Eric Hobsbawm grew up as a Jewish orphan in Berlin and when he was 15 years old, he saw at a newsstand a headline that would change his life and would change the world: “Adolph Hitler Appointed Chancellor of Germany.”
Later in his life, Hobsbawm reflected on that moment and said,
“It was as if we were all on the Titanic
and everyone knew it was going to hit the iceberg.”
It was difficult, he said, to describe what it meant to live in a world that was simply
not expected to last.
It was like living between a dead past
and a future not yet born.[ii]
We learned in those years about God’s call upon us.
God’s call upon us was not to stay silent
or slink into oblivion.
How often, this week, have we wanted to stay silent. I know I have.
- Perhaps it was the story of 96-year-old James Leach Miller, who survived on two of the worst battles in World War II but died of complications of the coronavirus in a veteran’s retirement home. Eighty-nine elderly soldiers died at the same location that had practically no protective gear and a shortage of staff. [iii]
- Or was it the snapshot of the St. Louis couple who pointed guns at peaceful protesters marching past their home.
- Was it the story of a hospital operating room and the accompanying research that black children are more than three times as likely to die within a month of surgery as white children. [iv]
- Or perhaps it was the photo of women arm-in-arm wearing bike helmets and masks, calling themselves the Wall of Moms. Federal law enforcement agents in tactical gear are shown using batons and tear gas to push back the women as they protested on the streets of Portland. [v]
And just as we’re ringing our hands and shaking our heads and crying out “What’s happening to our world?” Paul comes by with a hymn from the ancient church and won’t let us be silent.
He doesn’t want our sympathy or pity. He wants our empathy; our kindness. He wants no less from each of us to love the world like we’ve never loved before.
You see once you’ve known the love of Christ you can never slink into oblivion or pretend you don’t smell that fragrant offering of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice. Once you’ve known the love of Christ you can never stay silent can you?
How easy it is for us to forget that we are all gifted; all equipped by grace to build up the body of Christ. By virtue of our baptism we are ordained to be disciples.
- No matter if you are working at a desk or taking care of children.
- No matter if you’re retired or at school, on disability, or in the grocery store
- No matter if you’re unemployed, at the kitchen sink, in the boardroom, the hospital floor, or the nursery. God’s gift of grace is embodied in the tasks of your hands.
Our passage from Ephesians gives us our job description:
There is one body and one Spirit,
just as you were called to the one hope of your calling.
And each of us was given grace
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
And this is the New Testament’s way of saying that at the very center of life:
- there is a God who is not a punitive judge or a scolding parent,
- but a God who gives gift upon gift, grace upon grace.
So when the New Testament talks about grace:
- it’s talking about the gifts from God at the heart of life,
- and it’s also talking about more.
- It’s talking about how our very relationship with God is grace, is a gift.
- Even standing before God is a gift of God.[vi]
There are times however, when we stand before each other, gifted and graced, that things become complicated and messy. Blessings are mixed in with curse.
Paul understands grace lived out day to day. He says:
what does it mean but that he had also descended
into the lower parts of the earth?
He who descended
is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens,
so that he might fill all things.
God’s gift to us all is being able to live out the summits and valleys, the highs and lows, and the very messiness of our everyday lives, and experience our Advocate, with a hand on our shoulder, saying, “You’ve got this.” I’m right here beside you.” “I will never, ever, let you go.”
Tom Long shares the story about a luxury apartment building that’s been in the news. This luxury apartment building is in a very up-scale housing district and it was discovered that some of the residents of this apartment building were actually on public assistance, on welfare.
Well, when that news came out, the homeowners in this very fashionable section of town were outraged. They didn’t want their property values coming down, so they demanded and received a public hearing.
The first person to go to the microphone was a young mother with a baby on her hip. She told her story. When she became pregnant, her boyfriend took the car and left her – left her with nothing.
After the baby was born she was able to get a job in one of the local motels and if she didn’t have the apartment she couldn’t have the job, and if she didn’t have the job she couldn’t feed the baby. And she pleaded for the support to continue.
The next person to the microphone was a homeowner who said that he and his wife had poured their life savings into their home and they wanted their investment protected. He turned and looked at the young mother with the baby and he said, “I understand how you feel, but I earned mine, and you’re going to have to earn yours.”
When you have experienced grace, you can never look another human being in the face again and say, “I earned mine, you’re going to have to earn yours,” because you know in the depths of your soul that we are not self-made people.
We are Christ made people.
We are Christ made people.
Everything we have is a gift of God. Everything.[vii]
[i] Ephesians 4:1-13: I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
[ii] Thomas G. Long. “Called By Name.” Day 1 from Alliance for Christian Media, Chicago, IL, January 11, 2004.
[iii] Ellen Barry. “They Survived the Worst Battles of World War II and Died of the Virus.” www.nytimes.com, May 24, 2020.
[iv] Jenny Gross. “Black Children Are More Likely to Die After Surgery Than White Peers, Study Shows.” www.nytimes.com, July 20, 2020.
[v] Marissa J. Lang. “‘What choice do we have?’: Portland’s ‘Wall of Moms’ faces off with federal officers at tense protests.” www.washingtonpost.com, July 22, 2020.
[vi] Thomas G. Long. “Amazing and Uncomfortable Grace.” The Chicago Sunday Evening Club/30 Good Minutes, Program #4902. Chicago, IL, October 9, 2005.
[vii] Thomas G. Long. “Amazing and Uncomfortable Grace.” The Chicago Sunday Evening Club/30 Good Minutes, Program #4902. Chicago, IL, October 9, 2005.