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Draw the Circle Wide: Ripples of Grace

Grace is an interesting thing. It has the amazing power to utterly transform us getting us to do things we would never dream of doing initially….. on our own. Through the lens of Grace we see things in a new and different light. Sometimes we are finally able to laugh at ourselves accepting our own idiotic tendencies.

There is a quote on retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong’s webpage……

“I am indebted to Butch Hancock, a musician with a group called “The Flatlanders,” for this bit of wisdom from West Texas:

“Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things:

One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell.

The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.”

Transformative. Illuminating Grace.

This weekend I, along with 20+ other odd folks, have been sitting in OWL (Our Whole Lives) trainings learning how to engage one another in talks about our lives holistically, especially focusing in on our sexual lives.

This piece of us that is responsible for our own procreation, that brings us such great exhilaration and joy at times, is also responsible for some of the most damaging and painful parts of our lives as well.

How do we take something that is so amazingly blessed and beautiful – our sexuality – turning it into something filthy, hurtful and traumatic?

The good news is that – if and when – we allow God’s grace back into the situation, healing, renewal and new life begin one more time. This is the Easter message.

And, telling you that I’ve been in and am currently in (I escaped for this brief hour) an OWL training……..This is your fair warning that at some point in our future we will be publicizing and encouraging you to engage in conversations about our sexuality and all things inclusive of sex ….. and the conversations will not just be for our young folk. Mary McKinney and I have been in the young adult (18-35) and adult (over 35) version.

Our worship series theme is “Draw the Circle Wide.” Let us draw wide the circles of our conversations as well.

Yesterday we attempted to define love using Sternberg’s Triangle theory comprising passion, intimacy and commitment. Then we followed this up with, interestingly, reducing our sexual risk through the use of condoms. This was all after a visit to the world of gender identity, orientation, attraction, sexual roles and addressing ALL of the CURRENT 21st Century understanding and names of our sexuality.

Grace. Drawing the Circle wider in our understandings of the different manifestations, naming and identities around one’s sexuality can only be accomplished with abundant grace.

In Peter’s day it was about cleanness……the type of people you hung out with, the clothing you wore, the work you did, the days of the week you worked or didn’t and our story today was about the types of food you ate.

  • Were you clean or unclean?
  • Were you following the Jewish Levitical code handed down from years of traditional teaching that attempted to get you to live out your life in specific ways defined as holy?
  • Or, were you living unclean and totally sinful lives eating shellfish, wearing clothes made from multiple materials, spending time with folks NOT from YOUR clan nor tribe (i.e. Your people) but foreigners, or God-forbid, even marrying them?
  • Or maybe, you were breaking the code calling for absolutely no work on the Sabbath – not even making your bed. So, all of you who made your bed this morning, washed your dishes and drove here, I am so sorry, but you have just broken a number of God’s laws. Shameful! Disgusting! I hope you are prepared to offer all number of sacrifices to atone for these dreadful sins that you have committed — already today. I will not mention what you did yesterday or last week…….

Grace needs to ripple out all over.

I sat there yesterday during the training listening to our conversations regarding kissing, fingers, genitals, penetration, safety and wholeness wondering if any of this had even been considered in the Jewish Levitical Code that defined purity and cleanness.


Grace upon grace upon grace.

John Wesley founding leader of our Methodist faith tradition went further into defining and naming grace as either prevenient grace, justifying grace or sanctifying grace offering us concepts of the transformative cycle of grace.

Prevenient grace is that grace we are not necessarily conscious of as it woos us, flirts with us and opens our hearts of passion into a passion of God-consciousness. It is this prevenient grace that draws us into circles of love, peace, hope, forgiveness and kindness. We begin to be aroused or passionate about or by God’s love for us. We hear stories of God knowing the numbers of hairs on our head, of God creating the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, the oceans and the seas, raising the mountains out of the prairies……….all for us and we begin to notice how small we are in the midst of the grand creation and hear the Psalmist say in the 8th Psalm……especially as we celebrate Earth Day this week…..

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

    the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

    mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

    you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

    and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

……what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

mortals, that you care for them?

Grace. Abundant Grace rippling out all over.

Next in Wesley’s cycle is justifying grace. This grace is about saying “Yes” to the invitation to accept this God-given offer of extravagant love, welcome and blessing – this transformative power that melts away our hardness, that softens our anger, that calls us to forgiveness, that offers us an invitation to accept the full force raining down around us daily of loving blessings……if we would only stop living in the pain, frustration and annoyances of our humanity and see the Divine happenings all around us.

Last night as the opening song began the Watauga High School spring musical “Oklahoma!” — Curly, played by Josh Hobbs made his entrance into the back of the auditorium singing the opening song “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!” It sounded great…..where I was sitting. But, to Director Ms. Sarah Miller’s ears, it wasn’t right. In mid-song, at an appropriate pause she stands up and calls for a “re-do” – a “mulligan” – saying “Josh sang so well I think everybody outta be able to hear it. Don’t you think? Let’s get the sound system working correctly.”

And so, after who knows how many hours practicing and two live performances, in his last, third performance……..Josh starts over … with his mic on so that everyone could hear him, appreciating and delighting in the blessings his voice offered, ALL OF US were offered the hospitality of music….the gift of song.

Grace. Abundant grace. No arguing. No blaming. No shaming. No accusing. No whining. No complaining. Nope. Only……. Let’s try this again…. Once more.

The work of Wesley’s third phase of Sanctifying Grace begins. Allowing ourselves to become God’s true creation molded, shaped, transformed into God’s vision for us.

This part of grace is truly where the rubber hits the road doing the hard work of molding the clay into the shapes able to contain all of God’s blessings, love, peace and forgiveness in such a way that it will NOT stay in the container. No. God’s grace will begin to ooze out all over from our lives rippling out to those whom we encounter.

But, let’s be honest. Being sanctified is a process. Amazing writer, mother of eight, editor and octogenarian Phyllis Tickle writes about reading and studying the teachings of Jesus…… “when you truly began to realize what he was saying you really need to drink two fingers of a fifth just to get to the next line.”

  • Jesus calls for the holders of other’s people’s debt to forgive all their debt.
  • Jesus calls for the rich young ruler to sell all of his possessions and follow him.
  • Jesus tells the would-be followers to let the dead bury their dead…leave that funeral stuff for another. Come follow me.
  • Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven will grow us like the plant growing from a mustard seed — a weed. Who wants to become a weed? Unwanted?
  • Jesus tells his followers to go two by two preaching and teaching. Keep going to each household. If the household is unagreeable, well, just dust your feet off and keep walking.
  • Jesus says you think that levitical code is hard, that the ten commandments are hard…..I tell you to not even look at another’s spouse with lust. You are committing adultery just by looking at another with lust.
  • You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. [Matthew 5]

How do you obey all of these?

Grace. Ripples of Grace moving wider and wider and wider.

Sanctifying Grace shapes us into God’s disciples when we allow God’s prevenient grace to draw us in through our passions and intimacy inviting us to say ‘Yes’ through God’s justifying grace.

Grace. Ripples of Grace moving wider and wider and wider.

Some of us are more prone to need perfection, to hold ourselves to an incredibly high standard and then we expect this amazingly high standard of perfection for each of those around us. This isn’t good, bad, right, or wrong. It just is.

And, it’s ok for those of you who toil, worry, stress, need perfection, need things a certain way — let yourselves and those around you off the hook from time to time– know that Grace abounds for you……

Grace transforms as it ripples out. Cat Stevens, who most of know of as the gracious offerer of “Moon Shadow” and “Morning Has Broken,” also wrote a short ditty – compact, to the point song of his own transformative moment.

Let us take a listen to Grace rippling Out All Over as Circles are drown Wider.

“The Wind