Halfway through the adventure at Ascenison I realize that much - all? - of my preaching has been about grace. That is not at all surprising as my being at Ascension at all is wrapped up in several gifts.
- The gift of the sabbatical grant from the Lilly Endowment
- The gift of a grandchild that prompted our retiring on the North Shore
- The gift of collegiality in the North Shore Clericus where Brad and I became friends
- The gift of welcome by the people of the parish
- Most importantly, gift of our life in Christ
There is, of course, another reason why grace has been the focus of my preaching. We are constantly tempted to believe that we have somehow earned God's love and we need regular warnings about falling into that trap with all that that involves. When we think we've earned God's love we are very likely to judge others as undeserving of that love. We are also likely to become more concerned about avoiding various sins than about abiding in Jesus. God has not called us to judge ourseleves or others, but to love ourselves and others.
Some of the conversations that we have been having here during this sabbatical have been about how the parish can become more open to the gifts of new people. I put it that way because I think that much of the talk about hospitality in churches focuses on how we share the great things we have with others. It is true that we have much to share, but every visitor and every new member is a gift to be received with respect and thanksgiving. Respecting the gifts that others are means that we don't see them as solutions to whatever problems we have in the parish. Receiving them into the community as gifts from God, we leave them free to discover how their particular skills and experience might be offered for the strengthening of our common life.