Everyday Grace

September 29, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert


We have often called the writings in the New Testament the Good News, because they speak of the words and actions of Jesus that brought good news to a people desperately in need of hope, of healing, and mercy.   In a writing from Isaiah (52:6-8), we hear the words of the prophet anticipating the coming of the Messiah…” Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore, in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” I’m sure that most of you know that we refer to the four major writings in the New Testament as Gospels;  the Greek translation of that word  is in fact, Good News.  The Good News or Gospel that Jesus shared both through his teachings and in his presence and ministry was about the coming of the Kingdom of God.  He was trying to communicate that the Kingdom was both already with us and to come, and he presented a vision of what that Kingdom would look like, a manifestation of God’s deepest hopes for us as a community, that we were to treat one another as Jesus had exemplified, that we were to be co-creators of that Kingdom in the ways in which we lived our lives.  Again and again, through parables and sermons, Jesus would say, the Kingdom of heaven is like…and then he’d share a story or some teachings that would help his listeners understand.  Of course, we all know that the real challenge is in the living of it, in sharing and caring and loving and staying deeply connected to one another and to our creator.  It’s not easy in the best of times and it is especially hard in the worst of times.  Let us pray, O Holy One, we thank you for the beauty of a new day.  Help us to be alert to the signs of your grace in our lives and in our world as we need to be reminded that your Good News continues to speak to all of us and give us hope. Amen.

Good News/Bad News

A man gets a telephone call from a doctor. The doctor says:  “About this medical test I did on you, I have some good news and some bad news.”

The man asks for the good news first: “The good news is that you have 24 hours to live,” says the doctor.

The man, incredulously: “If that is the good news, then what is the bad news??”

“I’m sorry but I couldn’t reach you on the phone yesterday.”

The reading from 1 Timothy today remind us that we can chase a life that has no value. The writer reminds his listeners that we can fall into temptations and be trapped by senseless and harmful things that can ruin us or which can distract us from the life we have in the present.  We can seek a life that leads us down a path to busyness or acquisition of materials things, material comforts and get so caught up in defining ourselves by our image or possessions that we lose sight of what really matters.  We are reminded that there is a higher goal, a better way and that we can be a part of all that is.   We are to be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share. This is the life that God calls us to embrace.  That’s the Good News.

We know that our minds are drawn to bad news, to big stories that catch our attention.  Clearly there are too many things in a given week that are deeply troubling, disturbing or just sad.  In the midst of that often negative  focus, there occasionally creeps in a story that makes us smile, that renews our hope and belief that people can be good and kind and loving, that people can be incredibly thoughtful and generous.  On my best days, I’d like to believe that such people are truly in the majority.  That gives me great hope.  This is the Good News of our day, that people choose to live with a moral compass, that some can transcend their own needs and do amazing things for others.  We can’t lose sight of that.  I remember my wonderful spiritual director years ago, Marie Doyle, once asked me, do you give as much air time in your mind to the positive things someone says to you as you do to the negative?  I have to admit that I don’t always do that…that I often let something positive move through my mind quickly and provide a brief uplift, but that I may replay in my mind something negative or critical that had been said.  I’m not sure why we do that, but I imagine we can re-train our brains to focus on the positive and limit the negative.  We can take a break from the bad news and we can be attentive to the small graces that abound in our lives.  They are out there; they are in our midst.  I hear so often about the quiet and thoughtful things people in this church do for one another or for their neighbors or those with whom they work.  There’s a lot of decency and integrity and kindness in our midst.  God’s love shines through us and it lifts us up providing the Good News we need to look forward with hope.

Here are some stories I have heard in the news in recent weeks; perhaps you have heard them too.  These are just a sample of the countless acts of kindness that go on in our lives, most not making it into our news; some are shared by word of mouth.

Just this week, some of   you may have seen the story of a girl who was able to accompany her class on a hike thanks to the compassion of a teacher at the school.   An elementary school teacher made the day of a 10-year-old girl with spina bifida — and captured the hearts of everyone — when he carried her on his back through the Falls of The Ohio State Park during a school field trip.

Ryan King is a fourth-grader at Tully Elementary School just outside of Louisville, Kentucky. But because of her spina bifida, she’s in a wheelchair. And that makes school trips kind of tough. There have been field trips in the past that she wasn’t able to attend but when she goes back to school, her classmates are all talking about the field trip, so she doesn’t have the same experience.

While most field trips are accessible, this one was a little more adventurous. The class was going to see exposed fossil beds along the Ohio River. King really didn’t want Ryan to miss out. Her mom had found a special backpack from a friend and was going to try carry her when another teacher at the school, Jim Freeman, offered to carry her around for the day.  He knew who Ryan is, but they didn’t have any prior personal relationship.  Her teacher said. “I don’t think he had any idea what a big impact he was going to make on so many different people.”

The children in her class loved having Ryan be a part of their day, laughing because she got a piggyback ride around the Falls while they had to walk.

“We’re blessed at our school — the kids there are so compassionate and understanding,” said her teacher Mrs. King.  But the biggest thing that Mr. Freeman did for Ryan? He gave her independence.   (From CNN, by Mallory Hughes)

In another recent story, a mom from Alvin, Texas, shared a sweet photo of her daughter and a school custodian on Facebook — and the heartwarming image  quickly went viral. Hollie Bellew-Shaw says her daughter, Kenlee, has autism. So, it was especially moving when a school custodian comforted her when she was having a bad day. The mom posted a photo of her fourth grader as she lay on the floor of the school wrapped in a blanket. Beside her lay “Ms. Esther,” a custodian at Passmore Elementary. “Our school custodian is literally the best, sweetest individual in the world,” Bellew-Shaw wrote. “[Kenlee] wanted no part of being in the cafeteria this morning with all the noise so she laid down with her blanket on the stage. When Ms. Esther saw her she came and laid next to her and patted her back.” “All schools should be so lucky to have their own Angel on campus,” wrote the mom.

Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a beautiful display of kindness at a college football game.  On September 14, Georgia State was playing Arkansas State.  The coach of Arkansas, Blake Anderson, had lost his wife Wendy less than a month earlier after a battle with breast cancer.   When the coach and his team entered the stadium that afternoon, the home team Georgia fans, over 90,000 strong, had replaced their team colors of red and black with the color pink shining forth throughout the stadium.  They called it a pink-out and wanted to and help remember Wendy show their support for the coach and the grieving Arkansas State football program.  The Arkansas State Coach Blake Anderson said that his family has leaned on a lot of people after the death of his wife and said, “It’s overwhelming, to be honest with you,” Anderson told ESPN’s “College Gameday.”

I would guess that for every 10 or 20 stories we hear of bad news each and every day, we may hear one that lifts our spirits or reminds us of the decency, kindness and compassion of others.  Even in our own lives, I’m sure that we often witness small things that lift our hearts,  that remind us of the simple kindnesses in life, and remind us that God’s grace abounds, if we just pay attention.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century, once wrote….

“This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.”