The presence of invisible grace
As you know, I was at my parent’s place in Windsor these last few weeks expecting that I’d be getting a surgery and then recovering there. My parents inherited my grandparent’s home. And I have to say that going back there was tough. I really didn’t enjoy going to visit my grandparents when I was a kid because I presumed that I’d get stuck going to church to hear my grandfather drone on from the pulpit. And yet to their house I went. And to church I went. I listened to my grand father’s sermons. I sat through Anglican liturgies with prayers, readings, and hymns. And I spent a lot of time staring at the figures in the stainglass windows imagining who these people were, what they and those who made them, were trying to tell me. None of this was enjoyable to me. It was just something I bore with absolutely no sense it had or would ever have any meaning for me.
And yet a decade and a bit later, having experienced serious and ground shaking loss, I sought another pasture. A pasture that, though it lay fallow in my life since my baptism, suddenly came to me, in a moment of revelation -literally seconds that seemed to encapsulate 20 years - that showed God’s actual presence with me when I had denied him through disinterest as a child, disenchantment as a teen, disgust at the actions of his followers as a young adult. It wasn’t a moment of my accomplishment to be sure. It was actually a moment of facing the possibility of my own death and the actual death of friends. A moment where the passing things of this world were seen completely and fully through the lens of God’s grace; where the depiction of the figures in the stainglass windows in my grandfather’s church - the God-man Jesus hanging upon a cross, where his breaking the gates of hell and raising Lazarus – suddenly burst into my consciousness and the truth of his grace brought all the events of my life – those moments in Windsor, my drive for a team with whom to share in sacrifices for the greater good, my drive for knowledge and understanding of human behaviour and history and philosophy, my hunger for a transcendent underpinning to life, where all of this was brought into the stunning revelation of being held together not by me, but by the one into whom I had been baptized: Christ Jesus.
No teacher, no parent, no reading, no failures, no longings, no scientific theory, no materialistic proof, not even my grandfather, a priest, could reveal to me, let alone move me from wandering aimlessly like a lost sheep. In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells us – first by way of analogy, and then quite plainly – that there will be a lot of pretenders claiming that through their teaching or leading or guiding, people might be saved. That’s simply not true. No one can be saved through teaching, leading, or guiding. People are saved because Jesus joined all people to himself both in his death and descent into hell where he abolished the power sin had to permanently destroy us, and in his resurrection where his faithfulness to God brings us to new life and so a relationship with God that lasts forever.
Whoever, therefore, takes a hold of this offer from God - or as Jesus puts it – whoever goes through him, the gate, and enters the sheepfold, the way of Jesus, the people of God, the Church, will be saved. They’ll come and go – that is, move between the world as we see it now and the world as God intends it to be. And they’ll find pasture – that is, they’ll find God’s peace to endure the struggles of living by faith and trusting in God’s provisions for them, even in this world that doesn’t know God and so can be a brutal, violent, dangerous, place as depicted in the 1st letter of Peter, or today, in many places in the Middle East or Africa, or parts of Asia, or perhaps more accurately for us in the West, a place where God is seen as irrelevant, where churches of all denominations continue to dwindle in size and capacity.
Peter’s letter warns us that the pasture that we find – life in Christ – is not, nor should we expect it to be easy. In fact, if it is easy, we might be wandering outside the gate. The assurance our Gospel reading provides is that whether we’re facing persecution for our faith, whether we are facing our own doubt and struggle, or whether we have actually turned from God, the gate to God’s kingdom is never closed to us because that gate is Christ who comes to us wherever and whenever we are.
Knowing this can set us free from worrying about ourselves – will we survive as a parish and what about my ways and my wants – and open us, as we hear in Acts, to making the sacrifices of our own ways and wants so that others might be drawn to us by our sacrificial love for one another; our care for each other; our way of letting go and giving up our ego driven things, or maybe giving more or learning to see things differently, in order that a next generation might see God’s love for them. As we hear in 1st Peter, “Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness.” And what is our righteousness? That together we might share the light of Christ that pours out and makes clear the pasture of God’s kingdom to which each heart and soul belongs. AMEN