Sunday, January 30, 2011

You Holy Hill (sermon for the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany)

The Rappahannock River starts about 1800 feet up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Someone has climbed up there and found the precise point where it pops out of a hole in the ground. How many millions of living things take their life from that particular mountain?

We know that the mountaintop or even hilltop can be thought of as a holy place because its high. Most of us still imagine, no matter how hard we might try to avoid it, that heaven is up in the sky. So a hill or a mountain, logically, would be closer to heaven.

But mountains and hills are also where water comes from. Fresh water, in most parts of the world, comes to communities from high ground, where weather systems form and ice freezes and then melts down through soil and rock into dark underground streams which then emerges somewhere and flows down into rivers and streams to wash things clean and quench thirst and water crops.

Thousands of years ago when the God of our bible was an idea being formed among a people in what is now Iraq, it is thought that Yahweh was originally worshipped as a mountain god. And later when Abraham and Jacob were sojourning in what is now Israel, the places they established for worship and sacrifice were the tops of mountains, the so-called high places. And even later, when Solomon had established the center of worship to be Jerusalem, the city itself was set up on what we would probably call a hill, the "holy hill" mentioned in today's psalm, which is also known as Mount Zion.

Our psalm this morning is an entrance hymn, meant to be sung by the congregation as it enters the temple, or when gathering in synagogue. The opening question uses two images, the first is the tabernacle tent that the wandering Hebrews used for worship during the Exodus before they reached the promised land. The other is the holy hill where the temple was finally established, Mount Zion. And the question is not just who can enter, but who can stay.

The psalm is an entrance hymn for worship, and yet, interestingly enough it doesn't say that worship qualifies one to live in the temple. Worship, the psalmist seems to be saying, doesn't qualify us for fellowship with God. Then and now, some of us might equate closeness to God with spending lots of time doing church stuff. We might see, as do many church teachers, the sacraments as making us worthy of fellowship with God. Getting baptized, taking the Lord's Supper.

Back then, many Jews had the idea that one had to live in the profane world and that made it necessary and unavoidable that one had to get dirty. Going to the temple was a way of getting clean again. You went in, prayed the right prayer, did the right ritual, made the right offering, and walked out right with God. I think lots of us Christians think of worship that way today.

But this psalmist is on to us, as indeed are many of the prophets. He answers his opening question with a list of qualifications for fellowship with God. It's not what we do in the temple, he says, that makes us right with God; it's what we do before we get there.

Put another way, the blessing of God, like the Rappahannock River, begins far up there in the darkness and heights, but it makes itself known out here, on the plains, in the low places, where it spreads out and gives life to millions of creatures. We can call the mountain of God home when we are doing what God is doing in creation. We can live with God up there if we are joining with God down here.

The psalmist asks "Who may dwell on your holy hill?" And one of his answers is "Those who stand by their oath even to their hurt."

God stands by God's oath even to God's hurt. Paul talks about the cross, about the lowliness of God's revelation. God chose the execution of a pretender to the throne, the legal punishment of an insurrectionist, the crucifixion, as the supreme revelation of God's presence in the world. Think of this now.

Many people see this as simple self-sacrifice, a sin offering for humankind, and there is perhaps an element of that. But the reason Jesus was crucified was that he insisted in worshiping God rather than Caesar. He was crucified because he accepted the royal title God gave him and honored his promise to God to be God's servant, no matter what human authority came along and demanded he give it up. He stood by his oath even to his hurt.

He did not accept the widely-held wisdom that you have to get dirty to make it in the world, that you have to sometimes give up your pie-in-the-sky dreams of the kingdom of heaven for the practical challenges of survival. He gave himself to the dream with a passion. We even call his trial and his death his passion, because that's what it was.

The cross is a revelation not only of the fullness of being truly human, but it is also the fullest revelation of who God is, the God who blesses all of creation, even when those God made to be God's image ignore and reject God. The body of Jesus hanging on the cross as a pretender to the throne of the world is the perfect image of how humankind treats God.

When Jesus calls his inner circle to join him higher up on the mountain, he is not sharing a general blessing with the crowds who are following him. He is blessing his disciples decision to follow him, their passion, their great hunger for fellowship with God, their offering of their lives to stand by their covenant oaths. They are entering the new covenant, which calls disciples to do as Jesus did, to receive God's Spirit, to embody God in the world, even though it might cost them their reputations, their security and even their safety.

It is a foolish and a stupid thing to keep one's promise even when it brings one ruin. It is ridiculous to love and honor and bless people that just keep disappointing you. It defies common sense to stand by your oath when it gets you nowhere but a cross. It is the height of idiocy to love people who hate you.

It is, for example, a foolish and ridiculous thing to send thousands of gallons of fresh water down from the Blue Ridge Mountains to give life to thousands of people who never even thank you, who indeed grab your resources, hoard them, and take them away from those who really need them. Nevertheless, you keep on sending this blessing to those who ungratefully misuse it.

But that's who you are, God. Ridiculous.

Who may abide on God's holy hill?

Only the ridiculous.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Seek His Face (sermon for the third Sunday after the Epiphany)

Who are the faces you see in your heart?

The lines we've skipped in the psalm tell us the issue for the psalmist was that false witnesses had risen up against him. When someone tells a lie about us, they invade our minds with force. They violate our boundaries. They take center stage in our spirits and they tend to hold it, particularly if the lie is being believed, and particularly if any of our own inner voices believe it. We might have a whole host of people who have entered our minds in the past with accusations and judgments and they may have been put away somewhere, but when a lie is told about us, these accusers come swarming into our consciousness and raise their voices as well.

Our inner lives might very well be described as a community of people we have let into our minds and hearts. I know some folks who have struggled with various forms of mental illness who describe this very well. I've heard some call the negative, diseased voices in the mind "the committee." They're going along, trying to do something positive, and the committee speaks up and starts telling them all the reasons they won't be able to do that, and all the reasons they really need to do something self-defeating and hopeless.

Depending on our life experiences, we each have in our minds a whole community of people. Our inner lives is really like a nation, filled with territories and the people who live in them, and who we are and how we feel and what we do is then conditioned and shaped by this community of people who are speaking to us in our minds.

These people tell us what is right and what is wrong, where we belong and where we don't belong, whom we can trust and whom we can't, what is our concern and what isn't. You can imagine if you like a crowd around you, a sea of faces, all of them representing someone you have known, someone who has made an impression on you, positive or negative.

Isaiah was writing about two territories at the northern boundary of what had been Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali, the names of which were simply synonymous in most people's minds with danger and turmoil and violence and oppression. Bad neighborhoods you might say. I suppose to this day if we hear "South Bronx" or "Harlem" or "Watts" we automatically see in our minds riots and slums and scary people of dark complexion, even though those neighborhoods may have changed a great deal since the sixties.

Zebulun and Naphtali were like that. The people of those lands saw nothing around them but the evil leering faces of powerful nations lusting to take them into captivity.

But on them, Isaiah says, a light has shined. A new face is in the picture, one much greater and more powerful than any of the evil faces, the face of the Lord, who breaks the rod of their oppression. Those evil faces are scattered like birds before a running child.

In Paul's letter, he spoke about the factions in the Corinthian church, naming even himself as having been identified as a faction leader. Apollos, Peter, Paul, the faces of great spiritual leaders, wonderful people who must certainly have really changed a lot of lives. Apollos was known primarily for his eloquence, his power as a speaker. Peter was known for his profoundly Jewish perspective and his intense personal history with Jesus himself, and finally Paul was known as the fiery and innovative ex-Pharisee with strange ideas about reaching out to the Gentiles. Their faces were powerfully present in the minds of the new Christians they'd inspired.

Even today, depending on the denomination you're talking about, this or that biblical author will take precedence. I kid my Southern Baptist colleagues that all they preach on is John and Proverbs, and I can do that because there's sadly a lot of truth to it. But they can also kid those of us who were trained by the Lutherans, that we can't find our way out of Paul.

The diversity of the biblical witness is itself saying a lot about Christian community. Paul puts it very well: "Did John the evangelist die for you? Were you baptized into the name of Proverbs? Did Paul save you from your sins?" The people who put the bible together wanted us, I think, to see that there are and will always be diverse witnesses, but they want to assert at the same time that there is really only one Christ.

Of course we know even in congregations certain individuals become popular. It's not surprising. Christians in many cases are pretty amazing and admirable people. But it is a short step to these folks getting claimed by scrapping factions as leaders, even when they themselves have no interest in being claimed as such,.

These also are those faces that float around in our hearts, those influential persons who tell us who we are, who we belong to. Paul reminds us that the biblical author or church leader we like is not the person who truly tells us who we are, and is not the face in our hearts we can really trust. That face is the face of Christ.

The fishers Jesus called in our story from Matthew this morning are defined by their jobs and their place in society. They work the water. They pay their taxes. They have relationships with family, parents, wives, children, all of which identify them as sons, fathers, husbands. And they are citizens of those troubled, turmoil-filled places lots of people had given up on. The faces in their heads no doubt told them, "stay where you are, there's no hope, settle for the difficult lives you lead, settle for the early deaths of your parents, the dashing of your children's joy, because that's the way things are, that's the way you are, and that's all you are."

But Jesus comes along and says, "the kingdom of God has come near; you are more than they say. Come follow me."

The psalmist's heart says "seek his face." Out of all the voices, the voices of our parents, our teachers, our friends, our spouses, our siblings, all these faces we see in our mind's eye, the face of Christ alone will tell us the truth, the face of Christ alone will tell us who we really are.

The face of Christ by itself unites us. I know many people are troubled by what sounds to them like exclusivity, like a rude claim that Jesus is the only way. But the exclusivity, if there is any, in the notion of "Christ alone," is not oriented toward dividing people, but is instead focused on this peculiar notion of oneness.

There is no other religion I'm aware of that focuses on the idea that human society can and should be concretely and visibly healed of divisions and can and should be united under the rule of a loving God. There are ideas like that in other religions, but the prayer of Jesus from the gospel of John was that we might be one, one with each other and one with God.

Seek his face, our hearts tell us. Among all the faces in our hearts and minds and souls, among all the voices telling us who we are and who we aren't, seek his face, listen for his voice, for he alone sees us and knows us in spirit and in truth.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Glad News (sermon for the second Sunday in Epiphany)

Adults, we know, don't like doing things at which they feel no competence. That's why every church has a well staffed fellowship and property ministry and has to pull teeth to get people for evangelism, education, membership, worship, stewardship and outreach. Sometimes if you change the name of stewardship to finance, you can get a big committee, but money and business management is actually a very small part of Christian stewardship.

But the skill we're talking about here, the skill of inviting, welcoming and assimilating new people to Christian faith, this skill, like all the others, can be learned, and it can be learned from a person who is present and ready to teach us, right here in our midst. His name is Jesus Christ, and he is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and if we are humble and willing and go to him ready to be true and diligent disciples, he will train us.

The psalm this mornings is a good teaching example of this skill. The psalmist is declaring the glad news of his experience with God to what he calls the great congregation, a great gathering of people. He is, in other words, shouting from the rooftops, not about theology, not about miracles, not about moral codes, but about what God has done for him.

He talks about being mired in some kind of bog, and about how God lifted him out of that bog and set him on solid ground. He talks about God hearing when he, an ordinary person, cried out to God. What God has delivered is safety and security.

The rest of the psalm is proclamation and indeed about proclamation. The psalmist is saying that testimony is the chief thing we do in serving God. We might do all kinds of other good things in obedience to God, make all the requisite offerings of time and talent and money, but the main thing God wants of us is our testimony.

The psalmist is confident that because of his testimony others will come to believe in God. Indeed, the psalmist understands that this is the chief reason God is active in his life, to be glorified through the psalmist.

The psalmist makes an observation about testimony; he seems to suggest that some people hide what God has done for them, that they conceal it from others. He assures God he will not be like them. He will make God's love for him known. And he then asks God to continue to be a saving presence in his life.

Apparently this problem with giving testimony is not new. Even in ancient times, people were reticent about talking about what God had done for them.

I know for my part of it is that God has rescued me from my own sinfulness. In order to testify about what God has done, I have to reveal my sinfulness. The psalmist had to admit that he ended up in a miry bog somehow. Maybe we don't like people to know about the miry bogs in our lives. We don't like people to know that we really don't know how to live in the world, that we fall into traps and can't find our way out of them. I think I know why. I know why because I've been one of those people who very publicly and disastrously screwed up. Other people love to have a screw-up around. It gives them something to focus on outside of their own problems. For many people it becomes the way they avoid facing their own less obvious struggles.

But most of us find, when we finally stop caring about showing our warts, that we feel much better. We are oddly much happier if we open up about our blindness, our shortcomings, our defects. I think Mark Twain said that the truth is easier to remember.

But it's not only easier to remember, it also makes it easier to enter into relationship with God.

Jesus asks "What do you seek?" If we have nothing we need, no trouble to be saved from, no sin to be taken away, then our answer is "Nothing, thank you." But most of us have any number of answers to such a question. And the answer to those questions, the salvation we seek, the freedom we long for, is in going to see Jesus.

And in going to see Jesus, in encountering him in a direct way, so that we can each say "I have seen for myself," may be something that we have never done before. But what is life for if it isn't to take a new journey now and again?

It will require of us the courage to do something that doesn't come naturally, that we haven't already had a lifetime of practice to do. But that's the very essence of discipleship, working hard at doing something we haven't ever done before, practicing a way we don't already know, going down a path we've never trod before.

What we are seeking is our own glad news. At the end of the day, when you talk about our business, the business of ministering to the broken world, the business of bringing people back into relationship with God and one another, we are talking about telling people our own glad news. It can't be some canned theological statement, some set of evangelical buzz words. It has to be our glad news. It has to be about our particular miry bog, and about how our God plucked us from it. It has to be our own solid ground, the ground that God found for us. It has to be our particular glad news.

Don't be afraid to go where you haven't yet been.

Come and see.


Monday, January 10, 2011

The Voice of the Lord (sermon for the first Sunday in Epiphany Year A)

When I was dating, I remember one of the things I learned from the various woman I dated was that public attention, particular in front of other women, was very powerful. If I held hands with, or praised, or declared my love for a woman in front of others, and particularly in front of her female circles, well, that woman would just adore me, as would all her girlfriends. Sending flowers to the woman at work, for example, where all the women she worked with would see it, declared that the is woman was truly special to me.

Public praise is powerful. It gets people's attention. It says something both about the one being praised and the one doing the praising.

We don't often hear sermons preached on the psalms, and for this reason I thought for the season of Epiphany I'd draw your attention to these ancient songs.

And songs are what they are. The psalms were written to be sung, and to this day in Jewish worship, they are. The psalms were written to be sung when the people of God were gathered together. Even though many of the songs use the first person voice, they were all intended to be sung by a congregation, they are all of them meant to be acts of public worship carried out by the gathered people of God.

I think it's always important to pay attention to the original purpose of a biblical writing. While we may use the psalms for all kinds of purposes, the original purpose of the psalms was to be sung in the context of public worship. Some psalms were entrance rites, some were for the occasion of a new king's coronation, some were laments, some were confessional. This psalm's purpose was very simple. It is a call to worship and praise God.

God requires us, commands us really, to praise him. It's part of our job as God's people, part of the way that we make God known in the world. In praising God right out in public, or as the saying goes, in front of God and everybody, we are carrying out a part of the mission God has given us. This practice has tremendous power, not only for the world who hears us praise God, but for us who do the praising.

In this psalm we begin by calling the heavenly beings to join us in bowing down to God and ascribing to God all power and majesty and glory, forsaking all other gods. We then go on to sing in praise of God's voice.

In the psalm, we declare that voice of God is in the howling of a storm. Now I don't think the original psalmist actually thought that God had vocal cords. He is using a metaphor and since he is using a metaphor we know that he is trying to say something even more profound.

The psalmist has given us a way to make a surprising, even shocking announcement. The whole congregation, the church all over the world, says at one time and in one voice that God, the creator of the universe, deigns to be present to ordinary people, that the eternal deity chooses to enter into the fleeting moments of history, that the one who could with a word destroy all that is broken and imperfect chooses instead to love it and gently nurture it into wholeness.

Now, I'm reminded of a very funny sermon Fred Craddock preached about people's terror of saying anything. Some of us were talking about it the other day with regard to our early service here at Philippi. It seems that certain people always do the talking. The rest keep their mouths shut. Some of this is due to the fear of being expected to say something.

"I can do anything you ask me, preacher, but for God's sake don't ask me to say anything."

And yet when we are truly devoted to someone, when we really care about someone, when we really admire someone, we seem to have no difficulty carrying on at length about our admiration or love, don't we? The person who was commenting that the same people always spoke during early service also was terrified of saying anything during the service about God, but in our conversation went on at some length telling about a friend. Now if we can talk at length about a friend, why is it we can't talk at all about God?

References are powerful. They get people jobs. Recommendations are powerful. They get people to visit businesses. Good reviews are powerful. They get people to go to movies or watch TV shows. And the praise of God by a human being is powerful. It gets people to believe.

And if the voices of people are powerful, how much more so is the voice of God. And the voice of God almost always comes to us through the vocal chords of people. The words of holy scripture, the inspired words of a preacher, the testimony of a believer, all become in some way the voice of the Lord. What is awe-inspiring is not simply how far beyond us God is, but that the God that is so far beyond us nevertheless chooses us ordinary folk to speak with God's voice, and to do what God wants done in the world.

Did the voice of the Lord actually speak supernaturally at Jesus' baptism? Perhaps it did, but even if it did not, it was clear from Christ's life and teaching that he was indeed the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, that these writings, these words, this voice of God throughout history, endorsed Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God, not merely begotten of flesh but actually begotten of God.

Do we send flowers to God at work? Do we hold hands with God in front of our friends? Do we declare our love for God in front of other people? In our baptisms, God declared for us, right in front of everyone. He said, "This one will do great things for me." God put trust in us, and at the same time gave us a mission to carry out. Every Christian that gives up on that mission or only carries it out half-heartedly contributes to the growing faithlessness of our culture. And everyone who testifies to God with real words is like the mighty wind that strips the bark off oaks and makes mountains jump, but which nevertheless chooses to move with gentleness and peace among the beloved people.

In the coming week, make note of how many times you give testimony. How many times do you recommend a product, how many times do you speak highly of your spouse, how many times do you commend a friend or acquaintance? And how many times do you in your speech tear someone down, ruin their reputation, undermine them in their pursuits? How many times do you listen to others speaking well or harshly about others? And most importantly, when do you give testimony to Jesus Christ? When do you encourage others to have faith in him? When do you discourage faith? When do you remove the stumbling blocks for others and when do you put them out there like booby traps for others to fall over?

In our baptism, God has offered us God's own mighty voice. It's not for nothing that there are not one but two commandments regarding speech. One is to be careful not to use the name of God wrongly. The other is to be careful not to use anyone else's name wrongly. What we say is powerful, and as God's people, what we say can take the bark off trees.

In praising God's great power, we receive it. In declaring for God, God declares for us.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Grace Upon Grace (sermon for the second Sunday of Christmas)

(By guest preacher the Rev. William Palmer during Mike's vacation)

Invariably during the holiday season, when my wife and daughters get together, someone turns the TV or the VCR to a movie they all regard as a favorite: “The Sound of Music.” As most of you know, there’s a place in the movie where the stern Captain Von Trapp and his children’s governess, Maria, discover their love for each other. They sing a lilting duet, repeating to one another the words, “For here you are, standing there loving me, whether or not you should. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” As a romantic song, it’s wonderful; as theology, it’s terrible. No wonder Maria never was able to make it as a nun!
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with the idea of doing something good, whether it is in our youth, our childhood, or our mature years. But if something else that’s good—such as finding the love of our life—should happen to us later on, it does not come as a reward for having done something good in the past. It is a gift, not some kind of divine repayment for services rendered. It is grace.
The prophet Jeremiah appears at first glance to be the unlikeliest spokesperson for grace. Yet in the passage read for us this morning, this “weeping prophet” who had been reviled, jailed, and generally ignored because of his critique of king and clergy, proclaims a God who is remarkably generous in forgiving Judah’s sins and promising their restoration.
The residents of Judah in Jeremiah’s time were people we might recognize today. They had been blinded by their prosperity to the threats all around them. They had abandoned the faith of their fathers and mothers for faith in military alliances, an economy that favored the wealthy and despised the poor, and the pursuit of their own selfish pleasures. Jeremiah’s lone voice warned that a day of reckoning was about to come. The prophet would live to see his warnings go unheeded and the awful consequences descend upon his homeland. The cities of Judah would be razed by enemy armies, the great temple of Solomon would be left in ashes, and the survivors of this war and destruction would be marched off as slaves to faraway Babylon.
Nevertheless in the midst of all this Jeremiah not only produces a dirge that we call today the Book of Lamentations but also the wonderful passage read for us today. It is a passage reminding us that God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. It is a message of forgiveness: “With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” It is a message that predicts a complete reversal of fortune: “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” Those who were driven from the smoking ruins of Jerusalem in a procession akin to the Bataan Death March are assured that their return to that place will come under completely different circumstances.
Did they deserve it? Did they deserve to be forgiven after they had abandoned belief in God, treated the neediest among them with disdain, and ignored the prophet sent by the Lord to set them straight? No, they didn’t deserve it. Had they done something in their youth or childhood that was called up by the Lord to somehow balance out their more recent bad behavior? No, nothing they ever had done would have served to balance out the indictment lodged against them. Had they done anything during their enslavement to make sufficient amends for the sins that had put them in chains? There’s no indication that this was the case. It never was a matter of their making some kind of atonement for their sins. Their restoration simply was a matter of God exercising the mysterious action of grace.
Grace is a concept that doesn’t come easily to us. We prefer that people pay for their sins. We want to see evildoers punished to the fullest extent of the law. Drunk drivers who kill people in highway accidents, child abusers, those who prey upon the elderly—“Throw the book at them!” “Lock them up and throw away the key!” In fact, why should we expect society to worry about feeding and clothing them for life in some maximum-security prison? Why not just give them the chair!
The problem with our high dudgeon, of course, is the old adage about pointing the finger. When I point my finger at you, it’s hard to ignore the fact that four fingers are pointing back at me. Paul reminds us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus put it another way. He said something like, “While you’re stressing out over the speck in another person’s eye, you somehow manage to ignore the telephone pole in your own.” Could it be that our offense at the darkness in others is a means of avoiding the fact of our own darkness? Are we so out of touch with our interior lives that we no longer acknowledge the truth about ourselves?
Until we come to the place where we can acknowledge the truth about ourselves, grace will be only a word—an old-fashioned name for a girl, an attribute with which we may describe the skill of a dancer or an ice skater. Its greater meaning will be lost on us.
Yet the remarkable thing about grace is that its operation is in no way dependent on our understanding of it or even our awareness that it exists. Grace is not restricted to the theologically literate or to the experientially desperate. It falls like the rain; it baptizes everyone who is touched by it equally, whether they know it or not.
Our gospel reading provides us with a different perspective on the coming of Jesus into the world. Unlike Matthew and Luke, John tells us nothing about the taxes levied by Caesar Augustus, a crowded inn at Bethlehem, a wondering band of shepherds, or wise men bearing gifts. He simply says that the Word arrived in a world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognize him. This Word in the flesh tented among us, and for those to whom the gift was given, there was a glimmer of recognition—the ability to see his glory, full of grace and truth.
And there of course, right at the beginning, occurs that operative word—grace. Indeed, John goes on to say that “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Grace upon grace—not just grace by itself but some extension, some expansion, some amplification of grace that makes it even more that we ever could have imagined. As difficult as it might be for us to grasp the concept of grace by itself, how much harder is it even to wrap our minds or our souls around the phrase, “grace upon grace.”
The law—that’s what we all know about, the law that metes out justice for those who break it—came, according to John, through Moses. But grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. Grace and truth embodied in the child of Bethlehem, the baby in the manger. Grace and truth, tenting among us, hiking along the hilly, dusty roads of Galilee. Grace and truth, offering bread and wine in such a way that we could never again look at them simply as bread and wine. Grace and truth, nailed to a cross, for the sins of the world, for your sins, for my sins. Grace upon grace, active at this very moment, in your life, in my life, in every life—working in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. Grace upon grace, which we are free to despise and ignore or embrace and celebrate, even now, as we stand and as we sing.