Recently, Mike Lueken, the senior pastor of our church, Oak Hills, preached a sermon on unbounded grace which hit me in a profound way. I wanted to share some of his words to you as artists of faith. Enjoy.
“The New Testament was written in what is known as “common” Greek or “everyday” Greek—Greek spoken out in the streets. The Greek word for grace is “charis,” but it is such a rich word, it means far more than one single English word is capable of conveying.
“There is a certain attractive aesthetic that the word, grace, describes. In secular Greek, a sip of an expensive cabernet might be followed by closing the eyes and saying “that’s grace.” A well worded phrase, written or spoken, might be savored by saying “such grace.” Various goddesses in Greek mythology are known as “the charites,” or “the grace goddesses.” These goddesses were personified grace and beauty, and they amplified ordinary enjoyments of festive life and made them even more enjoyable.
Grace has other nuances. The Greek word, grace, also means kindness, generosity, and favor toward those who are inferior and undeserving. Sometimes at a meal a person will suggest “we say grace,” and in this sense the word means gratitude for abundant provision. In Greek, grace also carried the idea of influence or power. Charis is where our word “charisma” comes from, and those who have charisma have an appealing way about them that others are drawn to and influenced by—maybe it is their beautiful soul, or it’s their extreme kindness, or it’s their other centeredness—and their charisma influences others. And in the bible, grace definitely carries the meaning of influence—there is a power in grace to influence and shape and strengthen, so the apostle Paul can say “continue to live in grace” and “be strengthened by grace.”
“And I suppose all this analysis has a place in understanding grace. I like words, I like understanding their meaning, I like investigating their origin—but it can only bring us so far. Grace might be better savored than explained. It is about sipping it and closing our eyes and swirling it in our mouths and letting its delicious flavor explode on our unsuspecting tongue. The analysis and explanations are interesting to some, but we learn grace mostly through stories. Paul’s fascination with grace was not because it was such a complex and beautiful word, but because he had experienced the beauty of grace firsthand. And it shook him to the core and changed him.
“At one point in his past, Paul’s mission was to destroy the church and eliminate those who professed loyalty to Jesus. Then one day, he met Jesus on a dirt road, and God showered Paul with his grace and turned his life inside out. And not just once on that dirt road—He was gracious to Paul over and over. And Paul never recovered from his experience of god’s grace. He was forever enthralled with grace—he savored—that somehow God would be mindful of him and fill his life with goodness and influence him to become someone he never could have imagined. I think this very moment the apostle is still sipping and savoring grace.
“Stories of grace breach our defenses in ways definitions and explanations can’t. In the stories of grace we find in the Bible and in real life, the unlikely person is celebrated, the outsider is invited in, the weak one is really the strong one, the forgotten one is included, the unimportant one is celebrated, the broken are healed, the lost are found, the lonely are comforted, the hopeless are consoled, and the sinner is set free.
“And it’s all grace—to be sipped and savored.
“So an adulterer on the verge of her execution is rescued by Jesus and her life was changed. That’s grace. A wayward son who wasted his inheritance on his hedonistic impulses finally woke up and he went home covered in the shame of his sin. And his father ran down the driveway with open arms. and the son was welcomed home. That’s grace. A hated tax collector spent an afternoon hanging out with Jesus, and everything changed. That’s grace. A condemned thief with only a few seconds left on his life clock was rescued by Jesus. That’s grace.
“To truly savor grace is to realize it reaches way beyond forgiveness. Unbounded grace is god’s abundant goodness expressed in a million ways to people like us even though we don’t deserve it. And if we are alert and attentive to the presence of God with us—and to his activity in the normal course of everyday life—then grace will appear constantly, and we will constantly say “that’s grace.”
“Grace is one of those beautifully uncontainable mysteries, to stand back and marvel at and adore and savor, because our most vivid understanding of grace comes through a sanctified imagination absorbed in holy pondering. Grace is understood best through those indelible memories and moments and images and stories we have seen and heard and experienced, and instantly recognize as grace. We just know them to be grace.”
So grace is artful, grace has a God-breathed aesthetic, grace is expressed and lived out in story. As artists of faith, where does grace show up in your art? Where is grace depicted, expressed, personified, and savored in your life?
[Note: The abstract painting featured is called “Forgiveness,” and it was painted by Julie Lueken, Mike’s wife. It hangs in his office, a quiet reminder of grace.]