Mysteries Unfolded: Mystery of Grace and Peace Ephesians 1: 1, 2

A family who loved jigsaw puzzles, regularly purchased puzzles of greater difficulty. One night, they launched into a 1000-piece puzzle and became frustrated because the puzzle refused to take form. The next night, the younger daughter tried again. She shouts, “It’s the wrong one!”, sounding like that person who declares, “Duh, I should have had a V-8.” She beckons her family and shows them how the pieces in the box didn’t match the picture on the box. The puzzle maker mistakenly put the wrong top on the puzzle, leaving the family with no clues. 

We can feel the frustration of that puzzle loving family, in a world with few clues to the many questions we are unable to figure out. Simple questions leave us befuddled. I often feel stumped when a grandchild asks for the umpteenth time ‘Why Papa’. I stare into eyes that beckon a reply, unable to conjure up a suitable response. You can imagine how your pastor might feel, when you come with the harder questions like: Why did my child die prematurely? Can I escape the torment of my self-destructive ways? How can wrong seem to be so right in our world?  

In my own life, I spent decades wondering why my dad died at age 36, leaving an 8-year boy and my 4-year old sister with their widowed mom? Making it worst, at times, I would wonder why God would take him and leave behind other ne’er-do-wells who are taking up space and breathing our good air until they pass away at a ripe old age.  Who made that decision?  

Our faith has a history of adapting to questions that arise. In the National Archives, there are two pictures of 5thAve. in Manhattan. In the 1900 picture, the street is full of horses and carriages, and one car. In the 1913 picture, we see all cars and one horse. Our faith adapted to the mystery of the gasoline powered car.A 1985 AT&T study predicted the company would have 900,000 cell phone users by the year 2000. They were off by a factor of 120 times, there were actually 109 million users in the AT&T system by the year 2000. (In 2015, there were 5 billion users in the world) The life of faith adapted to a computer in every pocket. The advent of the automobile and growth of cell phone technology brought with it God-given revelations to what seemed like mysteries a few short years ago. 

The United Methodist brand of the Christian faith allows us to live into questions, employing scripture, tradition, reason and experience. We’re not disturbed by unanswered questions. We place our faith in the Merciful Sustainer of life that is still speaking into the mysteries of life. While we wait for further understanding, it’s not necessary to know the why behind the mysteries that are still unfolding. Even, if God audibly offered detailed explanations to our questions, would we be satisfied? 

Were we satisfied to learn Mark Conditt launched a rampage on the greater ATX because he was frustrated with his life? Do we feel better after hearing we missed signs that might have prevented portions of the tragedy? Knowing why doesn’t help the families of Anthony Stephan House and Draylen Mason, who died too young. It will never make sense why Esperanza Herrera lost limbs or Will Grote and Colton Mathes didn’t see the trip wire. There are things we will never know because they’re unknowable.

That which eludes us and can’t be fully known is called a mystery. A mystery isn’t a theory to be proved by a scientist, a riddle to be solved by a savant, or a puzzle to be figured out by a genius.  Mysteries aren’t provable, solvable, or figure-out-able. Mysteries are hidden truths, yet to be discovered by the searcher until revealed by ONE who holds all mysteries in gracious hands.

Those 1st century folk in Ephesus sensed the mystery of the Christ story. Paul was called to unfold its mysteries, which must have felt like a ‘riddle wrapped up in an enigma’, to these early adopters of the Christian faith. They couldn’t have understood what it meant for Paul to call himself an ‘apostle sent by Christ’ or what it means to be named as ‘saints’. 

He unfolds of the mystery by offering “grace and peace”.A greeting so important it is found in all his letters. He knew when undeserved grace is offered, peace abides. The tandem calms any anxieties felt while living in the middle of the mysterious. Undeserved grace generates a peace that takes residence in unknowing souls. That inner peace frees us from our need to understand the unknowns that orbit our lives. Relishing in God’s freely offered grace provides a resource called-a peace that passes understanding. 

Jesus followers pondered the mystery of a grace offered by the man they called Teacher. Their rabbi repeatedly incarnated grace before his disciples, so one day they could claim the mystery of an abiding peace that would be needed when they were labeled troublemakers by Rome. He doesn’t offer answers; he speaks grace filled words, even in the last moments of life. He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” Jesus’ last words didn’t provide the who, what, and why they may have desired. Instead, he spoke merciful words that attract and engender peace, a gift worth much more than answers in the heads.

Our daughter, Erin, has had her own dark night of the soul, struggling to embrace the grace and peace that is offered from those who love her most both on earth and heaven. Thank God’s she has come a long way from those hard days. One of her outlets besides editing children’s curriculum for the Methodist Publishing House, is to compose both prose and verse. Recently she penned these words: 

Mysteries of our lives are still being unfolded. There is not a clichéd’ social media posts that addresses the deep questions of life. There is a relationship with the Christ, who offers an graces gifts called serendipitous moments and unexpected relationships as we journey untraveled roads. What people need most in this world of mystery is a grace spa on every corner, where we can move from station to station, bathing in miraculous grace of God. Good soul living leans into the assurance of God’s grace that precedes, redeems, sustains, and sanctifies us as we navigate the mysteries of life. 

I like Jesus’ response in the unauthorized ending to the poem Footprints in the Sand. This version is marked by a poignant reply after the man says, “I don't understand when I needed you most, you left me alone. This version gives us this response.

In 1995, Miguel Indurain's won his last Tour De France. It was a tragic year as Fabio Casartelli died on a Pyrenean descent.  Members of his Motorola team considered withdrawing from the race, but decided to continue, saying this is what their team mate would have wanted. Throughout the remainder of the race they spoke how Casartelli’s spirit pulled them to the finish line. If a familiar voice, though silenced by death, can speak to cyclists; how much more can the Living Spirit of God pull us through any mystery in life? When we acknowledge and accept God’s grace surrounds us, we can be confident we are not alone when we don’t understand. We can rest in the security that even if we feel abandoned, God is still dragging us along. 

Abide with Me by Henry Lyte was written as he was preparing to preach his last sermon to a parish he had served for 24 years. Rev. Lyte sat on the balcony of his home with mixed feelings as the autumn sun dipped below the horizon and fishing boats lay peacefully at anchor in the port city of Brickham. He reflected how most of his years as Brickham’s parson were bright and golden. Yet, in his last days, unprovoked anger and dissension appeared in the church. His health was failing; he was unable to summon the strength for the patching up of difficulties. It felt like his long ministry was being crucified by the bad behavior of a few. Dejected, he wondered if his ministry had made any difference at all. He returned to his desk and inked this hymn in a few minutes. The next day he boarded a ship for holiday in Italy. He only made it to Nice, France, where he died. 

The poem he left behind, which was played while Titanic sank, is a witness to his faith. It is an example that in the midst of uncertainty, we can embrace the one who abides with us in all the mysteries of our lives. Let’s sing it:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens;  Lord with me abide. and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

When other helpers fail I need Thy presence every passing hour; What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r? Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; In life, in death,  O Lord, abide with me.

Faith in Christ is like reading a mystery novel. Let’s read the mysterious Christ story together for years to come. If we will allow grace to abound among us, we will witness the unfolding of mysteries with peace that passes understanding. I will not have all the answers. I will carry with me the words Barbara Brown Taylor spoke to new ordinands during my tenure as your pastor. "...Being ordained is not about serving God perfectly, but about serving God visibly, allowing other people to learn whatever they can from watching you rise and fall. You probably won't be much worse than other people and you certainly won't be any better, but you will have to let people look at you. You will have to let them see you as you are.” 

As we walk together, I will live my life before you and with you, freely offering the mystery of undeserved grace, so peace can reign both in our hearts, our church and hopefully one day in our world. That is my promise to you, let’s make that promise to each other too. 

Grace and peace to you, my new friends!