I'm sitting on the south bank of the river Thames. The sun is bathing my face in the first warmth of spring. The sky above London's iconic buildings is luminous blue. Nearly everyone around me - tourists, office workers grabbing lunch and fresh air, joggers, cyclists, human statues, sellers of trinkets and soft drinks - is as good humoured as the day. I find myself half-muttering, half-singing (under my breath) 'God is good'.
An elderly man next to me is checking stock prices in a pristine copy of today's FT; behind me skate boarders clatter in the brutalist under-croft of the national theatre accompanied by squeals of delight from young spectators; a lean African man entertains us with lilting Kora music; and an Eastern European artist offers original artwork to bemused passers-by (his subject matter jars with the lazy spring feel all around).
I'm on my way to a meeting with the guys behind the Community Bible Experience that so many of us have found has led us to fresh understanding and appreciation of scripture as we've read it and talked about it in groups. But I'm grateful for fifteen minutes in the sunshine and fresh air, grateful for the reminder of God's opulent, extravagant creativity.
And as I watch the water and people, I can feel the cares and anxieties that I've been carrying through the day slipping from my shoulders, to be replaced with a serenity born of the reminder that whatever's happening, God's on the case. As he is creating this day, so he is gently showing me that whatever I'm wrestling with, he has the measure of it.
It's a reminder of grace. A reminder that God is constantly favouring us with his glance, his presence, his glory, his unexpected arrival in the midst of busyness and hassle, with refreshment, laughter, an unexpected word, a hug...
The Macedonians had experienced this. In the midst of their struggle to make ends meet, the sheer hard graft of putting food on the table and clothes on their backs, God had refreshed them with his grace and they wanted to return the favour by being gracious to those in even greater need than them. Paul tells us about this as he announces the offering in 2 Corinthians 8. They gave themselves to God because God had given himself to them, lavished the goodness of his presence on them in such a way that they couldn't help but trust him and pass it on.
That's what grace does. In the midst of the pressures of life, the voices telling us that things are too hard, that we haven't the resources to make it through the day, that the forces ranged against us will grind us down and bring us to our knees, God comes and sits next to us and says 'hey, remember me!'
I'm sitting with a lemonade and Joe Stiglitz, musing on the state of economic chaos engulfing us and pondering the whither and what and why of inequality. Of course, Stiglitz is only with me in a book of his I’m reading. And Paul reminds us that grace is the great equaliser. He's not wanting the Judean Christians to be lining their pockets at the expense of the Macedonians or the Corinthians; he just wants equality, everyone to have enough. He's reminding us that our God became poor so that we might become rich and we should be modelling our lives on him.
And this too is grace at work, God's great work of giving, seen in the provision of manna in the wilderness, now seen in the way his grace opens the hearts, hands and wallets of his people, so that they become the means by which equality is made and maintained. And in a crazy world where the cost of my lemonade, enjoyed in the Southbank's spring sunshine, is all a family might have to live on anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, Stiglitz makes a lot of sense (he's won a Nobel prize, after all), but Paul makes more.
When we are recipients of grace in the way the Macedonians were, we instinctively not only want to see those in need helped, but also to play our part in making that happen. For if God lavishes his grace on us, so generously, so relentlessly, so continually, why would we not open our hands and let it flow through our fingers to those around us who need it as much or more than we do.
We live in days of change and turmoil – in the world around us and in the church so close to us – when our ability to trust is being stretched and tested. And I am feeling, as the sun warms my face and chases away the memory of a hard winter, that his grace will be sufficient to deal with whatever comes my way. The challenges we face may be many and various, they might be things we’ve never faced before, they may be causing us acute anxiety. But one thing is true: God’s grace has the measure of them and mastery over them; he can be trusted to lead us through whatever comes our way with open, generous hearts and an eye on those who need to realise for the first time who made the sunshine that brightens all our lives.