A sermon preached at St. George’s Anglican Church, Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, March 18 2018.
Lent 5 – Year B
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
I became a Christian one summer at camp. I was 17 that summer, and finally old enough to graduate from being a camper to being, finally, camp staff – a wrangler – one of those cool older kids everyone looked up to.
But I wasn’t yet a Christian.
When I first went to Pioneer camp when I was 12, we had no idea it was a Christian camp. All we knew is that it had a fantastic riding program, and that’s all I cared about. But I was a self-declared atheist at that time. I pushed back against participating in anything too Christian, since I believed, thanks to my father, that all Christians wanted was to brainwash me. Well, I was determined not to be brainwashed!
So I pushed back against the Christian stuff at camp, and got the most out of the horsey stuff. By the end of that first summer, all I wanted was to come back again next year. And slowly over the years, the Christian stuff bothered me less and less. I actually came to like it a little bit (secretly). I came to love singing the Christian songs around the campfire, and how friendly everyone was. And slowly, the Christian stuff started accompanying me home. A little more of it stuck around for a little longer every year: praying, reading Scripture, singing the songs quietly to my self, thinking about faith.
Finally I was old enough to go as a wrangler – everyone knew me from all the years I’d been a camper, and so they took a risk on me and let me volunteer without a statement of faith, without a letter of reference from my pastor, and without any solid assurances I wouldn’t ruin the budding faith of the campers. But they took me anyway – and their risky decision changed my whole life.
Oddly enough, it was the morning staff meeting that did it. Every single morning, the staff and volunteers gathered together to read Scripture and pray for one another. And they showed me, without meaning to, something about the Christian tradition I’d never before known: that being Christian is a very beautiful daily journey of learning about and living God’s grace, which is active, every moment, in our lives.
Every morning, I watched, silently, as people spoke about the challenges they faced from the day before: managing a difficult camper while living out the grace of the Gospel; atoning for an unpleasant comment by managing stress differently; keeping courage while waiting for news from home about a medical test; caring for a child who seemed very clearly to be neglected at home. Every morning they spoke about their challenges as challenges of faith; and every morning they prayed for one another, and for God’s grace to strengthen them.
Day after day, I came to understand how Christianity wasn’t about brainwashing others; it was about learning, step by step, how to live into Christ’s love at work in our lives, and at work in the circumstances we face, whether good or bad. Day after day they showed me the most beautiful heart of the Christian tradition; and day after day they opened my heart to Christ.
What they were modelling to me, that summer at Pioneer Lodge was sanctification: the journey each of us is invited to take, in Christ.
Throughout Lent, we’ve been looking at some of the ancient words of the Christian tradition; words which over time have become distorted; their beauty undermined. Sanctification too is a word which needs healing, because, very unfortunately, we’ve clouded the distinction between earning God’s favour by our special efforts to be good (works righteousness); and expressing the grace and love of God in our lives through our living and learning and doing (sanctification). And it’s an extremely important distinction to make.
It’s an extremely important distinction to make because it all hinges on how we understand God’s grace to be active in our lives. And when we understand that God’s grace is infinite and eternal – and unstoppable – and nothing we can do can interfere with God’s determination to be gracious… then we are liberated to try living out that grace in our lives. Then we are liberated to try walking deeper and deeper into God’s grace, so we see it and feel it and live it more and more completely.
There are two great movements of the Christian story: that God loves us so much that he became flesh and dwelt among us, and gave his life for us AND that God invites us on a journey. God meets us where we are, exactly where we are, exactly who we are – God meets us with love. And God invites us on a journey to grow, to be changed, to step deeper and deeper into the world as Jesus sees it; to step deeper and deeper into the magnificent selves God believes we can become; to step, day by day, moment by moment to become partners, cooperating with God in his vision for a better world.
That is the story we are invited into as Christians. God’s grace is a free gift, ours whether we take any steps to grow in faith or not. But there is so much more beauty to experience; there is so much more beauty to see in ourselves and so much more beauty to see in one another; there is so much more opportunity in the world and in our lives than we can ask for or imagine.
That summer at camp, I finally saw the invitation God was holding out to me: an invitation tailored specifically for me, for my life, for my journey, for my personality – tailored in love: an invitation to a life of more love and more grace than I could ever fully understand. And every day, God offers a new invitation; every moment, in fact. A new invitation, perfectly tailored, to take the next step deeper, and immerse myself another inch – or another millimeter – in God’s incredible, overwhelming grace. An invitation to grow more beautiful in faith, and shine that beauty into the world, so the world glows just a little more brightly.
God’s love for us needs no earning; it surrounds us on every side. God is merely waiting, hopeful, for the next moment when we open our hearts, ready to receive the next invitation God offers, and to step more deeply into grace.
As we prepare ourselves to enter into the story of Christ’s last days of ministry, and his death and his resurrection, may our hearts be opened to the grace and love of God, ready to flow in, and may we trust the call to sanctification God wishes us to hear.