Singing Lent: “Grace Greater Than All Our Sin”

Several years ago, a small group of us met on Tuesday mornings to pray together. Our model was an ancient practice of praying the scriptures called lectio divina, sacred reading. It focuses on one scripture passage, and the passage is read over again several times, each reading followed by a period of silence and listening. Lectio divina is a dialogue with God… it’s not the type of prayer that I’m usually doing, where it’s just me, talking and talking and asking for things and talking some more and telling God my worries and wants. Lectio is as much about listening as talking. It guides us to listen to what the scriptures say, then to listen for how God uses the scripture in our lives; to listen to where God is calling us and how God is changing us because of the word we have heard.

Maybe you’ve had the experience of listening to someone read a passage of scripture, and suddenly a word or a phrase or an image from the text seems to jump out at you; something you never noticed there before, or something that seems to touch your life, in that moment, in an unexpected way. That is the first step of the practice of lectio divina, receiving a word from God from the holy scriptures.

That happened to me when I read Ephesians 2:1-10. It’s a very familiar text, especially verse 8, one that we memorized when I was a kid: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” When I was reading and re-reading these verses for tonight, I had a very lectio divina kind of experience, and a phrase caught my attention, brought questions to mind, and challenged me… and I was surprised that that word from God for me this day was not actually about salvation, or about gifts… or even about me.

Hear verse 3: “All of us once lived among them in the passions of the flesh, following the desires of the flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.”

Did you hear what I heard? Like everyone else. As I reread these ten verses, that little phrase kept echoing. I’m like everyone else. It’s not just about me. And then I noticed that the whole passage is packed with plural language! There is no “me” or “I” in this letter to the church at Ephesus. I’d always heard “For by grace you have been saved” as if it were pointed at me, individually, “you there, Nicole Anne,” but this epistle isn’t addressed to “me”—it’s addressed to “us”! Our one English word “you” can be either singular or plural, it can mean “you by yourself” or it can mean “y’all.” But Greek is more clear; all the “yous” in this scripture are “y’alls”: God’s grace isn’t just for me, or for any singular person, and the life of faith is not just about my walk with Christ, or any individual journey. Listen:

Y’all were dead through the sins in which you all once lived…”

All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh…”

We were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else…”

“But God… loved us even when we were dead… made us alive together with Christ… and raised us up with him and seated us with him…”

“For by grace, y’all have been saved through faith… and that not of yourselves…”

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

The second step of lectio divina is a time of meditation, opening the heart to God, and listening for how the word we’ve heard connects, specifically, in our life, in this moment. What does it mean for us, today, to think of ourselves as one body, a group of children who like everyone else have been dead in sin, who are loved by God, who have been made alive together, who are God’s own creations, prepared for good works? Can you think of areas in your life where God may be calling you to think of yourself as a part of an “us” instead of only “me”? How might it change our world if we could see ourselves as a true community, not just a collection of individuals sharing space, needing to stand up for our own opinions and interests? How might it affect our politics? Our families? Or even our church business meetings? How might it reform our testimony to a skeptical and cynical world, a world that looks at the church and sees at best hypocrisy, and at worst hatefulness? What would it look like to be a church that shows grace not because we’re a “success story,” but because we understand that we are like everyone else–sinful, broken, and utterly loved and redeemable?

It is natural and right that when God has made the Word come alive in us and in our lives, we respond. We can’t help it. When we feel called, we answer. When God summons us to a mission field, we get ready to go. When God gives us a gift, we offer thanksgiving. When we’re reminded of God’s majesty, we lift our praise. When needs are laid on our hearts, we intercede. When God shows us our sin, we confess. When we feel frustrated or confused, we ask questions and keep searching. This is the third part of lectio divina: responding to the word we have heard, taking up our part in the conversation with God, speaking up in this divine dialogue. We respond in prayer and in action; we ask God to continue the work he has begun in us, to make the word live in our hearts, on our lips, by our hands and feet.

Let’s open our ears and our hearts to hear God’s word; let’s find moments of silence to listen, and then offer our responses to the word that touched our lives, where you are and where we are, here and now. How is God changing y’all, changing us all, today?

Let’s pray:

We were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.  (Eph. 2:3b-6, 10)

God, as we go about your business, we keep your word in our hearts.
Continue to permeate our lives, and our shared life,
with your grace, which is so much greater than all our sin.

Remind us that even when we are not together in one place,
we are together in you, and together with Christ–
that we are loved, saved, seated with him.
You have created us and loved us like everyone else;
make your marvelous, infinite, matchless grace to flow through us,
so that we, and everyone else, may be pardoned, and cleansed within.

Guide us as we walk in the good works you have prepared,
and gather us together, to sing your wondrous story.



This version by Damaris Carbaugh is beautifully orchestrated and sung.

There are versions melding this hymn with “Amazing Grace,” like this one by Andy Griffith, and a cool acappella version by N’Harmony.

I love a little ukulele! Check out this cheerful re-tuned version by Floyd Amoson.

And one more, a modern-rock-y expression by Craig Rigney.

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