Grace and Hope

Thursday of Proper 19

I Corinthains 15:1-11

Psalm 118: 14-29

Luke 7:36-50

Christ Chapel, Seminary of the Southwest

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These readings remind me of two big Christian ideas — grace and hope.

Like with all big ideas contained in a few letters, it can be hard to wrap our minds around all that these small words convey.

But I think our readings from Luke and I Corinthians help us better understand them.

First, let’s turn to grace.

Lately I have had occasion to re-read the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer.

I really believe this document is one of the hidden gems of the 1979 prayer book and I commend it to you for meditation and study (but not right now!).

This is how the BCP defines grace for us:

“Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” (BCP, 858).

I think the story of the woman from Luke 7 gives us insight into this definition of grace.

The story has us assume that the woman’s sins are forgiven after she has wept over Jesus.

But it is likely that she has been forgiven already.

If we want to fill in the gaps of this story, I can imagine that earlier she had heard the preaching of Jesus or witnessed his miracles of healing and came to him for the forgiveness of sins that he proclaimed.

And I believe that Jesus gave this to her.

In a word, God’s grace, God’s favor, unearned and undeserved, was granted her.

Her mind was enlightened, her heart was stirred, and so she wept.

In light of this theme of grace, note the response of Jesus.

“Your sins are forgiven . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  (7:48, 50)

In these words, I hear Jesus asking her to stop weeping.

He wants this woman to embrace her forgiveness and go in peace — to enter into the wholeness that God desires for her.

He wants her to enter into the favor God has shown and to dwell in grace.

Ultimately, to live in the confidence of grace is to live in hope.

Christian hope, the catechism defines for us, is “to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.” (BCP, 861)

We can hear the movement into hope in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

In the portion we heard from chapter 15, Paul offers a summary of the gospel of Christ he has been commissioned to proclaim — the gospel of his death for our sins and his resurrection.

Paul lists all who have been commissioned to proclaim the gospel, ending with himself, one untimely born, one not fit to be called an apostle.

But he says, “by the grace of God, I am what I am.”

Paul is empowered to proclaim the Gospel by grace.

From that, he proclaims the Gospel in hope — confident in the newness and fullness of life.

He lives, working and straining towards the completion of God’s purpose for the world.

While we might not always be able to quickly and easily say what grace is or what hope is, we can look at the examples of this unnamed woman and Paul as reminders.

And we can look within ourselves to when we experienced God’s favor, to when our hearts were stirred, our minds enlightened, and our wills strengthened.

God’s favor is outstretched now.

Claim it and live in confidence, looking for the completion of God’s purposes in this world.

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