The Sunday Sermon: open to grace

exactly 12 years ago, I made a big life change.

had been working in corporate America. I was successful, and good at what I did. I made enough money. I lived in a nice, new house in the LA area.

12 years ago this month, I left that behind, sold my house, left my job, and went to full-time residential seminary.

sometimes ask me why I became a priest. It’s easiest to answer briefly, “I wanted to make the world a better place, and I didn’t think I was doing that in my old life.”

is true, but that’s not really the whole story. There’s more.

truth is, it was grace. But it’s hard to say that in a brief get-to-know-you conversation over a cocktail.

fact is, something inside me had begun to change. I had started spending more time at my newly found Episcopal church. And it had opened in me a space I hadn’t known existed.

example of that is in how I interacted with panhandlers on the street. When I started going back to church, I had to drive by one older man in particular. I mostly kind of ignored him, as had been my custom for a long time.

as I began to be torn open by this strange grace thing, I couldn’t ignore him anymore. Now, mind you, I was scared of him. I didn’t want to know him. Or touch him. Or have anything to do with him. But I became concerned for him.

one day, for reasons I still don’t understand, as I was there stopped at the stoplight, I cracked my window. Just a tiny, tiny, sliver. Just enough so that I could slide a dollar bill through, making sure my fingers would not have to touch his.

that crack in the window opened a crack in me that kept widening. Each time I passed him my window would open a little more, and at some point I began talking to him. Really talking. “How are you?” “What are you going to do in the cold tonight?

soon discovered that he lived in a broken down car nearby. And our relationship developed so that one day when he wasn’t there I went looking for him because I was worried about him, because he was always there. And my heart soared when I found him because
I had found a part of me that could have never been satisfied in the corporate board room. Finding him safe gave me grace I never knew I was missing in a world measured by productivity and profits.

so I guess on this day about 12 years ago that crack in my heart had opened into something else, into grace, through experiences like that.

I left nearly everything I had there. The way I looked at it, I was offering my big home, and my cushy job, and all my nice things, as something like the loaves of bread and fishes that this boy in today’s lesson was offering. What if, I thought, I could
give up some of my nice things but in return could go and be a part of the crack-opening business?

No, that’s not quite it.

more like– I have been cracked wide open. I now see that I get taken care of in ways I never knew possible. Why, then, have I been so focused on trying so hard to run this rat race of making sure I’m in charge of everything? What else can I do, but give
what I have in thanks, and do everything I can to be present to this abundant source of life?

can’t win the rat race, the hustle to buy what I need. There’s never enough.

I started to be open to the powerful experience of grace. Not what I could do to make it happen. Not what I could do to make myself good enough for it. But simply to be present in those moments where grace happens. And that was miraculous.

presents the story of the feeding of the thousands today; the first of several weeks we will spend unpacking some of John’s stories.

don’t know if you are like me or not, but a lot of sermons I have heard on this text have spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the miraculous feeding: “Well, Jesus was such a powerful figure folks were automatically generous, and didn’t take much.
That’s why the loaves and fishes lasted so long.” Or perhaps, “The generosity of the boy was so amazing that when the food was passed around folks then felt guilty they had lied about not having food the first time so they were forthright with what they had
really brought in their pockets.” Our modern sensibilities really want to make sense of how Jesus got these loaves and fishes to go around so far, and everything else seems to depend on it.

every contemporary commentary I read on this text for today resists those approaches as destroying John’s intent in this story. Those attempts turn Jesus into a social manipulator, who at best gets us to behave ethically. That’s not a bad thing, of course.
But Jesus isn’t a therapist, or motivator for us to be our best. Jesus, especially in John, is the salvation of the world, doing for us what we can’t do ourselves. Those other attempts are really about trying to preserve our self-dependency, our autonomy,
our choice. We left-leaning progressives really like to preserve those things.

this story in John is about the grace of being cared for by a God that provides even in moments that we are unable to care for ourselves. This is the story of a hungry and unprepared crowd, one that Jesus notices, and asks to rest on the grass, so he can
take care of their needs, and feed them. And that is grace.

it is that moment, when they realize how he loves them- his use of power not to be their king but their provider of grace, that John wants us to notice.

do you notice that moment in your life? What does it engender in you?

discussed this very thing the other night in our stewardship committee meeting. We were talking about the latest resolution from general convention on stewardship, tithing, and giving. I think most of us felt like putting language about the spirituality
of this kind of grace that leads to generosity almost always comes out wrong; it comes out sounding like a guilt-ridden church membership requirement rather than a result of God’s saving action, which is what grace always is.

someone said “I think generosity requires trust that we will be cared for.” And I thought that summed up the spirituality of generosity and grace very nicely. It’s hard to be generous unless one has developed enough experiences of grace to build trust that
being generous is ok.

own experience of God ebbs and flows, I must say. As I look back 12 years later, I have experiences where I feel very sure that I could be a part of the feeding of the thousands and be cared for by a loving God. And I have moments where I feel like the feeding
of the crowds is a ruse, and my modern sensibilities must not allow me to be taken advantage of.

those moments, I hope I remember that my own experience tells me to crack the window anyway.

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Proper 12B, July 29, 2018
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
John 6:1-21


on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3.

Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.

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1 thought on “The Sunday Sermon: open to grace”

  1. Jeff, Thank you for your thought provoking comments on grace and its relationship to generosity and trust that we will always be cared for. Here in Austin, I pass the people, standing in heat I can barely tolerate walking from the grocery store to my car and I feel overwhelmed. I think of the big picture…so many people with so many needs, and I often forget that in the moment they are here and so am I and we share our humanity…that is our connection. Will I exercise my humanity or will I pretend not to be aware that they are there and hope the light changes quickly so I don't feel so inhumane sitting in my air conditioned car.

    I love the image that you created of cracking open the window, and cracking open our humanity that is our soul. I was privileged to witness your ordination and know your spiritual growth has no limits. Thank you for sharing your grace with me via this sermon. Jackie Neuman


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