1 Corinthians 1:3-9. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my* God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of* Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Have you come “home” for Thanksgiving holiday? Or, maybe you’ve just come back from going home, wherever that is. For our family, for most of the last 20-plus years, we’ve gone to Cleveland for the Thanksgiving holiday week. I think most folks know we still have family back there.
I especially remember one of those usual Thanksgiving trips when our kids were fairly small. Back then, on the day after Thanksgiving, we had a tradition of going down to the Public Square in Cleveland by train to see the decorations and do a little shopping. This was on “Black Friday” before it got to be so crazy. On this particular day, we were walking out through the big brass doors of Terminal Tower (Cleveland’s Empire State Building) and there was a television crew outside. They surrounded us.
I recognized the man in the trench coat with the microphone as one of the reporters I’d seen on the local news. The camera was on and he started asking questions.
Pointing the microphone toward me, he says, How do you like coming downtown? I say, “We think it’s great. We love coming down here.”
You like coming in to shop during Thanksgiving weekend? “Oh, yeah. It’s great. It’s a tradition for us. We always come down the Friday after Thanksgiving.”
He was on a roll now. “That’s great. Where are you from? When did you get here?”
“We live on the east coast. We got here last night.”
His shoulders sort of slumped and the microphone dropped. He turned to guy with the camera and said, “Let’s find somebody else.” Now in a hurry, he said, “Have a great weekend; have fun shopping.” And they walked off.
Our shot at fame and it slipped through our fingers. As I describe that scene, it’s kind of funny, but it had a darker side. Apparently, a few days before, there had been a violent crime somewhere downtown. I think someone had been attacked in a parking lot. If we had seen the news the night before, we’d have known that, but we got in late. So the reporter was hoping that we were locals and had decided to come shopping in spite of what had been on the news.
We heard from some friends later that that they thought they had seen people that looked just like us on the news – a couple holding the kids hands as they crossed the street.
It occurred to me later that there probably was a family somewhere in or around the city that was having a holiday that was less than festive. Sometimes, it seems that we remember certain holidays because they happened so close to an event that we wish hadn’t happened. We look back at the pictures and remember how we were trying to smile. The holidays are hard for many of us, for one reason or another.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sorting through some photos and found some that my mother had taken around the time Kathy and I were married. I had no memory of these pictures. They were taken at a family Thanksgiving dinner. Kathy was sitting next to my grandfather; he had his arm around her and they were both laughing about something. When I saw the date on the photo, I remembered that was the year my parents divorced and my father had moved to Florida. There were some people at that dinner doing the best they could to be happy.
It’s messy. God sent Jesus into a world that is not perfect, and it goes way beyond weather problems. God comes to people full of flaws, who have a close relationship with pain, who are trying to remember when they were happy. That’s the point. God sent Jesus to Ferguson, Missouri; to Palestine (where the tension is not much different from 2,000 years ago), to Philadelphia, to Manheim, and to your house.
There are no easy solutions to many problems, but the beginning to finding the peace we all need so desperately begins with a prayer from your deepest place: God, we are imperfect people, living in an imperfect world that is largely our own doing. Forgive us; we are yours.
We talk about the season as a “journey to Bethlehem.” We call it Advent. It’s not so much about us achieving happiness, as if Christmas is a kind of pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, as much as it’s about understanding that we have a spiritual dilemma, and God has sent a solution. We need help; we are drowning, and God has thrown us a flotation device. Jesus is coming for you and me. Got has sent you hope. In Jesus, God came in person to save you. The Christmas Hallmark cards are great, but the symbolism might be more effective if it involved a Coast Guard helicopter! Maybe an ambulance.
God’s mission for the church is always about reaching out. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19) We are God’s rescue chopper, God’s ambulance. There are folks here in need of rescue, but the 911 call came mostly from the other side of these walls. Our mission is out there.
The Holy Spirit worked through the Apostle Paul to start a new church in Corinth, in the middle of Greece. The church started to have some trouble, some conflict, and among the first words Paul wrote to those folks were: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:3)
It’s a traditional opening to a letter, but way more. Grace is the word that describes God’s love for us when we deserve it least. The peace of God isn’t just the absence of conflict, it’s the huge sense of well-being we experience when we believe in Jesus. It’s the knowledge that God’s arms are wrapped around us. It’s experience of God living in you and through you when you have faith.
As we think about who we are and what we are all about, as we think about what our purpose is (making a difference through the love of Christ), we know that this amazing grace and peace isn’t something that we can keep just for ourselves. This is the great Christmas give-away. In a world full of tension and conflict, we want to bring our friends, neighbors, and families in touch with the grace and peace of God. Isn’t that what we all need? Wouldn’t the best Christmas gift be a big box of grace and peace? If we surrender our will – our individual will and our collective will to God – that can happen. We can experience grace. We can know peace.
We have so much to offer when we come together for this one purpose – to worship, to internalize grace and peace, and to come out of worship on a mission to change the community, to give away grace and peace. Here are some basics for grace and peace gift-giving:
Pray. Pray that God shows you how blessed you are. Think on the things that have gone right for you and give God thanks. Thank God especially for God’s presence when life got really hard. God’s grace and peace begins with you; you can’t give it away until you have it yourself. Then God will show you where to serve.
Invite. It’s simple stuff. We are big collection of relationships. There is someone you could invite into your faith world. The entry point could be the monthly breakfast or one of the fun church events we have. Just invite them along. I think a lot of grace and peace happens over a shared meal.
Forgive. It’s a harder challenge, but there might be someone you need to forgive, whether they know you’ve forgiven them or not. When you forgive, the grace and the peace lands on… you. And it can make a big difference in the relationships you have with people you don’t need to forgive.
Give. If our job is to produce grace and peace on behalf of God, at this time of year, when we’re being seriously thankful for blessings, we should all be making a strong plan to support your church financially in 2015. If not the church, support a cause you believe in. The gift of grace and peace happens when we intentionally create the environment for it and put our resources behind it. Our world is in serious need of grace and peace, and it starts with us.
O God, we are so blessed. We don’t understand how you could love us so much. We thank you for your patience with us. We trust that your Spirit will continue to give us patience with each other, to give us your grace and peace.
Keep that love working among us, keep changing us. Be blunt with us. We may never be perfect followers of Jesus, but we can be better followers. We pray in his name. Amen.