Death, Taxes and God’s Grace

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But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us  even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved…”
                  Ephesians 2:4-5
We all know that old saying, “there’s nothing surer than death and taxes.”  But this year, as we continue in our Easter season, neither death nor taxes is sure.  On Easter Sunday we celebrated Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and today, what should be tax day – April 15th – we celebrate the IRS’s grace as they give us until Monday, April 18th to file our taxes.
Grace – a word that we often tend to misinterpret or misconstrue.  This year’s delay in tax day can help us better understand grace.  Grace is often defined as unmerited favor, or an undeserved break.  We didn’t do anything to deserve an extra weekend to file our taxes; the government just gave it to us.  In the same way, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s forgiveness since we are all sinners.  God, through grace, just offers us forgiveness.  It is by grace that we are saved.
But too often, we also think of grace as a pat on the head with God saying, “There, there; it’s alright.  I’ll forgive you no matter what you do.”  Grace then appears to be God’s acceptance of us just as we are, with no expectations of growth or change on our part.   If we consider grace in light of the tax comparison, however, we can say that just as the IRS has given us an extra weekend but still expects us to file our taxes, so God is willing to forgive us, but still expects us to grow as disciples.  We aren’t saved by grace in order to keep doing everything wrong and make no effort to do better.
Grace is God’s wonderful gift of forgiveness and mercy that wipes the slate of our sin clean and invites us to do better next time.  God does understand when we slip and fall back, but God is not inviting us to stay the way we were with no effort to be better.  There’s a saying from the black church, “Lord we ain’t what we should be and we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank God, we ain’t what we was!”  That’s a good way to think about grace – we aren’t yet the heavenly angels we hope to be someday nor are we perfect in living our lives as disciples today, but thank God, we aren’t the sinners living apart from God that we once were.  The invitation from God is to grow closer to God, to grow deeper in relationship with the Lord, and to grow in our commitment and effort to live as God’s people every day, always by grace.
Prayer:  Loving God, by grace you have saved me from the consequences of my sin, and offered me entrance into your eternal kingdom.  May I recognize that gift, and in gratitude, live my life as your beloved child, always striving to honor you in all I do.  Forgive me when I fail, but give me the strength to try always to live as Jesus lives.  For it is in Jesus’ name that I pray.  Amen. 
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The Work of Perseverance

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“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”      

                                                                                  James 1:4                                        

It’s official – after a very long, very hard winter, the snow has finally melted in Boston! Mayor Marty Walsh announced on Tuesday that the last of snow from the 75 foot high pile on Tide Street was finally gone. Two weeks ago the New York Times marveled that the snow was still there, commenting about the snow pile, “…what the mound has lost in stature, it has made up for in sheer endurance.” Who would have imagined that snow could persevere all the way to mid-July, surviving heat, rain and even thunderstorms?

The life of discipleship is a bit like snow. There are times when our lives seem to be blanketed with grace and faithfulness. And then there are other times that feel like the hot sun baking that glistening coat of faith, threatening to melt our good intentions and faithful actions. We may be ready to throw in the towel, to give up on discipleship and just do life my way. But James reminds us that perseverance can lead us to the reward of maturity and wholeness. If we persevere, if we acknowledge our failings but commit ourselves to trying again, we can move beyond our lapse and move closer to that wholeness and completeness God desires for us.

So if you made a commitment to read the Bible every day, and then miss four days in a row, don’t give up. Admit you’re not perfect and persevere in your commitment, making today the day to begin again. Or if daily prayer was your intent but work and family obligations have filled your time for a week, just acknowledge your lapse and recommit beginning today. And if you made a promise to give regularly of your time in ministry, but haven’t been able squeeze it in for a couple weeks, don’t give up. Look at your schedule and make adjustments so you can renew your promise starting this week.

God knows we aren’t perfect; we aren’t fully mature in our faith or complete in living as disciples of Jesus. But God invites us to persevere in our faith commitment. And as we return to the paths that lead us toward God, we may find ourselves a little bit wiser, a little better able to deal with those things that draw us away from God. With practice, patience and perseverance, our faith will grow and lead us ever closer to the Lord. After all, if a snow pile in Boston can endure until mid-July, certainly we can persevere in our discipleship with God’s help.

Prayer: Your love, O Lord, calls me to respond, to seek your presence in my life and to follow your will. In moments of strong faith, I commit to follow your ways, but too often, Lord, I fall away from that commitment. Other things grab my attention in the moment, different priorities claim my time. Help me, Lord, to return again and again to those paths that will lead me closer to you. Be patient with me, O God, and strengthen my perseverance. As I practice my faith, let me grow in maturity, in wisdom, and in relationship with you and your son, Jesus Christ, through whom I pray. Amen.

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July 17, 2015