Tag Archives: Frederick Buechner

Living Grace

Baptized and raised in the Lutheran church, I have heard the word “grace” all my life.   I learned that grace is God’s unconditional love. We are placed in a right and loving relationship with God not by our moral actions or good work, but by God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ as I trust in God’s promise of grace.

As a young adult I memorized Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.   

Though I intellectually understand this, I don’t fully live into it.  Like many Americans I have grown up with the central concept of doing, striving and accomplishment – that I must work hard to get anywhere in this world, even in the church or with God.   The idea that I can live, breath, and experience grace as a daily gift is challenging for me.

Frederick Beuchner expands my images of grace in his book, Beyond Words (2004).

raspberries-and-cream-bpGrace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams.  Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace.  Somebody loving you is grace.  Loving somebody is grace.  Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial centrality of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace.  There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.

God created the universe and each of us as a gift of grace.

God created the universe and each of us as a gift of grace.

The grace of God means something like: “Here is your  life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.  Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.  I am with you. Nothing can separate us.  It’s for you I created the universe.  I love you.”

There is only one catch.  Like any gifts, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too. (p. 139)

How have you experienced GRACE daily?

Lord Jesus, teach me to live by grace.

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Baptism ABC: C is for Cleansing

Baptism cleanses us from sin. The Greek word for baptism means “washed or cleansed.” The promise of baptism is that all my sins are washed away by God.

But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come – an eternity of life! (Titus 3:4-6, The Message)

And with infant baptism (like my grandson Jack’s baptism) that includes Original Sin.

The concept of Original Sin has been a troubling one for me. How can such an innocent baby be labeled as a sinner? It troubled me until I looked at this picture from Jack’s baptism.Jack Baptism Fam
Jack was born into a sinful world where sin has entrapped and ensnare him. Jack lives in a family system of sin. (For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.) I will not speak for my daughter-in-law Maggie’s family, but I know my own family is tainted and trapped by sin. And the most notable offender being the grandpa who holds baby Jack. Our sin, our brokenness, our wayward fickle hearts will hurt and pull Jack away from God. Or to be perfectly honest, my sin, my brokenness, my wayward fickle heart will hurt and pull Jack away from God. And for that I need God’s grace and forgiveness as much as Jack.

As Frederick Buechner writes,

Original Sin means we all originate out of a sinful world, which taints us from the word go. We all tend to make ourselves the center of the universe, pushing away centrifugally from that center everything that seems to impede its freewheeling. More even than hunger, poverty or disease, it what Jesus said he came to save the world from. (Beyond Words, p. 369)

Jack’s baptism was a powerful reminder to me to once again claim the promise of my own baptism, to be washed clean of my sinful inclination to make it all about me. To remember that God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in and saved me. I need to walk “wet and clean,” especially when I am entrusted to love and hold Jack.

The great and glorious news is that Jesus Christ has cleansed Jack and me and given us newness of life.

Next post: D is for dying.

Lord Jesus, cleanse my heart again.

Deep Gladness and Deep Hunger

The Wonderous Joy of Graduation

Yesterday Resurrection Lutheran honored our high school seniors who will soon be graduates. There are seventeen seniors in our congregation who now embark on a new section of their life journey. For many of them the journey includes further education or training before embracing a vocation or career. Rarely will that choice be a life-long decision in which they work at one setting all their lives.

I have posted before on Martin Luther’s perspective on God’s role in our vocation or calling. Yesterday with the seniors I quoted from author Frederick Buechner,

Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, “to call” and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest.

By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. (F. Buechner, Beyond Words, p. 404-405)

Buechner’s words ring true for me. I have discovered great joy as I grow into my calling as pastor of Resurrection. I see it in my family as my daughter prepares again to be a pastry chef for the summer and as my son works to start a new business. Each of us is doing something we love and in a setting that will benefit others.

How have you heard God’s calling in your life?

Lord Jesus, show me how I can best love my neighbor through my vocation.

Peace be with you

Prayer for Peace by American artist Cindy Walker

Twice the resurrected Jesus greets his frighten disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19, 26).  This is more than the absence of conflict.  In Hebrew peace, shalom, means fullness or wholeness, having all that you need to be fully alive.

Peace is something  for which many of us still seek.  We may not fear the direct persecution which the early disciple’s feared, but we feel overwhelmed at times by the complexity and uncertainty of modern life.  We fear that our jobs may disappear, or our children may stray, or our health may fail.  The news media is unrelenting in showing us the potential disasters we face.  We long for peace, deep personal peace.

Jesus offers peace, but not the absence of conflict or storm.  When he appeared to the disciples, he showed them his scars from the cross.  He had suffered and died.  Yet the darkness of death could not hold him.  Jesus’ death seems the very opposite of peace.  Yet, as Frederick Buechner writes,

The contradiction is resolved when you realize that, for Jesus, peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love. (Beyond Words, p. 307)

Jesus’ presence gave assurance of peace and love to the scared disciples.  His presence today gives the same benefit. 

How have you experienced God’s love and peace this week?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, open my life to be full and at peace with you.

Easter – The Morning After

Jesus Resurrected

Easter is not celebrated the same as Christmas.  Our culture embraces the Christmas story and the pageantry around it.  The story of the Mary, Joseph,  shepherd, angels, stable and baby Jesus is one that many understand and embrace.  Easter morning with the empty tomb and the various accounts in the Gospel as to who was where when can be most confusing.  A humble birth makes sense; a resurrection does not.

Frederick Buechner has written a helpful word on Easter in his book Beyond Words.

Easter is not a major production at all and the minor attractions we have created around it — the bunnies and baskets and bonnets, the dyed eggs — have so little to do with what it’s all about that they neither add to it nor subtract from it.  It’s not really even much of a story when you come right down to it, and that is of course the power of it. It doesn’t have the ring of great drama. It has the ring of truth. If the Gospel writers had wanted to tell it in a way to convince the world that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, they would presumably have done it with all the skill and fanfare they could muster.  Here there is no skill, no fanfare. They seem to be telling it simply the way it was. The narrative is as fragmented, shadowy, incomplete as life itself.  When it comes to just what happened, there can be no certainty.  That something unimaginable happened, there can be no doubt. (p. 91)

The unimaginable has happened.  Jesus has risen from the dead.  We may never fully comprehend all that this means, but we can be messengers of this truth for the world.  Like the women at the tomb, we may be confused, unsure, even afraid.   Yet we continue to have the same task, to go and tell, even on the morning after. 

How has the message of Easter changed your perspective or life?  How do you life in the light of the empty tomb?

Prayer: Lord God, though my mind may never fully comprehend the depth and height of the resurrection, continue to fill my heart with the joy and power of Easter.

Shepherd or Magi?

I was struck today on the similar yet distinctive reactions of the shepherds and the magi to Jesus’ birth.  While both are notified by heavenly objects – angels for the shepherds, a star for the magi – and both respond with joy by searching for the baby, their response has some sharp contrasts. The shepherds leave their flock that very night and immediately go in search of the baby (Luke 2:15-17).  Of course, Jesus is in their local community and they share the news with all.  Meanwhile it takes the magi up to two years to plan and accomplish their journey to Bethlehem (Matthew 2: 1-12).

Shepherd?

I think the two reactions help us understand how many of us respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.  Some of us respond immediately to the message of God’s love and embrace it with all joy at the outset.  We see Jesus in our neighborhood and we respond right away.  We always sense that Jesus is close by.   I would place myself in this camp.  I grew up knowing Jesus as my Lord.

Or Magi?

Others need more time, more thought, and the journey is much longer.   In a metaphorical way, they have to leave their own country to find Jesus in a new land.   But when they do, they embrace him fully as their King.  The journey and the encounter has changed them.  The author Frederick Buechner describes such a spiritual odyssey in his book, The Sacred Journey (1982).   

Neither the response of the shepherds nor the response of the magi is better or preferred.  God uses a vast array of messengers, visions, experiences, relationships and ideas to call us to himself.  I delight in the wonder of each path and journey.

Would you describe yourself as a shepherd, a magi or some other character in the Christmas story?