"Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand..." Romans 5:2
When I was a little girl, growing up on Staten Island, NY in mid-century America, I didn’t have a large, extended family with oodles of cousins and aunts and uncles, but I did have Aunt Gigi and Uncle Bill. Gigi was my grandmother’s younger sister, a frail-looking little woman, who had suffered from rickets as a child, but what she lacked in size, she made up for in her feisty nature. But, today I want to tell you about Uncle Bill. He was an ex-football player from the rough and tumble days when the game was new, and bore the scars to prove it. He was neither tall, nor fat, but seemed very sturdily built. I still remember him sitting in the corner chair of Nanny’s living room. His crisp white shirt sleeves where held in place with thick rubber bands, (I never knew why) his thinning hair neatly slicked back with Wild Root hair tonic, and the clean scent of expensive cologne gently greeted you. He hummed, too, I’m not sure if it was ever a tune, but the humming was a big part of his persona. He could have been a gangster, he certainly fit the description, but my sisters and I always loved to see him visit. Sure he was a great character, but more than that, he always gave us stuff, often money. One time I recall him asking my aunt, in his low, full voice, to “give the kids a fin.” For those of you unfamiliar with gangsterese, that’s $5.00!!! $5 was a huge amount of money, when you consider that full-sized candy bars only cost a nickel in the 1950s. He was, needless to say, our favorite uncle.
Now you may think that that was wonderful enough, but they lived in the magical kingdom of Atlantic City. Every summer we would make the long journey (probably took an hour) down the New Jersey Turnpike to this heaven on earth. Their home was a couple of blocks from the beach, and we had our own basement apartment. Could this get any better? Yes!! Uncle Bill managed the Steeplechase Pier, an amusement park built on a long wooden pier that extended well into the Atlantic ocean. There were rides of all kinds, and we got to ride them all, FREE!! But wait, there’s more. Right next door was the world-famous Steel Pier with its Diving Horse show. In addition, all kinds of acts performed there from the 3 Stooges to Dion and the Four Seasons, and guess what, Uncle Bill got us in FREE. I did nothing to deserve any of this, other than being born into my family. Uncle Bill never required us to pay him back, it was his gift to us. When I found this old picture of myself taken on one of the rides, I remembered the day vividly. The damp salt air, the smell of creosote wood, and me with a scowling face. It all came back to me so clearly. I had my finger on the trigger button of the spaceship I was riding, and I had convinced myself that the ride would stop if I took my finger off. It hurt, and took away from my enjoyment of the moment. Later, my parents assured me that my effort had nothing to do with the operation of the ride, and from that point on I was in Heaven.
As you might expect, this story reminded me of something, the many people who think that God’s offer of undeserved privilege is too good to be true. They feel they have to work to add to what Christ has already, 100% accomplished. Because they work so hard, it's easy for them to think they deserve the things they have. “These are privileges that we work and sweat for. They're ours,” they like to boast. We love that about ourselves. And although there's nothing wrong with hard work (in fact it's a biblical principle), the message of the gospel is that we earn nothing by our effort. We get to participate in the privileges of God even though we don't deserve it. So I’m here to tell you today, take your finger off the button! Like having an Uncle Bill, God’s grace allows us to ride for FREE!! Quit scowling, believe it, and start enjoying your undeserved privilege!