"Everyone Gets an 'A': Grace Matters" – John 8:31-36
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
I’m guessing some of you know more about Benjamin Zander than I did when I came across a TED Talk of his a couple of weeks ago. He is the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and has been an educator, and an author, and a motivational speaker, too. Maybe some of you have even read his work, The Art of Possibility, or if you’re a teacher, maybe you’ve seen something like what I want to share with you.
This is a lecture Zander gave to a room full of teachers and educators, centered around his philosophy of teaching, and teaching music and the arts in particular.
(For the sake of the sermon, I only showed this up to the 6 minute mark.)
While there are about 10 more minutes and three more sermons in what I didn't show you, but I hope you can see why I couldn’t help watching this and thinking of the Reformation theology of grace and gospel and good news we celebrate in the name of our Lutheran heritage on days like today.
I had someone tell me, just yesterday, that “that grace thing” is hard for them, and they wanted a clearer understanding of what grace is. Off the top of my head I said something like, “Grace is the un-earned, undeserved love and favor and mercy and forgiveness of God. There’s nothing we can do to earn that kind of love and there’s nothing we can do to un-earn that kind of love, either.” This, in a nutshell, is what I believe the message of the Reformation is all about.
I think Martin Luther showed up in the world like a 16th Century Benjamin Zander and invited a world full of Christian monks and professors and pastors and lay-people to start lighting up the world around them with a new way of understanding God’s love for them.
I think Martin Luther showed up in the world like a 16th Century Benjamin Zander, inviting Christian people, and the Church at-large, to stop grading the performance of God’s children like cranky, crotchety, old schoolmarms.
I think Martin Luther showed up in the world like a 16th Century Benjamin Zander, inviting Christian people to start living and singing and playing the music of God’s grace in their lives, not as an expectation to live up to – not as something they had to do, in order to win, or pass, or be saved. But Luther invited us to sing and play and live the music of God’s grace in our lives as a possibility to live into – as something we get to do and get to be and get to become, because God has already won the day, passed the test, saved us by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“If the son makes you free, you will be free, indeed.”
Jesus’ death and resurrection is like a big fat “A”, scrawled in the bright red, blood of a permanent cosmic Sharpie marker, right next to each of our names in the Book of Life.
“If the son makes you free, you will be free, indeed.” And the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is that we have been made free.
Jesus showed up, died, and was raised, so that we would know of our good pleasure in God’s eyes; so we would know that our A has already come – and so that we could live differently because of it…not like musicians comparing ourselves to those we pretend are better or worse or different from us. Not like sinners who are more than or less than or different from any other sinners out there.
The grace of God means to get rid of those voices in our heads and the inclination of our hearts that drown out the music of God’s love for us and for the world. The grace of God – made plain by the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sake – is like the professor giving us an A on the first day of class and inviting us to dream about and wonder about and plan for ways we can live into the reality of that good news. The grace of God is like the professor giving us an A, in advance of whatever is to come, and inviting us to fall in love with the child of God we were created to be – flaws and failings, sins, successes, and all.
And I love when Benjamin Zander says, “you can give an A to anyone.” I love it not only because I believe that’s what God does – God is like Oprah with a set of car keys – “You get an A!” and “You get an A!” “You get an A!” and “You get an A!” I love it because he admits that it’s hard for teachers and it reminds me that it’s hard for Christians, too. But it’s how we’re called to live as recipients and benefactors of this unmitigated grace we proclaim.
Zander says, “you can give an A to the waitress, to your boss, to your Mother-in-Law and to a Taxi driver.” And to me that’s an invitation to a new way of living and moving and breathing in the world. It’s a way to let the rubber of our faith meet the road of our lives if we’ll let it.
Because if we practice the art of living like everyone gets an A, even before they’ve proven themselves to us, imagine how much more positive and vulnerable and brave and forgiving and merciful and kind we might grow to be. (Maybe I wouldn’t hold such a grudge against those knuckleheads who broke in and stole our drums and our amps and our stuff this week! Maybe we wouldn’t regret – forever – that we did this or did that or said that or didn’t say that. Maybe we’d believe more readily that if God’s grace is for me and for us, than it could be for him and for her and for “them,” just the same. )
If we practice the art of living like everyone gets an A, we might just start becoming – and inspiring others to become – more fully who and how God first created us all to be: in God’s image. Not slaves, but free. Not sinless, but forgiven. Not perfect, but full of possibility. Losers for sure – every one of us – but loved in spite of our selves, and compelled to change the world with that same kind of love in return.