Grace Note

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Matthew 21: 33-46

Jesus meets us today to challenge us, to confront us and to inspire us with the hope of something new. Faith in Him, and love for his community, and a life directed toward a final hope—all these lie before us in this holy meal.

Some years ago, in our first year after seminary, a very small act of mercy on the part of a colleague began to show me the power of the new life, found in the doing of the faith. As the psychologists say, the heart follows the hand.

We had only been married a couple of years, and had more recently entered the working world. Some of you are there today, others remember those days, others expect them, one day. Our little house was gradually filling up, or being filled up, with the materials of early married life. A car in the driveway. Clothing on the line out back. A crib. Dog food bowls in the kitchen corner. Wedding and family photographs in new albums. It all happens so quickly! Marriage, degree, job, house, child, car, dog, clothes. All of a sudden. It hardly seems real, or possible.

One day during this period in our early life together there came a most surprising bit of information. This news was delivered in the course of a simple supper, as the dog barked and the drying clothes flapped in the breeze and the baby upstairs cried on to sleep. The information was in sum a medical bulletin, one of those little messages from doctor to patient to patient’s family, an insignificant bit of news as far as the televised world news was concerned, just another report, and a report on a lab report. Soon there would be another mouth to feed. What excitement! It hardly seemed possible, or real.

But reality did set in.

And reality did set in, was ushered in, not surprisingly, by means of the checkbook. Ah the checkbook. Stern reminder of the limits of life. Unerring measurer of the various pursuits of happiness. Implacable judge of the ways of humans. The checkbook. Clothes, dog, child, car and all finally had to be paid for, from one source. Reality did finally set in. Both Paul and Matthew, by the way, in their own way, are trying to convey a sense of reality.

So it was in this period of early marriage, the period of judgment by way of the checkbook, when, I recall, a great kindness was done.

Among many other unmanageable expenses, our car needed new brake pads. I did check to see the price that would be charged to have them installed. I wondered how we would afford it. Which is where things sat on a late summer evening, in a small cottage-like parsonage, nearby one of the great Finger Lakes, with the clothes flapping on the line, the dog well fed and ill behaved, and the baby crying to the moon above.

That evening I met with a new neighboring minister, a man about 15 years older than I. We did our work, and then set to talking about life in general. The topic of cars and brakes and brake pads somehow wiggled to the surface, and with it all the manifold cares and worries of this life, about which the Scripture says, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”. This fellow minister then suggested that the next day, early in the morning, I bring the car to his house, where and when he would teach me how to change the brake pads on the car. This we did together. In the course of the morning we also talked through various strategies open to young married couples to avoid the stern, grim judgment of the checkbook. There are ways, it turned out, and he had been there.

I know this backwater tale of an unimportant act of kindness done in 1980 hardly constitutes earthshaking news. I guess it is just a matter of vineyards and harvest, of the prize of the upward call, of the way we ought to be, as people of faith. Such a recollection of such a simple generosity hardly seems worth mention.

And yet it meant a great deal, and hovers in memory, years later, as the very grace of God. Here is one doing what he and we ought to have done. Here is an act of compassion. Here is an act of mercy. Here is something new. Here is what Emerson meant: “virtue alone creates something new”.

Today, World Communion Sunday, I sense a hunger, a sharp hunger in the souls of women and men from all different walks of life. It is a hunger that does not abate with the ministrations of all that position and fortune and plenty can provide. It is a hunger that reaches for God. It is a hunger for God. There is a hunger for God today in the souls of men and women that will not be filled by anything else. It will not be filled by anything other than God. Finally, the hunger and thirst for righteousness—and I believe there is such a fine, fine hunger in your own heart—can only be filled by God, by love, by freedom, by grace. By the faith of Jesus Christ and by love for his community and by a life directed toward a final hope of glory.

We can and will proclaim this hunger from this pulpit. We can and will announce God’s gracious love from this pulpit. But in the end you will find it, or it will find you, in your own experience. One by one. Two by two. You are likely to be shocked to faith by no more than one real encounter with one real act of mercy at the hand of one real person. Or, said negatively, as dour Matthew might, if one real kindness does not point you to new life, will a hundred, or will a thousand? One grace note, rung and heard, is all it takes.

Here is the vineyard, still. Here is the wine press, still. Here is the harvest, coming still. There comes a time when our time is no longer our own. So today: Let your own hand guide your own heart. Act in kindness and you will find that you are kinder too. Act in generosity and you will discover a generous spirit within. Act with faith and faith will find you. Your heart will follow your hand.

We come to meet Jesus who meets us in deed, now, not only in word. He meets us in the central moment of life, the full giving that is real loving, the real loving that is full giving, the offering of life for life.

Are we ready to receive Him today?

~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel

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