Don't Accept the Grace of God in Vain
“Don’t accept the grace of God in vain.” St. Paul warns the first Christians in Corinth about this in today’s epistle reading. “Don’t accept the grace of God in vain.”
What does that mean? How can one accept the grace of God in vain? Is this warning a person who says they believe in God and yet doesn’t live in communion with Him? Does this mean coming to Church and receiving the life-giving and immortal gift of Holy Communion each week, uniting with God through the reception of His mystical Body and Blood, and then walking out of church into the world not trying to live with Christ at the center of our lives? Does this mean calling ourselves Orthodox Christians and yet not trying to live our lives according to the ways of our faith, with love for God and love for our neighbor at the center of who we are and all we do?
“Don’t accept the grace of God in vain.” It’s a harsh warning to each one of us, challenging us to look at ourselves and warning us not to waste the gifts that God gives us.
Today’s Gospel story supplements these words from St. Paul’s epistle by giving a concrete example of how one may or may not “accept the grace of God in vain.” We all know the story. A master had three servants to whom he gave different gifts according to their ability. To one he gave five talents. To another two talents. To a third one talent. Each according to their ability. When the first returns after having doubled his talents, he is praised as a good and faithful servant. The second one receives the same praise even though he increased his by only two because he also doubled what was given to him. We could say that these two servants received “the grace of God” to a certain degree in their lives, and then increased this gift. They put forth their effort and commitment, combining their faith with God’s grace and mercy to do something positive with what they were given.
This goes in line with the Gospel teaching that “to every person who has something, even more will be given, but the person who has nothing, even the little that he has will be taken away from him” (Mt 25:29). “If a person has a talent and exercises it, he or she is progressively able to do more with it. But, if one has a talent and fails to exercise it, they will inevitably lose it.” (William Barclay)
And this is what we see with the third servant. He received one talent and does nothing with it. Instead, he chooses to complain about the Master and his gift. He found excuses to justify his own laziness, even accusing the master of things untrue. He was not a self-reflective person, who tried to look honestly at himself. He wasn’t sincere in his self-evaluation. Instead, he took from the master, and lived a self-centered life. He accepted the grace of God in vain. And when the day of accounting came, he simply made excuses.
What about each one of us in our own lives? We all have been given different and unique gifts from God throughout our lives. Spiritual gifts. Material gifts. Emotional gifts. Think about the gifts and talents each of you have received in your life. What have you done with them? How have you increased them? For example, we all received a very special grace at our baptism and that grace has been nourished with our live in the Church. But what have we done with this incredible spiritual gift? How has it transfigured our lives, and how has it impacted those around us? Have we shared it with others?
What have we done with all the different gifts and graces that God has given each one of us throughout our lives? How have we used them, and how have we increased them for His glory?
In my own life, I often think of a very special and concrete example of one of the greatest blessings God has given me. Yesterday, I celebrated my 54th birthday. Birthdays are always a time when I reflect on my life and think about the countless ways God has enriched my life. And one of the greatest blessings has been in the many rich and deep relationships I’ve experienced. Two days ago, my parents celebrated their 60th anniversary. The example of my parents loving each other for so long and living a full life in service to God and in dedication to the world around them has always inspired me. My loving relationship with my parents gave me a rock-solid foundation upon which I started my life, and which has strengthened me throughout my life
Then, over the past two weeks, I celebrated the birthday of two of my children, which makes me think of my immediate family and how my wife and children have enhanced and blessed my life. Over this same time period, I’ve also celebrated the birthdays of my brother and my mother-in-law, which reminds me of my extended family. I can’t overstate the gift and blessing of a Christ-centered, solid family that has given me a strong foundation and support throughout my life. Yet as I reflect on the love of my parents and that of my beloved wife and children and on to my extended family, I then realize this family unit extends far beyond, to the universal church family I have – the Body of Christ that begins here in Webster and expands into the global church in Albania, in Mexico, in Africa, and throughout the world. I can only say God has richly given me so much through the vast relationships of my life. Surely not two or even five talents, but far more in all my loving and grace-filled relationships. This is what makes life so meaningful and rich!
As I reflect on these cherished relationships, I ask myself what have I done with this “gift” God has graced me with? Well, throughout my life I’ve seen and come to understand that the purpose in life is to cultivate and spread such loving relationships with others. The key to a meaningful, joyful, blessed life comes in loving relationships because such relationships give us a small taste of the ultimate, eternal relationship we can have with God. They give us a taste of the kingdom of God. So, I’ve tried to share this gift, spread this gift, and give this gift to others. The grace-filled gift of loving relationships – of loving, cherishing, valuing, and respecting others - I’ve tried to develop here in our church and in the world all around
We don’t receive gifts to keep them to ourselves. God doesn’t give us His grace to simply bless us. God blesses us, so that we can bless others. God gives to us so that we can share with others. God fills us with his love, so that we can love others. God forgives us, so that we can forgive others. By giving away God’s gifts and talents, they only abound more
Don’t accept the grace of God in vain. We can avoid this great temptation, by learning to share His grace, share His blessings, share the talents He gives us with others, and thus watch them increase in our lives.
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Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019