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God's Grace and Our Why



This weekend a team from St. Augustines participated in a Diocesan endeavor called Leading with Grace, which is the study of a curriculum geared toward equipping clergy, vestry and lay leaders with the tools they need to grow their parishes. This weekend was the 3rd of 4 sessions with the last one to be held at Honey Creek the end of October.


We hosted two other churches these last three sessions: St. Paul’s in Augusta and St. Michael’s in Waynesboro…. Keeping them fed and caffeinated and as comfortable as anyone can be while sitting in a parish hall on aluminum chairs for long periods of time.


The last few sessions had been pretty straight forward, pulling from what I learned when I attended CDI, our Church Development Institute years ago. This past weekend however, was different. And quite frankly, it was life changing for me. I think it will be for the members of this congregation as well.


We discussed mission and vision statements, goals and objectives, and we discussed WHY. That’s right. Mother Becky led a component on strategic planning, and she started by asking us “Why our church?” “Why St. Augustine’s?”


I knew it had to be a trick question. Of course, we knew why we attend and love our home parish. I sat there a bit smug, smiling and shaking my head at Ray and Donna and Emily, who were smiling too. Until Mtr. Becky went on. What is the WHY that motivates you to come to St. Augustines, she said. And she started us thinking about the Why behind all that we do in our lives.


And then she said, “You must know the Why before you can create a vision… a mission… and any goals.”


And as I thought about today’s gospel as I was driving home late last night, I realized that this story of the stooped woman who is healed by Jesus has the answer to our Why.


Our gospel begins with Jesus teaching in the temple. There must have been a huge crowd there, it was the Sabbath and all orthodox Jews who obey the law would have been at Synagogue. Envision Jesus teaching, when all of a sudden he calls out to a woman. How he saw her among the crowd is hard to imagine. She was so stooped over. Held hostage by a spirit that had crippled her for 18 years is what we are told. Imagine spending the last 18 years in a bent over position facing the floor, unable to life up her head up, unable to stand up straight and look people in the eye during a discussion. No, she shuffled around in this position of submission, unnoticed, until Jesus did.


When Jesus sees her, he calls her over, tells her, “Woman, you are free from your ailment.” And when he laid his hand on her, whether in the form of a blessing or a healing touch, she stood up straight. Imagine that! After 18 years, she stood tall. And what was her response? She began praising God. She did not earn this gift of being healed that was given to her. She had not even asked for it to be done. Jesus did not know this woman, or else he would have called her by name. She did not have to do anything to be given this grace-filled healing. That is what grace is: God’s love freely given to humanity. It is God’s gift to us.


Now the gospel goes on to tell us that Jesus was immediately called out by the leaders of the synagogue who were indignant for his healing this poor woman on the Sabbath. Jesus was always in trouble with the authorities, those who felt that the law, the rituals were more important than the message of loving and caring for one another. Because to love one another has no boundaries, no days of the week that we cannot do it. No stopping once it starts. And of course, Jesus then does what he does best: he teaches them why they are wrong. And they were put to shame.


What an amazing lesson. A lesson about the gift of God’s grace, and how we, like this stooped woman, respond to it by praising God.


I can just hear Jesus saying, Now I have touched you. Do you believe that my touch can change the world through you?


I firmly believe that we all have had a divine encounter like this woman in our reading. If you are not sure that you have had one, then start paying attention, and you will see them more often than you think. Those nudges. Those things that keep popping up until we finally address them. Those coincidences that well, are not really coincidences. The people that God puts in our paths. Or puts us in theirs. Divine encounters that may change our lives, or may change the lives of others.


Divine encounters that help us remember that we are God’s children and that he is with us always and has set us free from the bondage of sin and fear.


And I think that our gospel then calls us to consider what has tied us down lately. Or maybe this last year. Or maybe like the woman in the synagogue, for most of our lives? What does our faith in Jesus set us free from? Or maybe you have already been loosed. I like to say that I was saved by a man crucified on a cross on a garbage heap in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. I have been set free since then but did not know it for a long time. And I am continually being saved every time I realize I can be free of whatever holds me back, those freeing moment when I let go of somethings that are binding me.


I think then that this is our why: Sharing what we know about God’s grace. Either sharing it with people who do not know or maybe who do not believe. Or do not remember. We can share our own experiences of being released from those things that bind us, remembering that this gift is not earned but is freely given.


Our Episcopal theology emphasizes the gratuitous nature of grace and its importance in the life of the church where grace is sacramentally represented and made known.


So, I say that this is the answer to Why St. Augustine’s. We have so much to share with others, certainly through our sacraments, as visible signs of God’s grace. But we also have ourselves to share with others. This church, this congregation has the capacity to love beyond measure, to embrace others by fulfilling our baptismal covenant: to continue in the Christian fellowship, to proclaim the gospel, to serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace.


As my mentor and friend Deacon Lynn Anderson once said when I asked her why she became a deacon, she simply said, “I can’t not.”


That is what I say about our Why. We cannot not share the love of Christ. And if we know that love, then we cannot not invite others to share in that love. Instead of saying we need to grow this congregation I think we should say, We need to be better at sharing what St. Augustines represents. What St. Augustines has to offer. What she means to us needs to be shared with others. How can we not.


In our class Saturday, Mtr. Becky showed a YouTube video by comedian Michael Jr. I will be sure to include his name in this upcoming Canterbury Tales so that you can look him up and listen to this video.


Michael Jr. is a comedian who spends a lot of his time following his why. He says that the key to life is not to know the what but to know the why. If you know your why, you have options as to what your what can be. For instance, he says his why is to inspire people to walk in purpose. My what, he says, is stand-up comedy, writing books, being with friends.


He shows a clip of a time when he had a show in Winston Salem, NC. He likes to take a break halfway through his show and to talk to the folks in his audience. So that night he met a music director at a school. He asked him to sing a few bars of the song Amazing Grace. It was nice. Beautiful. He obviously has talent. BUT then Michael asked him to give the version of the song. “As if your uncle just got out of jail, and you had been shot as a kid, you know, give me the hood version. You know what I mean.”


And let me tell you, the version that he sang made me weep. I could not help it. The version he sang was full of his own personality, his own soul. His version of what grace meant to him. It still gives me chills when I think back on it. The music director had people in the audience on their feet cheering, giving him a standing ovation. Hands raised in the air. He had touched their soul with his Why. The What was his music. The Why came from his soul and was his purpose.


When the man finished and everyone had settled down, Michael said, “Here is the thing. The first time he sang, he knew what he was doing. The second time I asked him to sing, he knew WHY he was doing it.”

When you know your why, your what has more impact because you are walking in or towards your purpose.


Jesus knew his purpose. He knew his why. The stooped woman found her why. She then found her purpose and that was to praise God for the grace he had shown her.


We too need to be able to name our why so that we can fully walk in our purpose as children of God as members of the larger national church, as members of this church. Because when we are able to articulate our why, we will be so filled with the holy spirit, and so focused, and so on fire that nothing will be able to stop us from fulfilling the vision of St. Augustines. And our programs will be filled and our pews crowded. Our outreach magnified, because our message will be filled with the power of knowing firsthand what we need to do to fulfill the why that God has given us so freely.


And I say, how can we not.

Amen.


Sources

Michael Jr: Know Your Why. YouTube. September 10, 2015. (accessed on 8/21/2022)

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