Grace: compassion and generosity

July 1, 2018

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Preached by Revd Peter Salisbury, using Deuteronomy 15.1-11, Acts 27.33-end at Evensong on Sunday 1st July, the Fifth after Trinity.

Greetings from Lymington where I am the vicar.

I have to admit that I get rather nervous this far inland, but I was relieved that one of our readings was about the sea at least!

I want to talk about the concept of GRACE and how it affects our lives and prayers.

I hope you’ll accept a working definition of grace as ‘generosity born of compassion’.

Compassion and generosity.

I love sailing, and I spend several hours each Wednesday as an instructor with a local community sailing scheme called Wednesday Junior Sailing.

Sailing is financially out of the question for many people in our area so WJS offers two hours of instruction, a cup of hot chocolate, and a doughnut, all for the princely sum of one pound.

This is made possible by the generosity of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, the Lymington Yacht Haven and scores of willing volunteers.

Compassion and generosity.

By the way, the reading from Acts is fascinating for a sailor because it uses proper sailing terminology and even gets the technique for a lee shore landing correct: take down all the sails except the jib and come in slowly with a light hand on the rudder.

It also illustrates why you should avoid lee shores in a storm if at all possible!

There were two hundred and seventy-six [276] people on the boat, most of them prisoners.

The crew were happy to let them all drown in their chains; it would save them precious minutes and avoid the danger of being attacked by potentially dangerous people.

The centurion was moved by compassion and had them set free to take their chances with the sea.

He overcame his fears to make a generous decision born of compassion.

No-one lost their life that night.

Compassion and generosity.

Compassion and generosity are attributes of God and evident in the Hebrew scriptures as well as the New Testament.

Our reading from Deuteronomy spoke of the Jubilee year; a year when all debts would be written off and everyone would have a fresh start.

The jubilee teaching doesn’t say anything about people DESERVING their debt relief; it is a free gift of grace.

It’s not clear historically if this was ever actually put into practice but it nonetheless offers a clear insight into God’s character: grace, compassion and generosity.

The passage ends by reminding us that there will always be poor people in the world and we are to respond to their needs with open HANDS, not merely open hearts.

Compassion and generosity.

Sarah and I are currently preparing our garden for our annual Vicarage Garden Party. And yes, there WILL be cucumber sandwiches!

We welcome all-comers to our garden that afternoon, and some of them probably assume our garden ALWAYS looks that good! If only that were true!

Anyway I was working away, pulling up mares’ tails, brambles and burs, when it struck me that I was working in the shade of a green and cooling tree.

The everyday miracle of this particular tree is that it was originally a pussy willow twig, left over from a church flower arrangement.

I admired the furry catkins, so I took the twig home and pushed it into the ground in a damp part of the garden; worth a go, thought I!

Now it is a tree. About as high as our house.

This liberality and generosity is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say, ‘deep down things’; it’s the way the universe is set up.

All around us we see God’s compassion and generosity at work.

As the saying goes, the rain falls on the just and on the unjust fella. Though I seem to remember that saying ends: but mainly on the just because the unjust nicked his umbrella!

Compassion and generosity.

How can we integrate this heart of God into our praying?

We can begin by recalling all the ways in which we have been at the RECEIVING end of compassion and generosity ourselves.

Keep silence as we become aware of God’s presence, and bring to mind kind actions of others, everyday blessings such as the feel of a comfortable bed or the smell of good food; natural miracles such as a shading tree rising up from a furry twig.

We start with awareness of all that falls into our open hands. We don’t deserve it but there it is. Grace.

We allow that to lead us into compassionate prayer for others, who don’t have the same advantages that we enjoy.

And, if we follow the divine way, that compassion leads us into generosity:

Generosity of spirit as we forgive those who have hurt us.

Generosity of time as we persevere in prayer even when our prayers seem to find no answer.

And the generosity of humility as we recognise our own lack of grace.

Prayer changes us as we pray, so we pray that God will prise open OUR hands, giving us by the Holy Spirit the gift of grace.

The gifts of compassion and generosity.