Pecan pie. That’s what I thought about as I was reading today’s gospel (John 1:1-18) and preparing for this sermon. I thought about pecan pie. I know, it’s a strange connection but stick with me. It’s not as much of a half-baked idea as it sounds.
A couple days before Christmas Cyndy and I were at HEB, our local grocery store. There was a large display of pies near the entrance. One of the managers was standing next to it. As I walked by he said, “Don’t you want a pie? They’re really good.” I shook my head and said, “No, thank you,” thinking to myself, They really do look good.
As I walked away he said, “Are you sure? It’s free.” Free? I said to myself. Nothing is free. There’s got to be a catch: buy one get one free, fill out a survey, something. As I turned back toward him I said, “What do you mean?” “It’s on us,” he said, “have a pie.”
“Well, ok, pecan please.”
Free doesn’t compute in a world in which you are expected to pay for what you get. It doesn’t add up in a world in which you are supposed to earn and deserve what you have. Free just doesn’t make sense (or dollars) in a world in which you must pay off your debts, and return the favor. This isn’t, however, only about money. It’s also about the expectations and transactions in the relationships we have with each other. It’s also about how we love. It’s also about how we perceive our standing with God, our assumptions about how God works, and the way we sometimes pray.
If it’s difficult to trust and believe in a free pecan pie how much more difficult is it to open ourselves and receive “grace upon grace?” Maybe that’s what today’s gospel is getting at when it says, “And his own people did not accept him.” Maybe “grace upon grace” sounds too good to be true, and you know what they say about something that sounds too good to be true.
I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with grace. I suspect we all do to some degree. I’m not sure we know how to be grace-full. I want to illustrate that struggle with an imaginary conversation between Grace and myself (Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, 49).
Grace: Hi, I’m Grace. Me: I wasn’t expecting you. What brings you here today? Grace: I want you to have this gift. Me: Thank you, but you really shouldn’t have. That's not necessary. Grace: But I want to. I want you to have this gift. Me: I’m sorry but I don’t have anything for you. Grace: I don’t want anything from you. I’m giving you a gift. Me: But why? I don’t deserve this. Grace: So. This isn’t about what you do or don’t deserve. It’s a gift. Me: I don’t understand. Why are you doing this? Grace: It’s just what I do. I am Grace gracing. I am Gift gifting. Me: I will never be able to repay you. Grace: I don’t want you to repay me. I want you to accept the gift. Me: That’s very generous of you. Grace: I’m not trying to be generous. I’m trying to give you a gift. Me: I’ll never forget this. Grace: Please, forget it. Just enjoy the gift. Me: One day I’ll return the favor. I promise. Grace: You don’t owe me a thing. Me: I’ll be forever in your debt. Grace: I don’t want you to be in debt to me. Just take the gift. Me: What’s the catch? Grace: There is no catch. It’s free. It’s on me. Me: Surely there’s something I can do for you. Grace: How can I convince you? All I want is for you to have this gift.
Does any of that sound familiar in your life? Where do you struggle with receiving grace? How might you change that? And what would your life be like without that struggle?
My guess is that, without that struggle, we would see, experience, and accept a life of “grace upon grace,” gift upon gift, with no questions asked. In other words, everyone would receive free pecan pies for life, no strings attached. Isn’t that what we caught a glimpse of and experienced this past week? Think about all the gifts we received.
This past week –
We received the gift of friends; We received the gift of family; We received the gift of feasting; We received the gift of celebration; We received the gift of joy; We received the gift of hope; We received the gift of love; We received the gift of our life’s manger being filled; We received the gift of a savior born to us; We received the gift of the Child.
And the list could go on and on. This past week we have received gift upon gift. What if that’s the lens through which we are to see and live life? What if that’s the lens through which we are to read holy scripture and the Child’s life? What if holy scripture is a gift catalog of the Word become flesh?
This Word become flesh is the one who –
Graces our life’s water with wine;
Graces our troubled hearts with peace;
Graces our thirst with living water;
Graces our hunger with loaves and fish;
Graces our paralyzed legs to stand up and walk;
Graces our blindness with eyes that see;
Graces our sins with forgiveness;
Graces our prodigal trips to the distant country with a homecoming party;
Graces our dead parts with new life;
Graces our lives with life abundant.
All that and more entered our lives when “the Word became flesh and lived among us…. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
Grace upon grace, gift upon gift. What does that look like in your life today? In what ways are you being gifted, graced? And what are you saying to Grace?
If you are arguing with Grace, offering protests, measuring your worthiness, looking for some way to pay back, feeling indebted, or otherwise saying no or making excuses for why you shouldn’t accept the gift, then stop it. Just stop it.
There is only one word Grace ever wants to hear. Do you know what that one word is?
Yes. That’s all you need say. Yes.