Ephesians 2:8-9 NRSV
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
I heard a priest being interviewed on the radio about the precautions they are taking to reopen the churches in his particular diocese. This was not significantly different from the precautions everyone else is planning - massive disinfection of the church building, masks, no singing, no hugs or handshakes, people/household groups seated 6 feet apart from each other, only a certain number of people allowed in, etc. But they will celebrate communion because, he said, “the sacraments are how we receive God’s grace.”
One of the things that I am most grateful for in my life is that God’s grace is poured out freely, undeserved, and unasked for. I know that I do not deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy, but these are poured out upon me anyway. Even on the days when I doubt, God showers me with grace and blessings. As I was told during my early years in recovery, “God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it.” I cannot lose God’s love. I can reject it, and God will still love me. I need not do any good works, perform any particular act, or pray any specific prayer in order to receive God’s grace. I simply need to believe.
One of the gifts of grace is that it causes me to want to please God. While it is true that we do not receive grace because we have done any particular good works, it is also true that our acceptance of that grace causes us to desire to help others. Our love of God and our gratitude for God’s love makes us want to share that love with others - even with people we do not like. This is the very point James was making when he said “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” (James 2:26).
It is the case that God’s grace, being freely and undeservedly given, also falls upon those who do not respond, who do not accept God’s love into their hearts. Just as rain falls equally upon every place, so grace falls upon every person. Whether they respond to that grace is a matter of choice - they might or might not choose to return God’s love. For what good is it to say, “I believe,” when our actions show that our belief, our love for God, and therefore the neighbor, is limited. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Loving God, we give you thanks for the gift of your grace. Help us to respond to your love with our own, pouring it out upon others in the same way that your love showers us. Amen.