Summary: We are given the plate of growth gifts: space, quiet, renewal, guidance; and the plate of opportunities: to be present at ultimate times, to enter dangerous places, to receive responsibility.
If you approach someone and ask him to take on a responsibility, but his answer is, "I have a very full plate," what does he mean? Does he mean, "I can’t do it right now because I just sat down to dinner. Let me finish eating and I’ll do it"?
No, if you ask someone to do something and he replies that there is too much on his plate, he is not referring to a pile of asparagus or a mound of sage dressing. He is telling you that his life is too full, he has too much to do, he cannot take on any more. A full plate.
These past two Sundays we have thought together under the theme, "Growing and Giving in Grace." I suspect that at some point along the way a number of us have felt that our plates were too full. We have felt that too much was being asked of us, too much demanded.
Two weeks ago, for example, the focus was on growing ... “Growing and Giving in Grace” means growing. In a message entitled, "On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow", I hit you about growth. I enjoined you to set personal growth goals; I encouraged you to use your gifts for the church’s growth; and I warned you we would all feel some pain this year because our financial needs were growing faster than our contributions. I imagine you left two weeks ago feeling as though you had a full plate.
Then last week the focus was clearly and decisively on giving. “Growing and Giving in Grace” means giving. We spent some time with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, and we worked on the priority question: using what you have instead of crying for more, setting a priority on God’s work. Again we thought together about the church and I promised that if you will be faithful in tithing for the Lord’s work, the church will be faithful in using those resources wisely and well. But I imagine that once again some left feeling that your financial plate was full.
But notice: the theme for these weeks is "Growing and Giving in Grace". In grace. So today I do not want to add to that full plate of responsibilities. Instead I want to offer you a second full plate, a plate full of grace rather than a plate full of burdens. I want to offer you a true Thanksgiving feast plate, full of grace and love, alongside your full plate of responsibilities. Growing and giving in grace. Two full plates.
I see this morning as a quiet time, a thoughtful time, a few moments to feast in the grace of God.
So now will you shut your eyes ... as nearly as you can, emptying your mind of all distractions. Take a deep breath and hold it for a moment …let it out very slowly ... again a deep breath … release it slowly. Be aware of your own body and its rhythms, its need for silence. How tired you are ... how much you have been doing.
Now … with eyes closed … with regular, steady breathing ... hear the word of God in grace:
Please repeat after me, "Surely goodness and mercy/ shall follow me/all the days of my life."
Grace comes when we see how God gives us space and time. Space in which to back off from our labors. Time in which to disengage from our duties. Grace. Quiet grace. A full plate of grace. Two full plates of grace, in fact.
You have been given an outline of the message. I did that because there will be too many points for you to remember on your own, and also because I want you to experience worship today as grace, as space and openness for you. Having the outline guides you but it also gives you freedom to let your mind wander in the pleasant pathways of grace.
Feel free to write down not only some things I say, but also what your heart says. Let this be a moment of grace.
One other thing. At the end of each of the brief statements I will be making about the dynamics of grace, I will invite you to repeat with me the verse we just used, "surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life." Sharing in these words will help bring home the constant loving presence of a gracious God.
By the way -- I can’t resist this -- did you hear about the fellow that brought his three grown children into court and petitioned the judge to change their names? This fellow had three grown children, none of whom had jobs, none of whom showed the slightest interest in getting married and starting a family, not one of whom lifted a finger to help around the house, and all of whom were constantly borrowing money. Three lazy, overgrown louts. And so he asked the judge to change their names. The judge said, "Well, what do you want their names to be, and why do you want those names?" The fellow answered, "I want their names to be ’surely’, ’goodness’, and ’mercy’, because they follow me around all the days of my life."