Saturday, February 6, 2010

Amazing Grace

Reflections on the Readings

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 7, 2010, Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings for This Sunday

Amazing Grace

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain." - St. Paul

He was born July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean.  At age eleven, he went to sea with his father, completing six voyages before his father retired.   In 1744, John was forced into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich.  Conditions on board were intolerable and the young John deserted.  Shortly he was recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman. 

At his own request he was exchanged into service on a slave ship.  This ship took him to the coast of Sierra Leone where he became the servant of a slave trader who brutally abused the young man.  Conditions here were no more tolerable than they had been on the H. M. S. Harwich.   Early in 1748, John was rescued by a sea captain who knew his father.  This led to becoming captain of his own ship, a ship which trafficked in the slave trade. 

John's early religious training came from his mother, who died when the lad was a young child.  So it is no surprise to learn he had long ago given up on any religious convictions.  However, on a particular homeward voyage, straining to steer his ship through a violent storm, all seemed lost and it seemed certain the ship would go down.  It was then he cried out, "Lord, have mercy upon us."  Later in his cabin, the young captain reflected on this experience and began to believe that God had met him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him.

His hymn of Grace is sung all over the world.  There is no church of any denomination where his ode to Grace is not sung.  The young John, an infidel and libertine, turned priest in the Church of England.  His name is John Newton.  His song is Amazing Grace - how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

John Newton's conversion began when he encountered his own insignificance and unworthiness, and cried out, "Lord, have mercy."   Isaiah, St. Paul, St. Peter, and Moses at the burning bush, like John Newton came face to face with God's mysterious presence.  

And we, when face to face with the body and blood of our Lord, are likewise convicted to affirm with the centurion of old, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed."

Let us pray: Dear Father, you sent your Son into our world that we might learn to grow in grace and in the holiness of your Spirit.  Amen.  

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