(Editor’s note: This column is adapted from an essay in Nancy Kennedy’s book, “Lipstick Grace.”)
Recently, my pastor began his sermon asking what one word we would use to describe God.
For me, it’s mercy, followed closely by grace and hope.
When I think of mercy, I think of a teenage girl sneaking out of her house to meet a boy her parents have forbidden her to see -- and getting caught.
If that’s ever been you, then you understand what it is to plead for mercy.
And if you’ve ever had a kid who scribbled “I love you” on a wall with a permanent marker, you understand mercy from God’s perspective. The crime deserves punishment, but mercy offers a hug instead.
Years ago, I was obsessed with making bracelets, and when I had made so many that I couldn’t fit any more in the glass jar on my bathroom counter, I made three more and hung them from my car’s rearview mirror -- “car bracelets.”
Using pewter alphabet beads and assorted green glass beads, one bracelet spelled “mercy,” one spelled “grace” and the third spelled “hope.”
Although mercy is what I think of first when I think of God, I don’t think you can separate these three attributes.
Just like the trio of bracelets wrapped around each other as I drove my car, God’s mercy, grace and hope, yet separate, are intertwined.
One time, the bracelets broke and the beads spilled all over the inside of my car. After I had restrung them and put them back on the mirror, I noticed that I had misspelled mercy as “mecry,” which I decided isn’t all that inaccurate. After all, mercy is something that “me” cries for -- “Please don’t give me what I deserve!”
As for grace: If mercy is not getting what we deserve, then grace is getting what we don’t deserve.
They’re similar, but grace -- the unearned and undeserved favor of God -- is outright crazy. My pastor illustrates it this way:
Someone breaks into your house and murders your only child. So, you bail the killer out of jail, bring him home, adopt him, give him your child’s room, his stuff, his inheritance, even his name -- then you take the murder’s place in the electric chair.
It’s good to be reminded that we are all murderers who, because of sin, killed God’s only Son and that God, by his grace, not only wipes our slates clean but gives us Christ’s righteousness as our own.
We, the murderers, are now beloved, cherished, adopted sons and daughters.
Sounds crazy, but that’s what grace is.
Last is hope -- and it’s hope that helps us to last. Hope helps us to keep going when we want to quit or run away. Hope gives us courage and strength to endure.
It looks at the bars of the prison we’re in, stares at the emaciated or bloated or wrinkled or sallow face in the mirror, stands beside a hospital bed or grave, feels the sting of salty tears and the weight of our sorrow and looks beyond to the laughter and the freedom and the everlasting, never-ending peace God promises.
They make a trinity: Grace saves us. Mercy brings us near to God and hope points the way home.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing” and “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.