Benediction Online

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

God's Grace Enfolds Us
The Rev. Mary Eliazabeth Pratt-Horsley

It’s not very often that the preacher takes the collect for her text – but this Sunday I am going to do just that.. Let’s look at the collect, on page 2 of your bulletin.
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works;
Those words made me reflect on the relationship between God’s grace and our works… But before we explore that further … I ‘d like to share a story with you. It is the picture book story of “The Quiltmaker’s Gift” – which my older sister gave to me last week. She sent it so that I can share it with my 5 year old granddaughter, Lauren.
There once was a quiltmaker who lived high up on the misty mountain. It seemed she had been there forever, sewing day after day … and making the most beautiful quilts anyone had ever seen…
Many climbed the mountain with bags of gold seeking to buy one of her gorgeous quilts. But the woman would not sell them… “I give my quilts to the poor and homeless… they’re not for the rich… On the coldest of nights the woman would go down to the town and find someone sleeping outside in the chill. She would tenderly wrap them in one of her quilts … and then go home to start sewing a new one.
At the same time there also lived a powerful and greedy king. He liked nothing better than to receive presents. But the thousands of beautiful gifts he got for Christmas and his birthday weren’t enough – and finally he ordered his soldiers to search the kingdom for those few people who had not yet given him a gift.
Over the years the king had come to own almost all of the prettiest things in te world – his castle from top to bottom was full of them. But even with all of those treasures, the king was not happy …. “Somewhere there must be one beautiful thing that will finally make me happy” he often said… “And I will have it!”
One day his servant rushed in and told him about the quiltmaker’s beautiful quilts. But sire, he said, she only gives her quilts to the poor and needy… “We’ll see about that” the king replied.
When the king arrived at the quiltmaker’s cottage, she refused to give him a quilt – “You are rich… and my quilts are for the poor” she said.
“But your quilt might be the one thing that will finally make me happy…! the king exclaimed. “What can I do to get one”…?
She said: Give away each present you have received… Each time you give away a present, I will make one piece for your quilt… when you have given everything away… your quilt will be ready”
But I can’t do that, the king replied… He ordered his soldiers to take the woman, and with an iron chain they chained her in the cave of a very big bear. When the bear awoke he stood up on his hind legs and roared ….
“No wonder you’re grouchy – with only those hard rocks to lie on… Find me some pine needles, and I’ll use my shawl to make you a pillow… When she had made the bear his pillow, he broke the chain that bound her… No one had ever been so kind to the bear before.
The king was sorry for what he had done… and he rushed to the bear’s cave in the morning and saw them having breakfast together. He was furious… He had the quiltmaker taken to the tiniest island in the sea… only big enough for her to stand on tippy toe… “Will you give me a quilt now?” he asked… Once again she said no…
“Very well… when you get tired of standing on tippy toe in the night you will fall over into the sea and drown… A little while later a sparrow was trying desperately to reach the shore in a very fierce wind --- he wasn’t going to make it. The woman called to the sparrow to come rest on her shoulder. The poor bird was shivering … so the woman made him a little cloak from her own purple vest. Once he was warmed, the sparrow flew off…. But not much later, the sky was filled with sparrows --- They swooped down and lifted the woman in their beaks … carrying her to safety.
Once again the king felt bad about what he had done – so he ordered his carriage to take him quickly to the sea shore… There he found the quiltmaker, perched in a tree … making little purple cloaks for all the sparrows.
“I give up… what must I do to get one of your beautiful quilts?” “Give away each of your beautiful possessions” she replied… “But I love my things” the king exclaimed…
“But if your things don’t make you happy… what good are they?”
After a moment the king said “You’re right”
The king went back to his palace and began to give his wonderful possessions away… At first nothing changed… but then slowly a smile began to form on the king’s lips… Out the door went his hundred waltzing blue Siamese cats … then his merry-go-round with real horses … As he saw the joy on the face of those who received his gifts… the king began to laugh out loud…
True to her word, the quiltmaker began to make the king’s quilt… Many years passed,… the king had spread his gifts around the world … bringing smiles wherever he went …
When the king finally returned – empty-handed – the quiltmaker went to find him. His clothes were in tatters – his toes poked out of holes in his boots – yet his face was filled with joy… The quiltmaker carefully put a beautiful quilt around his shoulders…
“What’s this?” the king asked. It’s the quilt I promised I would give you when you gave everything away and were poor”>
“The king replied: “ I am not poor – my heart is filled with the memories of all the happiness I’ve given and received… I’m the richest man I know”.
He thanked her… and asked her to receive the one gift he had kept for her… his throne. “It’s really quite comfortable… and just the thing for long days of sewing!”
And so they continued … by day the quiltmaker made beautiful quilts she would not sell … and by night the king took them down to the town … to give to the poorest people he could find … and they both were filled with happiness.
What is grace? Grace is a free gift from God – some say it is the positive energy of God – flowing out to us. Grace enables each one of us to develop – to be fruitful - Grace empowers us to do and to be what we were each created to be – God’s grace enables us to become the unique person God intends us to be.
God’s grace can be experienced in good times and in difficult times. In every situation, grace is given to move us and the world and all creation – into more wholeness… into fuller life.
In the story, the king has closed himself off from grace. He is uncaring of other – concerned only with “me” or what’s “mine”. He is totally unaware of the sacrifice and labor of others that went into each of his fabulous possessions. He is extremely unhappy – and despite the many beautiful objects he owns – he has no clue about the purpose of his life – about his unique gifts and abilities. He is captive – captive to his constant search for that one elusive material object that will make him happy.
The quiltmaker, on the other hand, understands that being whom we are called to be frees each of us. She had skills in sewing, but few material possessions – Yet all that she had, all that she had been given – she used to bring more life…more wholeness… to those around her.
Yes, she understands she is free… so when she is chained in the bear’s cave – she is not afraid - she looks with compassion on the bear, and she uses what she has to bring relief and comfort to him…
When she is forced by the king to stand on tippy toe on the smallest of islands, she provides safe haven and a warm cloak to the imperiled sparrow. In each case… and throughout the tale … the quiltmaker remains free, and continues to be the unique person she was called to be. She consistently allows grace to flow through her to others.
When the king finally begins to share the many precious gifts he has been given – he realizes the freedom and joy that come from being life giving --- While in the beginning he gave away his possessions out of fear – fear that unless he did it he would not get a quilt from the quiltmaker --- he nevertheless ended up giving away his possessions out of love --- and no longer fear.
I have heard it said that deep down inside --- in any given situation --- each of us operates out of love… or out of fear. To operate out of love brings freedom --- to operate out of fear brings captivity.
God’s grace enables us to have love as our source of energy – As we find the courage to open more and more of our selves to that grace – we are freed to become the unique person God has called us to be…. and we are freed and enabled to cooperate with God’s plan of wholeness for all of creation.
What does it look like to operate out of fear? Fear keeps us from giving freely and willingly – of our selves – of our resources – of our talents…
Today in America there is much fear and anxiety about physical and financial security – fear for the future – fear that whichever candidate we elect in a few weeks will be unable to implement life-giving policies for the common good.
When fear and anxiety surround you... it is a tremendous challenge to operate from a place of love – Yet this is precisely what we are called to do --- but not by some super-human effort of our own…
As Christians – we are invited to direct our efforts to remaining open to God’s grace. That grace can and will energize us --- enabling each of us to use more and more of our unique gifts to bring life and light … and not more darkness … to the anxious world in which we live.
To get back to the collect… what is the relationship between God’s grace and our works or actions? When we are open to readily receive God’s grace --- when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to turn to God instead of always saying: “I can do it myself” --- then God’s grace will energize us – God’s grace will equip us … to become the unique person we are called by God to be…
To refer back to Caro’s sermon last week --- with God’s grace --- we will be able to be fruitful – each in a unique way - as only each of us can be ….
As we learn to trust God enough to open ourselves to receive that grace --- then we will be enabled more and more to collaborate with God’s intention of bringing wholeness to the entire creation. We will be empowered to act out of love – and not out of fear – and our works will reflect that.
And it will carry through into all facets of our lives…
Exercising our right to vote is one of the “works” that we do. When we are open to God’s grace – and are enabled to act out of love, not fear – we will be able to truly reflect on how either candidate’s plans would affect the well-being of all…
When we are closed to grace --- building walls and filled with anxiety --- we can’t see beyond the fears that engulf us.
It is tremendously difficult to remain open and vulnerable in the swirl of free-floating anxiety and fear that surround us today… Our natural tendency is to try to pull back… to “circle the wagons” – to try and find safety by looking after only our own interests… so that we are not carried away in a tide that seems overwhelming.
It seems counter-intuitive to remain open – listening to God’s unique call to us – listening to the world’s need…
Yes it is a challenge… Yet it is a challenge that we’re familiar with … It is a challenge that we’ve encountered and embraced at St. Ben’s for many years…
In the past, facing difficult financial times … when free-floating anxiety about our future as a community had threatened to submerge us … we were able – time after time – to trust enough in God --- to open ourselves as individuals and as a community – to God’s grace. That grace energized us to pursue the journey … Time and again… we made a conscious decision to journey together in love – not fear – open to hearing God’s unique call to us --- open to serving our neighbors in the wider community.
As we listened, trusted, and were faithful… we were given … and are still being given … the necessary resources to move forward on our journey with … and towards God.
Let us now – as individuals… and as a community … continue to be open to each other … and to God’s grace that surrounds and enfolds us … so that we may become the people God yearns for us to be … and so that our works… and our lives… reflect the wholeness God intends for the all of creation. Amen

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