Coinkydinks, have you had many lately? Yes, I’m talking about coincidences, but I like the other word better, it’s more fun. Serendipity . . . God winks . . . the Holy Spirit having some fun in grace with our humanity? Certainly I think some things are “mere” coincidences, but then there are the other things. Those moments when someone looking at the experience from the outside would smile and use coincidence, but maybe inside us, it is more. I’ve learned over the years to believe people when they have that look in their eye telling me about something that happened that they know was “more”. And pretty much I’ve learned to trust that in myself as well.
One of the scriptures for this coming Sunday is Romans 8:31-39 – one of my favorites of the Apostle Paul because it says everything we need about God’s grace. I happened to write my sermon yesterday so was saturated in those words, resting in them, reflecting on them, reading perspectives from theological academics with whom I both agreed and disagreed, surprised? *smile.
The pinnacle of the verses? “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV). I know there’s the 23rd Psalm, I love Isaiah 40:28-31; Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth; John’s story of the resurrection . . . all of these and more are favorites. AND these two verses from Paul in Romans?!? I can’t even. The grace, the affirmation, the unbelievably believable love of God through Jesus simply turns my heart into wonderful mushiness – not an easy task with me, frankly. So I get my sermon written yesterday, I know it still needs work but if the world were coming to an end, I could use it if necessary. I come into work this morning and there’s a card in my box from a long-time member who has recently moved across the country to be near her family. Inside were wonderfully generous words about my upcoming retirement, and the outside of the card?!!!? Romans 8:38-39. I kid you not. The card actually arrived in the mail yesterday, I know, right? And in the midst of trying to get everything done, I had not opened it and read it until today. The exact scripture I spent the entire day overwhelmed by, right there, on a random card on a random day arriving totally unexpectedly.
Coinkydink? Perhaps. For me? God’s unexpected and totally unearned and surprising grace. Just sayin’. This may surprise you, but some days of this journey are more difficult for me than others. I’m so stoic I know it’s hard to tell. *snort. I want to do such excellent work for the sake of the present and to prepare for the best future for this community that I love. Yes, yes, I know God’s in charge, it’s God’s vision that leads, it’s God’s handiwork that creates all the goodness and the foundation and the blessing. But seriously, I’m simply trying to, you know, give God a little advice, put some things into place God might not have time to worry about, offer some overthinking and overdoing in case God might never be saying it but might appreciate that kind of help. The more things change, the more they stay the same?!? How many years, my dearest, (might God be saying) how many years until you not only hear but take into your heart that my grace is sufficient in EVERY situation? I know, I know God, I do love you, but if I could simply offer a wee bit of direction??? Very often my first thanksgiving to God in my prayers is for being patient. Maybe you too?
I’m not certain how many of you might have noticed over the years, but I’m a bit of a take charge person. I’m not certain if I was born that way or I simply found myself in situations that it seemed the right thing to do. I suppose the whole nature vs nurture conversation. One of my prized possessions from these years of service at Grace is the picture of our mission team in Liberia with then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female President of a West African country. One did not have to be in her presence long to recognize the strength of her leadership. She says in her book, This Child Will be Great, “I guess the debate is still on over whether leaders are born or made. I’m frankly not sure how one develops the skills necessary to lead and lead well. Leadership requires stamina. It requires a whole lot of acceptance, the ability to remain committed to your cause and to have the courage of your convictions. It requires understanding that sacrifices will have to be made – and the willingness to make them again and again and again.” Now please understand, as one of my “she-roes” her speaking about sacrifice is far beyond anything I could even imagine. In her life before her presidency she was abused, thrown into prison, and exiled. Her life was still being threatened when we were there and the active nature of the civil war had been over for several years. She is a Harvard graduate and has been committed to political and social reform fighting the oppression of dictators and strongly believing women everywhere can pursue leadership roles at the highest levels and with perseverance, can change the world. I believe her vision, commitment, and passion for her country set the stage for a rebuilding that continues even today.
She describes through her book the moments and experiences that were intersections in her decision making and how they impacted her thought process. Many of them being “happenstance”, coincidence, or perhaps a guidance from beyond her awareness. Understand, this is a woman with no small amount of self-confidence and an ego strength unlike I’ve met in any other women leaders in all my years. And what I knew, as intimidating as it was, is that without that, she would not have persevered into a role that changed life for the most vulnerable in her country.
It happens for all of us in different ways. We find ourselves in moments where something tingles, or comes into focus, or reminds us that we are not alone on this journey, even in the deepest valleys of struggle. And whether we are the President of a country, the Chairperson of a committee, a person in middle management, an employee, or maybe an old senior pastor in the midst of a life transition, those moments offer us opportunities to grow in faith, in leadership, and in the humble acceptance that indeed, God’s grace IS sufficient. Coinkydink? Sometimes. Sacred timing and abundant grace? Beyond the shadow of a doubt.
I’m still on the journey of learning to limit my need to overthink and over-function a fair amount of the time. And, when I stop for a moment, or sometimes even when I don’t, what I know is that nothing . . . nothing can separate any of us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.