I buried a saint named Grace. Her insistence that I do her funeral brought me out of retirement for a few hours.
Grace was known for saying, -“Conrad can do no wrong.” Every -pastor needs a Grace in their corner.
I long ago gave up the use of the formal liturgy of burial found in every ministry manual. But still, I always remind the gathered mourners that from dust we come and to dust we shall return.
This time, I rejected that adage and said instead about Grace: “From home she came, and to home she has returned.”
This column is taken from some of the things I said at the funeral.
Over two decades of ministry, it has not been uncommon for me to ask a family in times of grief whether their loved one had a particular verse they appreciated and for them to say, “We do not know,” or “We did find one verse underlined that must have been important.” These are families who have gone to church their entire lives.
This has always concerned me, because if there is one thing I have emphasized in my preaching, it is that nurturing our life with God is the only way we ever come to life ourselves. We are shadows of who we might be unless our lives are grounded in regular time with God.
I believe that when each human being is conceived, our Creator speaks a word of blessing over him or her. Every child is born with the imprint of God — a loving, gracious, compassionate God.
Each one of us is born with gifts from God within us. These gifts, these attributes, remain true regardless of what we do with God in our lives — whether we turn toward God or away, whether we love or hate, bless or curse, embrace God or kick him in the shins.
The only thing that can separate us from God is us. The only way any of us ends up in hell is because we choose to walk there ourselves.
That is the beautiful thing about the grace of God, shown to us through Jesus, who came not to judge us to hell but redeem us for heaven.
The grace of God never stops chasing us, calling our name and looking for us the moment we get into a jam.
Finding God is simply returning to the One who made us. Finding God is getting home after detours and accidents and terrible mistakes.
The moment we walk in the door — or, rather, the moment we let God walk into our lives — we are embraced as if we had never left home in the first place.
That is what turning to God is. It is finding the One place and the One being who will receive you just as you are. No matter what.
As I spoke with Grace’s children, a consistent theme was this: “Grace received us repeatedly, loved us regardless, over and over.” Because grace does that, and God does that.
Her children also shared that Grace was not shy to speak words of warning, rebuke, discipline, caution. Tough words. But all the while, spoken in the context of a grace that says you are always welcome here.
Grace was tormented at times by the question we all face: How do we love and embrace while also cautioning, correcting and reminding?
I think true grace is always a bit tormented. Jesus reflected that torment in the Garden of Gethsemane before going to the cross to destroy the power of death for all time.
“Father, must I do this? Yet not my will, but yours.”
I am sure that God is still tormented when we turn away from God’s love, care and forgiveness.
Turning back toward God, even after a long time away, is not complicated.
As Jesus was crucified alongside two thieves, one of them simply said: Jesus, remember me. Jesus, see me.
Jesus saves me because I cannot save myself. Because I may feel too far gone and too deeply down to have any hope of finding my way back home on my own.
If Grace is now waiting for her children, how much more is God waiting for us to say: See me, Jesus. Remember me, Jesus. Forgive me for not coming home sooner.
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