Tag Archives: grace

Standing on the ground of grace (Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B, 18 March 2012)

Standing on the ground of grace

Readings
Ephesians 2.1-10
John 3.14-21

Grace.

It’s a word we hear in church often. We hear it outside of church too—we speak of a dancer who dances with a certain grace, a certain beauty and delicacy. People say grace before a meal. If someone offends another, they may have the grace to apologise. You may receive a year’s grace before you must pay a debt—but if you don’t pay, you’ll fall from grace. And if Kate Middleton were ever to come here, she’d want you to call her ‘Your Grace’. It’s a very positive word!

Yet grace has another kind of positive meaning when St Paul says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…

Here, the word ‘grace’ means something greater and grander than any of the other ways we use it.

Grace is a great word, one of the greatest in the whole of the scriptures. We read in John’s Gospel chapter one that ‘grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’:

the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And Paul says in Romans,

since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…

Jesus Christ has brought us grace upon grace; grace is the very ground on which we stand.

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Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, 23 January 2011)

Near occasions of grace

Readings
1 Corinthians 1.10-18
Matthew 4.12-23

There’s a strand of Christian belief and practice that talks a lot about ‘near occasions of sin’. For example, the Baltimore Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church says this (Question 207):

What do you mean by the near occasions of sin?

Answer: By the near occasions of sin I mean all the persons, places, and things that may easily lead us into sin.

This teaches us to avoid situations that lead us into temptation. It ranges from the obvious: I don’t go to brothels in order to give pastoral care. (I found out the whereabouts of the local brothel at a recent ministers’ fraternal meeting, of all places. Everyone else seemed to know.) But avoiding near occasions of sin may also lead to things that are less black and white than that: should I as a minister go to the local bottle shop? Some would say that’s a non-question, why worry about that, while others would tell me I just shouldn’t go there.

We can see that what for one person is a near occasion of sin is nothing for another. Personally, I find entering a book shop can be a near occasion of sin, in that I’m often tempted to spend way too much money. You might enter the same bookshop and be totally bored.

Avoiding near occasions of sin is a good teaching; why should we put ourselves in harm’s way morally, ethically or spiritually? I am happy to say that we should avoid near occasions of sin.

But if all we do is avoid sin, we’re missing out on a lot of living. If all we do is avoid sin, we may do no good. If all we do is avoid sin, we may miss God.

The spiritual writer Richard Rohr is someone I listen to closely. He writes about ‘near occasions of grace’, rather than near occasions of sin. He says:

We want to plant ourselves in near occasions of grace, yet we spend all our life avoiding near occasions of sin. Can there be situations that we allow ourselves to enter which will force us to reevaluate everything?

So a near occasion of grace may be where there are persons, places, and things that may easily lead us into further grace.

Near occasions of grace are often places and times in which we are confronted with something beyond us, perhaps way out of our control. In that place and that time we may find God’s grace waiting for us, loitering with intent, just around the corner. An ordinary day may be the time when God’s unexpected grace reveals itself to us.

Grace often surprises us, and it may not look like grace. When the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John set out for a day’s work one morning, it probably seemed like any other. The sun might have been shining, or it may have clouded over, but my guess is that it started as an ordinary day.

Then Jesus came along.

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