Saturday, December 15, 2012

His grace is still amazing

This is the text of a newsletter I sent to friends and supporters a couple of years ago. A number of people said it helped them, so i share it with you here.

He loves us;
he walks with us;
he shares his life with us.
He knows what we are really like;
he loves us just the same.
That is "grace."

Some time ago I preached about the grace of God, and told the people that those words pretty well sum up the Gospel and the Catholic Faith.

In spite of the fact that I went on to say how opening ourselves to God's grace begins to change us, heal us, and turn us into channels of that same grace for others (and, yes, I spoke about the cross of Jesus, the empty tomb, the community of faith, prayer, Scripture and the Sacraments!), the clergyman in charge gently chided me afterwards for "over-simplifying" things. He said that while the above might be OK as a starting point, that's all it is.

Now, I think I can understand what he was trying to say. I know that in our time when (especially as Anglicans) we have to stand up for right teaching in the face of all sorts of so-called "liberal" errors, we feel the need to fill out our preaching and teaching with great doctrinal precision.

At one level he was right. But I still think that at least some of the time we need to resist the very real temptation to smother our proclamation of the Gospel with so much theological detail that it loses its striking simplicity and its power to astonish.

Silvie Paladino, one of Australia's best known entertainers, sings each year for the big Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne. A woman of faith, she can always be counted on to impart something of the Gospel. In 2006 she sang "Your grace still amazes me". It was a real show-stopper! You can see for yourself on YouTube HERE.

Does God's grace still amaze YOU? Does the Good News of Jesus still overwhelm you? Does the Father's unconditional love for you still stop you in your tracks?

Or have you "matured" as a Christian and "moved on"? Actually, it is very sad when Christians "move on" from being amazed by God's grace. That kind of "moving on" is not growth - it is an unfortunate deterioration of our relationship with God.


The Bible is so authentic on lots of different levels. One of these is how it never covers up what its heroes were really like. We have the whole grubby truth about the community of faith . . . and not just in the Old Testament! All the way through the Bible we see the unholy sludge of evil and self-interest mingled with a genuine desire to love and serve the Lord. The very same people of whom it is said that they knew God, walked with God, were used by God, were his faithful servants and even his friends, are shown to have been a puzzling mixture of sinfulness and sanctity.

Yet God loved them. He overshadowed them with his presence. Sure, he challenged them. But he forgave them, and as their relationship with him deepened, he began transforming them from the inside out. That is grace.

Each of us can see the worst of our sins and failings mirrored in the Bible’s heroes. We see the the same sins and failings in the lives of great saints and leaders through two thousand years of Christian history. So we ought to be encouraged by the fact that God’s grace “was sufficient” for them all. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

It cost God everything to set us free from the consequences of our wilful rejection of him, and to restore the relationship between him and ourselves. That “everything” is why his grace is not only amazing, but sufficient. It is also why the cross - the great sacrifice of love - is the centre of Christian worship both here and in heaven where we fall before Jesus as “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”

What of our day to day lives?

Thank God for the times when things go well for us. I mean that!

But each of us knows those other times when we are crushed by the burdens of life, when we swing from a sense of achievement to feelings of frustration and failure. Or when the joy in our hearts gives way to deep sorrow. Even seasons of spiritual refreshing and renewal can be punctuated with the awful feeling of God’s absence.

It’s not really so different to what we see in the Bible.

But through it all, and despite our feelings . . .

He loves us;
he walks with us;
he shares his life with us.
He knows what we are really like;
he loves us just the same.
That is “grace”.

I want to tell you about a well-worn and very traditional way of hanging on to that . . . a way of not just surviving the “civil war” going on inside us, but of growing as well.


Following the example of the Jewish people and of Jesus himself, the early Christians kept using the Old Testament collection of Psalms as the basic scaffolding of prayer. That has continued in the catholic tradition of the Church right down to our day. In fact, Anglican clergy are supposed to pray their way through the book of Psalms every month.

Each of us has our favourite Psalms. And - if the truth be known - there are the Psalms most of us would avoid if left to our own devices. You now what I mean - the ones which seem full of depression, despondency and anger, where the Psalmist even seems to be shaking his fist at God. Yet, when we are honest, we must admit that sometimes those are the Psalms which reflect how we feel.

It is easy to have prayer lives that help us avoid coming to terms with what is going on inside us. We all fall into that trap, and it’s not what God wants, because ultimately it will not help us. Using the Psalms in the way we are supposed to is one means of bringing the whole of our lives with their uneven rhythms before God, including the upset, temperamental and sinful bits, so as to become increasingly open to his grace and the healing power of his love.

I have noticed that more and more lay people are seeing the benefit of this, and are using forms of Morning and/or Evening Prayer each day, with a systematic praying of the Psalms.

There is a little book by that title. In my youth I feasted on Praying the Psalms by Thomas Merton (1915-1968). It was given to me by the late Father Austin Day, who even preached a series of sermons based on Merton’s reflections.

Merton is not all that fashionable these days (and, I must admit, some of my friends think he is not as orthodox as he could be), but recently I was glad to see that Praying the Psalms has been reprinted. I enthusiastically commend it to you, and guarantee that if you read it your appreciation of the Psalms will grow. (You can find it at if your local Christian bookstore doesn’t sell it.)

In one of his most memorable passages Merton says:

“When we bring our sorrows to the Psalter we find all our spiritual problems mirrored in the inspired words of the psalmist. But we do not necessarily find these problems analysed and solved.

“Few of the psalms offer us abstract principles capable of serving as a ready and sensible palliative for interior suffering. On the contrary, what we generally find is a suffering just as concrete as our own, and more profound.

“We encounter this suffering at one of its most intense and articulate moments. How many of the psalms are simply cries of desperate anguish: ‘Save me, O God, for the waters have come up even to my throat. I sink in the deep mire where no footing is : I have come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with crying out, my throat is parched: my eyes fail with watching so long for my God.’ (Psalm 69:1-3)

“What were the dispositions of the saints and the fathers in chanting such a psalm? They did not simply ‘consider’ the psalm as they passed over it, drawing from it some pious reflection, some nosegay. They entered into the ‘action’ of the psalm. They allowed themselves to be absorbed in the spiritual agony of the psalmist and of the one he represented. They allowed their sorrows to be swallowed up in the sorrows of this mysterious Personage, and then they found themselves swept away, on the strong tide of his hope, into the very depth of God. ‘’But to you, Lord, I make my prayer : at an acceptable time, answer me, O God, in your abundant goodness: and with your sure deliverance.’ (vv13,14)

“So, in the end, all sorrow turns to triumph and to praise: ‘And I will praise the name of God in a song: and glorify him with thanksgiving . . . for God will save Zion : he will rebuild the cities of Judah’ (vv32-37).”

All that is grace!

May the Lord bless you and keep you.


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