Graces are not as tangible as gifts. Rather than money or stuff
or skills which we can give away, graces are more about disposition,
or ways of being. Of course, none of us exhibit these graces all
the time, but they’re the kind of things we’d want others
to remember and share about us. Graces are the kind of thing you
would put in a letter of reference, or an obituary. And although
letters of reference and obituaries are places which typically include
some factual information -- such as Jeffery was born on July 2,1952
or I have been Cheryl’s supervisor for 7 years-- obituaries
and letters of reference are also an opportunity to note and amplify
positive qualities: ‘Cheryl has great people skills,’
Yes; ‘Cheryl is an incurable gossip,’ No.
I believe I have said from this pulpit before that I have threatened
to write the eulogy for my own memorial service, just to be sure
that the comments stay on message. Tim reminded me that memorial
services aren’t supposed to work that way. I believe his exact
words were, “We’ll say whatever we want, you’ll
be dead,” which is pretty hard to argue with. Because whether
we like it or not, our graces are in the keeping of other people.
It doesn’t matter how compassionate we think we are, or if
we have a really good reason for being unpleasant, graces are about
how other people experience us.
Which got me wondering if there were obituaries out there which
neglected to focus on graces; it turns out that there are. I’m
going to read you excerpts from actual obituaries. I warn you that
some of these are painful, and you can decide who these words are
saddest for: the deceased or for the family members who experienced
the deceased in this way.
Leslie Ray 'Popeye' Charping was born in Galveston on November
20, 1942 and passed away January 30, 2017, which was 29 years longer
than expected and much longer than he deserved. At a young age,
Leslie quickly became a model example of bad parenting combined
with mental illness and a complete commitment to drinking, drugs,
womanizing and being generally offensive. Leslie enlisted to serve
in the Navy, not so much in a brave & patriotic way but more
as part of a plea deal to escape sentencing on criminal charges.
Kathleen Schnuck was born in 1938 and married Dennis Dehmlow 19
years later. Two children came from that marriage: Gina and Jay.
In 1962 she became pregnant by her husband’s brother Lyle
and moved to California. She abandoned her children, who were then
raised by her parents. She passed away on May 31, 2018 in Springfield.
She will not be missed by Gina and Jay.
Dolores Aguilar, left us on August 7, 2008. Dolores had no hobbies,
made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or
deed in her life. Her family will remember Dolores and amongst ourselves
we will remember her in our own way, which were mostly sad and troubling
times throughout the years. We may have some fond memories of her
and perhaps we will think of those times too. But I truly believe
at the end of the day ALL of us will really only miss what we never
had, a good and kind mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Emily DeBrayda Phillips: It pains me to admit it, but apparently,
I have passed away. Everyone told me it would happen one day but
that's simply not something I wanted to hear, much less experience.
Once again I didn't get things my way! That's been the story of
my life all my life.
It’s painful to hear the bitterness in some of those obituaries.
We, of course, don’t always get to choose our life circumstances,
but we do have some choices in how we experience the world and how
we relate to people. This is what Paul writes from prison in Philippians
4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
. . . in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.” And then comes this
list in verse 8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever
is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything
worthy of praise, think about these things.” And those are
the graces that I mean: those things which are true and just and
honorable and pleasing.
So here is the challenge which I see with graces: first, we are
to incorporate them into our own lives. By the grace of God, we
are to live in ways which are true and just and honorable and commendable.
We are to give our best effort to living lives that follow the pattern
of Jesus Christ, the only person who was at all times true and just
and commendable. Are you with me? Because there’s a second
part. Here it is: by the grace of God we are to rejoice in the the
ways that other people are true and just and commendable. We have
to display graces ourselves, and we have to affirm graces in others.
Maybe this doesn’t sound difficult to you, but it has been
challenging for me at times. When I feel like someone has been unjust
or unkind to me, my natural response is to magnify their faults:
real or imagined. I feel more justified in my injury and my anger
if they are just an all-around rotten person. And when I become
invested in someone else being a rotten person, guess what it does
to their response to me? Of course they become defensive and fault-finding,
and the negativity increases.
There’s a way to break that cycle, but it takes courage and
resolve. It takes more strength than most of us have, which is why
we needs God’s help. The way to break that downward spiral
is to see other people the way that God sees them. Or, to put it
a different way -- which is actually the same way -- we need to
see other people the way God sees us. Sinful, yes. Flawed, for sure.
But seen through the lens of Christ’s grace, which means that
while we were yet sinners, Christ loved us and died for us. Not
because we had repented of our sin, not because we deserved Christ’s
love, but because of Christ’s grace. That is the singular
grace which I mentioned early on. It can only come from God through
Christ because Christ was the only human being to perfectly embody
the graces of truth and justice and excellence which come from God.
So for those of us who have received the grace of Christ, how do
other people see that in our lives? You may had read Ron Nicodemus’
November thoughts in the last Connection newsletter, he mentioned
the Amish man (I always heard this story as a Brethren man) who
was asked if he was a Christian, replied, “We’ll I reckon
you’ll have to ask my neighbors.” Let me put it another
way: if you were being recruited by another church and they asked
Creekside for a letter of recommendation, what would people here
say about you: I hope it would be words of commendation and excellence
-- and not just because we want to get rid of you. I should tell
you, I actually had opportunity to recommend some of you this week
in regard to an inquiry from Don Anderson, who will serve as our
moderator today. It is a joy to be able to say good things about
you -- and just to be clear, Don is not recruiting anyone to go
to another church. What would you say about the brothers and sisters
around you if you were writing that letter of recommendation? Words
of thanksgiving and encouragement? If we have graces in our life,
those two things will match: what people say about the excellence
in our own lives, and our appreciation of the excellence of others.
In fact, if we have graces in our lives, those two things will naturally
increase. Romans 12:10 says, “love one another with mutual
affection, outdo one another in showing honor.” If you think
you’re pretty wonderful but everyone around you is inadequate,
you are probably not seeing with eyes of grace, and you’re
probably not very happy. The more graces we acknowledge in other
people, the more joy we will have in our own lives.
And finally, one more reason to rejoice in the graces which we
have received through Christ: they are free. They do not belong
to one person or one ministry team, these graces will not show up
on a proposed budget or in a treasurer’s report. The only
limits to the graces we receive and the graces we grant to others
are the limits we put on them ourselves. I hope all of you will
be able to stay for the congregational meeting in the gathering
area following this service. Each person’s input matters in
our life together. I think rejoicing is the right tone for that
meeting: for the giving you have done in the past, for the ways
you continue to work on behalf of this church and for the kingdom
of Christ, and for ministry which God is calling us to in the future;
I hope we can rejoice with thanksgiving for what God has done and
is doing. Thank you for you ministry and your service, and God bless