see the church differently. I began to see the church as a community of people thirsty for grace. I began to understand that as I allowed myself to become known by God I was, by God’s grace, more able to share God’s grace. As a person in need of grace, drinking from the fountain of grace, I was more able to offer the water of grace to the people who were thirsty for grace.
So, as an adult, as a “grace-filled” follower of Jesus, I look at the world through the lens of grace. I know it seems simplistic, but I am convinced that God’s grace can and will change the world.
Several years ago, Bill Moyers’ hosted a documentary on the hymn “Amazing Grace.” One segment of the film included a scene at Wembley Stadium in London where Moyers interviewed an opera singer by the name of Jessye Norman. Various musical groups, mostly rock bands, had been invited to celebrate the changes in South Africa. Jessye Norman was invited to be the closing act.
The film cuts back and forth between scenes of the unruly crowd in the stadium and Jessye Norman being interviewed. For twelve hours groups like Guns ‘n’ Roses blasted the crowd through banks of speakers. As the crowd yelled for more curtain calls, and the rock groups obliged. Meanwhile, Jessye Norman sat in her dressing room discussing “Amazing Grace” with Moyers.
Grace is a Redemption Song
You and I know the hymn. It was written by John Newton, a coarse, cruel slave trader. He first called out to God in the midst of a storm that nearly threw him overboard. Even though he continued in the slave trade after his conversion, he gradually came to see the light. He wrote the song “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” while waiting in an African harbor for a shipment of slaves. He later became a minister and joined William Wilberforce in the fight against slavery. John Newton never lost sight of the depths from which he had been lifted. He never lost sight of grace. When he wrote “…That saved a wretch like me,” he meant those words with all his heart.
In the film, Jessye Norman tells Bill Moyers that Newton borrowed an old tune from the slaves themselves, redeeming the song, just as he had been redeemed.
In the Company of Thousands
Finally, the time came for her to sing. A single circle of light followed Norman, an African-American woman, as she walked out on stage. She had no backup band, no musical instruments. She walked out as Jessye Norman. The crowd was restless. A few people recognized her and some shouted out for more Guns ‘n’ Roses. Others took up the cry. The scene was getting ugly.
Alone, with only her voice, Jessye Norman began to sing:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.
Something remarkable happened in Wembley Stadium that night. Seventy thousand raucous fans fall silent as she sang amazing grace.
By the time she sang the second verse, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved…” the soprano had the crowd in her hands.
By the time she reached the third verse, “’Tis grace has brought me safe this far, And grace will lead me home,” several thousand people in the crowd were singing with her. It was as if they were remembering words they had heard long ago.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
Jessye Norman later confessed she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night. She was simply a person of grace sharing grace. When grace descended, the crowd fell silent.
The world thirsts for grace. What could happen if you and I offered grace to the people who are thirsty for grace? Consider for a minute what could happen if you allowed your wounds, defects, and failures to become the cracks through which grace could pass?
What could happen if you, simply a person of grace, shared grace? I believe the world would fall silent. Do you?