Ephesians says much the same in Paul’s distinctive theological language. “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” A bit further on, Ephesians adds, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
These passages go together beautifully.
Christ comes, through the grace of God, to save us when we were dead in sin. Christ comes to make possible life with him. Christ is God’s gift to us, to the world, to all of creation.
This great gift is something God does for us out of love. This is not our doing. This is not the result of our works.
Now, that part of our readings is great. The next part is pretty good, too.
Our works do matter. We are called to works of love in the world. God’s grace may not depend on our good works. But Ephesians is clear that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
We just have to get the sequence right. God’s grace comes first. Then, as a response to the grace that we have received, comes Christian works, works of love. It is as if God fills us so full of grace and love that the grace overflows, God’s grace shines in us and pours out of us. Naturally and inevitably, we share with others the love that we have first received from God.
We have all seen this in action. We all know people who overflow with God’s grace and love. We should all be able to think of times when we overflowed with God’s grace and love.
On the grand stage, I think about Martin Luther King, who met hatred with love and violence with forgiveness, who worked with such courage and integrity to remind us that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. As King would have been the first to say, that was God’s grace at work in and through him.
On a considerably smaller stage, I think about Ellen Rendrick’s mother Beulah. Beulah volunteers in the office on Fridays, and she always brings me a big cup of tea and a sandwich from Dunkin Donuts. In the good old days before Lent, she also brought me not one but two Boston Crème donuts. That is grace overflowing in love!
Probably Beulah would be embarrassed if she were here. And of course we are not supposed to toot our own horns. But in general, the last line of our gospel reading holds true. “Those who do what is true [that is, those who do Christian works of love] come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
It is a pleasure to think about times when we have seen God’s grace overflowing in our lives or in the lives of people around us.
But this is where our readings begin to make me a little uneasy.
Because, of course, my works are a mixed bag. The problem is, even the best of us sometimes fail to do what is true. Even the best of us sometimes do what is evil. And, as our gospel reading also says, “all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light so that [our] deeds may not be exposed.”
We are children of the light, recipients of God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ. But the sad fact is, I still like a little darkness to cover some of what I do and who I am. Virtually all of us do. We keep things hidden from each other. We keep things hidden even from ourselves. We try to keep things hidden from God.
So here’s where most of us stand.
Christ suffered and died for us that we might know God’s grace and love. We have been empowered by that grace and love, and by the Holy Spirit, to participate in God’s mission in the world. We are children of the light, and we often live like it.
But we don’t always live like it. We keep some areas of our life in darkness. Even though the light has come into the world, even though we are grateful for that light in our lives, we hold on to a little darkness.
That is what Lent is all about. As I seem to say every week in one way or another, Lent is a time to be honest about the darkness that remains in our lives, to let a little light in, to shine some of the light of Christ in those places that we normally hide away.
That means self-examination and a willingness to be honest with ourselves.
Two things have been helpful in my self-examination this Lent, and both are forcing me to face some of my own darkness.
One is this purple wrist band. I think of myself as a positive person, as generally more focused on light than darkness. But noticing every time I say something negative has opened my eyes. (And it is emptying my wallet!) It turns out I complain more than I had realized. That is helpful to know.
The other means of self-examination that I have been using this Lent is meditative prayer.
If you have never tried meditation, I invite you to join us in our Lent formation. During our sessions, we sit in silence for five minutes. That is harder than it might sound. But even five minutes can be revelatory and transformative. I am often startled by what pops into my head, the anxieties and resentments that I didn’t know I was carrying, that I have kept hidden away even from myself.
Last week, I found a helpful quotation about this in a book of Franciscan reflections. Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Prayer is not just spending time with the Lord. It is partly that—but if it ends there, it is fruitless. No, prayer is dynamic. Authentic prayer changes us—unmasks us—strips us—indicates where growth is needed. Authentic prayer never leads to complacency, but needles us—makes us uneasy at times. It leads us to true self-knowledge, to true humility.”
In the language of our Gospel reading, Teresa is saying that prayer shines the light of Christ into the darkness in our lives.
Now, that light is often uncomfortable. It can be like walking into the bright sunshine when you have been inside for a long time.
But it is also liberating because that light comes from Christ, who is the true light of the world. And when Christ’s light shines in our darkness, our darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:4-5). Christ’s light shines on our sin and our shame, and, if we will let it, Christ’s light burns them up. After all, that is exactly why Christ came into our world in the first place.
We have two more weeks of Lent. If you are not already doing so, I invite you use to that time for self-examination. Expose your dark places to the light of Christ, and experience the grace and forgiveness, the new life, that Christ offers.
In His name. Amen.
 Franciscans Day by Day, March 6.