Today I was reading from my devotional (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals), and read this quote from Frederick Buechner:
"The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too." (from Wishful Thinking, 1973)
As I was reading, I began thinking of people in my life. I thought of a specific person for each statement.
Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you.
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you.
Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us.
It's for you I created the universe. I love you.
There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it.
Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.
I don't know if Buechner thought of it that way when he wrote it. Perhaps, in his mind, he wrote it as a complete thought, and would be offended if he knew I was breaking it up into little pieces - like the musician who doesn't want someone to listen to just one song on his album, because he wrote and recorded every song to be listened to with every other song. Or when I hear someone take a single sentence from one of my sermons or lectures and say, "That part spoke to me," and I want to say, "But I didn't mean it to be taken alone! If you do that everything will be out of balance. You have to take it all together or not at all!" Okay, I don't get that upset - I'm usually glad that someone got something out of what I say - but I am often concerned that when they take just one phrase and claim it as truth for them, they will miss something really important by removing it from the context.
We do this with scripture. We claim a verse or a passage, and make it ours - and claim it, not just as truth, but as TRUTH! Sometimes, there is great blessing there, but there is also danger. We may be tempted to build an entire belief system around one statement, and by removing the context, we miss the big picture - the really important, big picture.
All that being said ...
I think it is okay, once in awhile, to do what I just did with Buechner's statement, and with other writings. It's okay to take a scripture passage, like Jeremiah 29, and knowing full well the historical and cultural context of the passage, still offer it to a friend as a gift from God for them, for today. It is even okay, occasionally, (and those of you who know me know how much this pains me to say), to take a passage like John 3 (You know - the passage that includes verse 3, the one about being "born again"- and that some folks say as long as you've banged your head on the altar at teen camp, well you can detour around everything Jesus said about how we are called to live, including and especially Jesus' hard teachings such as Matthew 5-7 ) and offer it as a gift from God, as a description of how our relationship with God may sometimes look and feel.
Once in awhile, we don't have to make sure we draw the big picture, we don't need to offer a complete, systematic theology. Just give a gift. A small gift. A gift that can be just the right words for today.
So, I want to invite you to go back and read the quote from Buechner. Which part is for you today? Which part is a gift for you?
Reach out and take it.