Pastor’s Letter – March 2024

Dear Family,

When asked what was particularly unique about Christianity, the Oxford scholar and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis responded succinctly, “grace.” In the New Testament, its meaning points to God’s expression of unmerited favor directed by Himself to anyone who would receive it. The apostle Paul, who personally experienced God’s grace big time, puts it this way in his letter to the Ephesian church:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”

In summary of Paul’s words, grace is. . .

  • Self-initiated by the giver
  • Not required of the giver to grant
  • Not a reward or payment for something achieved by someone else

Paul further points out that an evidence of grace, truly understood and embraced by a recipient, is a desire to express it on behalf of others through “good works,” not as a means of earning grace but as an expression of thanksgiving for the grace one has received – unconditionally.

Grace is about as radical an idea that God ever came up with, a longing all people desire even if not consciously recognized or would admit that God is the only one who can adequately provide it.

Several years ago, I read how the words of the traditional hymn, Amazing Grace, made a surprising yet significant impact at a most unlikely event. In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey shares about an event he saw in a Bill Moyers documentary about the hymn Amazing Grace.

The setting of this event is Wembley Stadium in London. The occasion was a lengthy concert celebrating recent positive changes in South Africa. Most of the music performed was by an array of rock groups. After 12 hours and nearing the end of the concert, the crowd was getting rowdy. Interestingly, the person chosen to close the program was not another rock star, but the opera singer, Jessye Norman. A surprise to all, her closing song selection was her rendition of Amazing Grace. Yancey describes what occurred at this moment.

Finally, the time came for her to sing. A single circle of light follows Norman, a majestic African-American woman wearing a flowing African dashki, as she strolls onstage. No backup band, no musical instruments, just Jessye. The crowd stirs, restless. Few recognize the opera diva. A voice yells for more Guns ‘n’ Roses. Others take up the cry. The scene Is getting ugly.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found – Was blind, but now I see.

A remarkable thing happens in Wembley Stadium that night. Seventy thousand raucous fans fall silent before her aria of grace. By the time Norman reaches the second verse, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. . . .,” the soprano has the crowd in her hands.

By the time she reaches the third verse, “Twas grace has brought me safe this far, and grace will lead me home,” several thousand fans are singing along, digging far back in nearly lost memories for words they heard long ago.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.

Jessye Norman later confessed she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night. I think I know. The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.

This coming Easter season reminds us again of God’s gift of grace expressed through Jesus’ death and resurrection and freely offered to anyone who by faith wishes to experience it. As Christians, we are privileged to be both a receptacle and a conduit of grace. May we discover special ways during this holy season to be “grace-responders!”

Thanks for reading.