Homily preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 25, 2011
I was asked to do a little reflection for our vestry meeting last week – something based on the 3 “G’s” that we have chosen as our foci for this year’s pledge campaign. Somewhat reluctantly I agreed to it, and immediately began doing some research – I read some scripture, I read some theologians, I read some poetry and then spent a lot of time thinking about those three “G” words: grace, gratitude and generosity.
I made lists dictionary-like definitions of each of them and I quickly realized that my understanding of these words is, in the end, extremely personal. That’s because each of these concepts remains only a concept unless it is given meaning by my own experience.
So I switched gears, and tried to think of times in my life each of these “G’s” was evident. When have I experienced grace – what actually happened, how did I feel, who or what was the agent of the grace. I did the same for gratitude and generosity and came up with a new list of definitions based on my own experience.
Grace: gift, necessary but undeserved, too big to pin down, no-strings-attached acceptance, forgiveness, peace in my gut.
Gratitude: acknowledgement of something wonderful, an opening up to and an appreciation of something I don’t really understand – this often accompanies something surprising – something out of the ordinary – something I did not expect.
Generosity: a desire to give more of myself than what might seem prudent – a risk – an act of faith, the result of which may be costly, a certain kind of vulnerability that leads to an action others may find unreasonable or even irresponsible; a response to something too wonderful for words – a response invoked by something that blew me away.
Now, I’m not the kind of person who is satisfied with just the pieces, I always want to figure out how things fit together. So I struggled to find something – some event, some reality in my life where these three nouns actually connect…. And wondered about what the connection might be.
Well, it turns out, there are two places in my life where these three “G’s” appear with regularity – two parts of my life that I would describe as grace-filled – two places where that experience of grace consistently gives birth to deep gratitude and produces risky acts of generosity.
The first place is all wrapped up in my kids – lots of stories for another day – the second is in my relationship with the God through the Church.
The 3 “G’s” – and how they fit together – that’s what I wanted to figure out. It occurred to me that the energy – the motivation and the willingness to be open to grace, the motivation and willingness to allow my heart and mind to be bathed in gratitude and the motivation and willingness to respond with generosity, can all be attributed to love. I realized that I can only experience grace when I am open to being loved by God. I can only be grateful when I dare to acknowledge that love. I will be generous only when I take a risk – basing my behavior on my desire that all people will know the God who is love….the God we proclaim, the God we serve.
On Thursdays, at the Celtic Eucharist, we speak words that express all of this way better than I can – and I’d like to share some of them with you:
First we acknowledge God’s grace: “For us you were born, for us you healed, preached, taught and showed the way to heaven; for us you were crucified, and for us, after death, you rose again. Lord Jesus Christ, present with us now, for all that you have done and all that you have promised, what have we to offer? Our hands are empty; our hearts are sometimes full of wrong things. But with you there is mercy and the power to change us.”
Secondly, after we shared in the Holy Communion – celebrating our new relationship with God – becoming one – becoming Christ’s body together around the altar – we acknowledge that something wonderful has happened. We say together: “In gratitude, in deep gratitude for this moment, this meal, these people, we give ourselves to you.”
And now, listen to how grace and gratitude move into generosity: “Take us out to live as changed people because we have shared the Living Bread and cannot remain the same. Ask much of us; expect much from us; enable much by us; encourage many through us. May we live to your glory, both as inhabitant of the earth and citizens of your kingdom.”
My prayer today is that the grace we have experienced through the love of God would fill us with gratitude and that our gratitude would be transformed into generosity – a generosity of both spirit and behavior that mirrors the radical and unconditional love of God for all God has made.
To that end, let’s keep these 3 G’s in our hearts over the next few weeks as we continue to consider our relationship to God and to each other that happens and is nourished through this place.