“O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace!” So, begins one of our most cherished, well known and beloved hymns. Charles Wesley wrote these words in 1739, 272 years ago. He wasn’t writing about how cool it would be for a thousand people to get together and sing praise to God; he wasn’t writing about if only we had a thousand people to come together in one worship moment; he wasn’t writing about crowds or attendance, or anything like that. Charles Wesley (who with his brother John Wesley founded our tradition, the United Methodist Church), wrote these words because God was so real to him, so unbelievably close, so amazing and loving and life transforming, that he truly wished he literally had a thousand tongues to sing of the amazing grace and love that God had lavished on him. Charles Wesley felt such joy, hope, truth, beauty and love that we wished he had a thousand tongues, a thousand lives, to sing and shout and dance and declare the “triumphs of God’s grace”!
Philip Yancey wrote a book entitled What’s So Amazing about Grace (it is a wonderful book, a must read, one of the greatest books I have ever read, in fact I have given away and re-bought the book several times and it seems as I look over my book self, I will have to by me another copy for I have given mine away again) and this is what he writes:
“Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more – no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less – no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”
Does this mean that we can do whatever we want? Does this scandal of Grace mean that there is no responsiblitity on my part and I can lie, cheat, steal, destroy, kill, hate, etc? Yes, as a matter of fact it does. Our there deep and lasting consequences? Yes, of course there are. Let me explain, in any relationship there is an element of trust. I put my heart, my feelings, my very self in your hands and you have the choice of doing with that anything you want. You can betray my trust, you can lie cheat and steal, you can destroy me (physically, mentally, psychologically, literally, and/or metaphorically). With grace or love, there is always that danger, always that fear, always that decision. God offers that same choice to you and I.
The scandal of grace means that we can experience the love of God and use it for our benefit by taking advantage of others, by scamming people out of their money, by pretending that God is on “our” side and killing or hurling insults, or belittling, telling jokes about those that are not on “our” side. The scandal of grace also means that God truly loves us as we are, broken, flawed, hurting, joyful, good, healed, whole, Democratic, Republican, right or left, conservative or liberal, gay or straight, Christian or atheist, here or there. The scandal of grace reminds us all that we are loved by God exactly the way we are, for who we are. Scandalous indeed!
This is what Charles Wesley wished he had a thousand tongues to sing about. Or as the fourth verse of “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” states: “He [Jesus] breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free; his blood can make the foulest clean; his blood availed for me.” Charles wasn’t singing for all those foulest people out there, he was talking about himself. That God reached down in the midst of his own brokenness, and hurt, and sin and he heard the words we all long to hear, “I love you!” These words, ‘I Love You’ are the words of power, of change, of redemption, of hope, of beauty, of joy. This is why we sing, this is why we work to love others and alleviate suffering, this is why we give and serve and do, this is why grace is a scandal. God’s grace is not earned; but freely given. God’s love is not earned, it is freely given; open and available to all, anywhere, anytime.
Is this love abused? Yes. We human beings have this tragic condition. But is this love reciprocated and lived out? Yes. We human beings have this amazing condition as well. So, I encourage you to live into the love that God has freely given you, live into the amazing condition of loving others and serving those around you. I encourage you to know that God loves you, forgives you and thinks of you as His beloved. I encourage you to embrace and live the scandal of grace!