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Grace

 

 

Pastor John Gibson preached this sermon on July 3, 2016 about 2 Kings 5:1-14, Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16 and Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.

My wife Cindy and I met 21 years ago in 1995. I was serving as the assistant to the rector at St. Paul’s, Cary, and she took a job as assistant to the parish secretary. She left that position after a few years to take another job with better pay and benefits. Since we had enjoyed each other’s company, we started hanging out together and eventually one thing led to another. The irony was that she lived a few blocks from the church. We never met each other though until she took that job. If she hadn’t seen the ad in the paper, we probably never would have met. While like most couples we have had some difficult times, our marriage has been a gift from God, an instance of God’s grace.

Philip Yancey defines grace as getting what you do not deserve (1). The Outline of Faith in the Book of Common Prayer says, “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills”(2). This definition fits with the meaning of the word translated as grace in the Bible that actually means “favor”(3).

One of the first places that we see the word in the Bible is Genesis 6:8 which says, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (ESV). While people sometimes think of God in the Old Testament as wrathful, God reveals Godself to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 ESV). God freely shows favor (4). In Exodus 33:19, God says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (ESV). People sometimes worry that this means God is capricious, when in reality it means nothing can earns God’s favor. It is a gift.

Jesus is the embodiment of God’s favor. John’s Gospel says Jesus is “full of grace” (1:14). He brings us into a new relationship with God. As the apostle Paul says, we are made right with God, we are made one with God, not by what we do for God but through God’s grace (5).

I think this is one of the hardest and most radical concepts of the Christian faith, because it is completely different from how our world operates. Our society is based completely on works. If you do not do your job, you are going to be looking for another one very quickly. If do not do your part at home, odds are good these days that your spouse will eventually kick you out. If you do not do your chores, you are going to get in trouble quickly with your parents. Most of us are actually like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. We think the prodigal should be punished for squandering his father’s wealth and that the dutiful son should have gotten the fatted calf for a feast in his honor (6). The idea of unearned favor is foreign to us.

And many religions in the world are based upon merit. The idea of karma, for example, says that a person is punished for bad deeds and rewarded for good ones. That makes sense to us. Only after many lives accumulating merit does a person achieve nirvana, an end to suffering and the cycle of rebirth.

Christianity in contrast is based upon grace, God’s unearned favor for each of us. Each of our scripture lessons for today in one way or another speaks about grace. The demons submit to the 70 because of the name of Jesus (7). Although the apostle Paul says that you reap what you sow, he does not take credit for his work. Instead he says, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14-15). Naaman is furious when all he has to do is to wash in the river Jordan (8). The truth is we can do nothing to earn God’s love, to earn God’s favor, first, because we can never measure up to God and second because it is simply God’s nature to love, to show favor, because God is love.

It is important to say that people can reject God’s grace. Because God loves us, God refuses to force Godself on us. God continues to knock on our door from time to time, because God loves us and wants to be in a loving relationship with us, but God waits for us to open the door before fully entering into our lives.

It is also important that our actions still matter. This might sound I just gave you a gift only to immediately take it back immediately. In reality, it is very different. Since we have received God’s grace through Jesus, we simply seek to walk in the way of Jesus. As Jesus shows and gives God’s grace to us, we give God’s grace to others. Philip Yancey in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? says that “Grace is the church’s great distinctive. It’s the one thing the world cannot duplicate, and the one thing it craves above all else--for only grace can bring hope and transformation to a jaded world” (9).

As followers of Christ, we are bearers of God’s grace. This is what we seek to be as a community of faith. We reach out to others with the Good News of God’s love and favor for them. We welcome people wherever they may be in their life and faith. We support one another in the ups and downs of our lives and we encourage one another to grow in our relationship with Christ. Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35 NRSV).

Cai Sujuan was born in 1890 to a wealthy family in China. The 18th of 24 children she was a sad and serious girl. She attended two missionary schools because of her interest in English. Although determined to reject the teaching of Jesus, she became a follower after hearing an American pastor. Her enraged family took her from the school. Her brother told her on the boat ride home that she had three options. She could hang herself, stab herself or drown herself (10). Cai however had found a peace and joy she had never known. Despite her family’s relentless pressure and mocking, she persisted in her faith. Eventually because of her witness, 55 members of her family became followers of Jesus (11). Cai Sujuan received God’s grace through Christ and she freely gave that gift to others.

God gives us that gift today and every day. Let us, like Cai Sujuan, give this gift to others.

Endnotes
(1) Philip Yancey, “Grace,” Philip Yancey, 2009, http://philipyancey.com/q-and-a-topics/grace.

(2) “An Outline of the Faith,” The Book of Common Prayer 1979, 858, http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/catechism.pdf

(3) Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “xaris,” A Greek-English Lexicon, Abridged, 9th Edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), Bible Works 9.

(4) W. Zimmerli, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1302

(5) [A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23-24 ESV).

(6) "Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found'"  (Luke 15:25-32 ESV).

(7) “The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’" (Luke 10:17 NRSV).

(8) “Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage. (2 Kings 5:10-12 ESV)

(9) Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace, (Grand Rapid MI: Zondervan, 1997) Second Cover.

(10) David Jeremiah, “Graced and Gracious,” Grace Givers: Amazing Stories of Grace in Action, (Ontario OR: Integrity House, 2006), https://books.google.com/books?id=AAj9v2oTAvQC&q=christina#v=onepage&q=tsai&f=false.

(11) ChinaInsight, Inc. “Queen of the Dark Chamber,” Pray for China, 2016, http://www.prayforchina.com/pro_cai_sujuan_e.htm.