Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"For the grace of God has appeared..."

So begins the Christmas Lesson from the New Testament's Letter to Titus.

Bible commentators call Titus a "pastoral epistle," because it contains advice for church leaders. Pastoral work has its share of stresses and hazards, but it gives amazing opportunity to be hanging around when grace - God's free gift of love - appears. All that we are meant to do or impart hinges on the fact that God has revealed incredible love for the people by "visiting them in great humility," in the body and blood of Christ on earth.

I've been trying to pay Christmas visits on folks who can't come out to the church. A few nights ago, my wife and I took Holy Communion to one great lady, a former legislator with a wonderful blend of wit, life experience and spiritual insight. There was grace in how much she delighted in seeing us and asking about our lives (yeah, I know, that's backwards but she kinda took charge on her home court - and after all grace is by definition a gift, not something earned.) And there was grace as the courtyard lights of her apartment complex popped on and seduced us into thoughts about another Christmas Lesson, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."

Today, several things conspired to give me a couple of "found hours" before the winter storm, and the Spirit moved me to drop in on one of our folks at a nursing facility. He's a brilliant man who suffered a stroke, and he's been in physical, speech and occupational therapy for some time.

God's grace appeared as soon as I saw him - he was tinkering with an old wind up alarm clock, and doing it without the mechanical aid he'd needed to grasp objects just a few weeks ago. There was some muscle tone showing in his arms again. He smiled and wiggled both sets of fingers, and showed off a cane that is replacing his walker for hallway strolls.

Best of all, he was making progress against one of the stroke's most frustrating effects. He had been losing words left and right since the stroke - it was hard for this bright and learned man to have a conversation. But today his conversation was fluid and his vocabulary ready. Now and then he would have a glitch searching for a word - and growl "dammit" - but the delays were not so long and he was always able to finish a story or thought. He was sober about it all - he was glad for each bit of progress but also clear that he would not be 100% again. And he was seasoned with grace. He kept accenting his progress reports with a smile and a decisive "Thanks be to God" at the end of each.

And if that wasn't enough grace for the day, one of my Lay Ministers got in touch to say, "Looks like I have some open time in the next few days - are there any folks who need visits?" What a blessing - to me and to the people. So he got in touch with two other folks to serve them on behalf of Christ and the church. And another of my Lay team is making regular hospice visits on the elder of three currently active generations in our congregation.

"The grace of God has appeared" - to show God's favor to those who are struggling, to give hope to those under oppression by the world, the flesh and the devil. To take the very simple, very human meetings of just two or three people who share Jesus' name and ignite them with divine love.

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