My recent birthday presented me with some plastic money or gift cards. Gift cards have become popular as they allow the giftee the chance to pick out exactly how and when they will spend the value of the precious plastic gift.
After all when it comes to gifts of clothing, there are some folks who have a slightly different taste than mine and try to make me more urban than my fertile country roots want to allow! And of course there is always the obstacle of size variations differing from manufacturers. Although some believe the plastic gift card is too impersonal and rather a cold birthdays embrace, it has become an ever so popular convenient prize.
In the past, I have misplaced a gift card or two; maybe my value of them was not as high as it should have been. When I eventually remember where I stashed them or stumble upon them as I perhaps look for something else I safely put away; when I go to use that found gift card It still has the same value or same amount of worth as it did when I received it.
A thoughtful gift is always of great value but honestly, the greatest gift I have ever received is the gift of grace. We heard in the Epistle this morning, “But to each of us was given grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ.”[Eph. 4:7] Grace is not a manmade textile nor can it be corralled upon a plastic card. Grace is an energy mediated to mankind by a loving God through the works of the Holy Spirit. We say in the Trisagion prayer: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life…” The Holy Spirit’s general ministry towards all of creation in which He fills all things with the energies of God in His role as the Divine Agent of Him by Whom “all things have come into existence”. (Col. 1:17)
We know that sin entered into the world with the first-made, Adam. In Romans 5:17 we read: “For if, by the offense of the one, death reigned through the one, much more they who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 5:17] Saint John Chrysostom describes it this way: “He does not here say ‘grace,’ but ‘abundance of grace’ (perisseivan th“~ cavrito~). For it was not as much as we must have to do away the sin only, that we received of His grace, but even much more….For Christ paid down much more than we owe, even as the boundless sea is much more than a little drop.” [Hom. 10, P.G. 60:522 (cols. 476, 477).]
We put on Christ at our baptism rejecting Satan. It becomes very specifically the act of a person’s death and resurrection in and with Jesus. Christian baptism is man’s participation in the actual event of Pascha. It is a “new birth by water and the Holy Spirit” into the Kingdom of God (Jn 3.5). We then chant the words of the Apostle Paul as the newly-baptized is led in procession around the baptismal font three times as the symbol of his procession to the Kingdom of God and his entrance into eternal life: “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia” (Gal 3.27).
But just as I misplace my plastic gift card, I can also choose to turn my back on Christ and His grace and allow my baptismal garment to be stained. Saint John Chrysostom writes:“If He “lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” how is it that so many continue unenlightened? For not all have known the Majesty of Christ. How then doth He “light every man”? He lighteth all as far as in Him lies. But if some, willfully closing the eyes of their mind, would not receive the rays of that Light, their, darkness arises not from the nature of the Light, but from their own wickedness, who willfully deprive themselves of the gift. ‘For the grace is shed forth upon all,’ turning itself back neither from Jew, nor Greek, nor Barbarian, nor Scythian, nor free, nor bond, nor male, nor female, nor old, nor young, but admitting all alike, and inviting with an equal regard. And those who are not willing to enjoy this gift, ought in justice to impute their blindness to themselves; for if when the gate is opened to all, and there is none to hinder, any being willfully evil remain without, they perish through none other, but only through their own wickedness.”
The gift of grace is as valuable now as it ever was! With every stain I paint on my baptismal garment, His grace washes it clean with my sinfulness confessed and His Body and Blood ministering to my wounds. St. Clement of Rome states it this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Christ’s Blood and understand how precious it is to His Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.” Even if you have misplaced your faith and turned your back on God, His grace for you is still there, awaiting you. God’s love for you and I is so intense but yet He leaves the gate open, it is your choice to surrender your brokenness and failures and let Him bind your woundedness with His selfish grace that yearns for all of mankind to come home. We need you and want you! He needs you and wants you! We are family!!!