Grace. For many of us we use this term to define the prayer we say before meals. Gratia, latin for thanks sums up the purpose of the prayer - to give thanks to God for what we have. A very common spoken grace - "Bless us O Lord and these your gifts which we are about to share, through Christ our Lord. Amen." A common sung grace, "Be present at our table, Lord; be here and everywhere adored; these mercies bless, and grant that we may feast in fellowship with thee. Amen." These are very important reminders of who we are and whose we are but there is so much more to grace.
If I were to choose one theological concept to sum up being Methodist it would be grace. A couple of theological definition of graces:
1. English translation of a Greek word meaning "that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good forture."
2. Translation of Hebrew root word meaning "favor."
3. Divine mercy.
4. The unmerited love of God.
I do not think any of these definitions of grace can begin to capture but only when we take them together that we see God's grace for us is to bring us delight & favor not because of anything we've done (or not done) but out of the love God has for us. We often use the language of parenthood for God to help explain this - there are things that I do not like in the world but will do because my children love them (ie when they were little reading the same book every night for weeks on end). To go a little bit deeper, as United Methodists we say that we believe in grace manifest in 3 ways (prevenient, justifying & sanctifying). Prevenient grace is literally the grace which goes before. We talk about the ways God works in our lives that we do not see, especially before we believe in God. Justifying grace is the grace that we experience when we believe in God for the first time. Sanctifying grace is the grace that shapes us into who God calls us to be. Through all 3 experiences of grace the underlying element is God's love for us.
I think for many of us we are good at believing God's love for us most of the time but we all find some time when we just don't believe it, maybe especially when times are difficult. It is easy when things are difficult right now to be critical and judgmental of ourselves and each other. I know I've had a difficult time being gracious towards people who I think are doing foolish things. Except, that is not my job. So today, I invite us all to practice being gracious towards ourselves and each other. I am trying to take a breath before I get frustrated with someone who is not doing what I asked them to do. I am trying to listen and communicate love. I am trying to ask questions instead of rushing to judgment. It is a practice in patience and trusting that God experiences the same with me.
God of grace and love, thank you for being patient with me. Help me to practice grace with those I encounter today, whether in my home or "virtually." Inspire us to love first in all that we do. In Christ's name, amen.