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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Amazing Grace

This post is based on a devotion I led with my staff on the first day of school.  The theme we are exploring this year as an entire school is "Amazing Grace," including the story behind the popular hymn.

Luke 4:22a: "All spoke well of [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips."

   We may be quite used to the combination of the words “amazing” and “grace.”  But when something is “amazing,” it is not just one more synonym for “good” that people use to indicate something they like.  Amazing means it’s something that takes us aback, something unexpected and startling.  Grace is truly like that because it’s not the typical way the world operates.  Merit is the criterion for bestowing honour, and when you mess up you have to pay the consequences in full.  But when God loves us despite our flaws and forgives us despite our insurmountable sin debt, we are amazed.  When it dawns on us that, as Blaise Pascal said, “God owes us nothing,” then we see everything around us as gift, as grace.

   This essential quality of the God we serve makes its way into the names parents in our community choose for their children.  Grace is a common first name and middle name for girls.  So is Hannah, the Hebrew word for grace and its variations that include Anna, Annita and Anica.  A pastor I heard about wanted to give each of his children a middle name that means “grace”; in addition to "Grace" he also chose "Karis" (Greek) and "Hesed" (a rich Hebrew word for grace something translated as "loving kindness") as names.

   But we must never separate grace from its Source—that’s what we learn from another common name, one that has an odd silent letter.  You would think the name John should be simply spelled J-O-N, but the "H" is right there in the middle.  The original Hebrew Yohannan means “God/Yahweh is gracious”, and over time it has been contracted with the "H" remaining as a kind of apostrophe and unexpected reminder of grace.  Some examples of variations of the name John are Ian, Sean, Ivan and Jean as well as the feminine forms of Yvonne, Jane, Janette and Juanita.  Whether our names reflect it or not, God’s grace is embedded in each one of us and in each one of our students.  When our eyes are open to the many-fold expressions of God’s grace, we will keep being surprised and amazed by it.

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