We All Need Grace

January 31, 2016

And here we are at the end of Moments of
Grace. Over the past seven weeks we have seen how Grace has been experienced
and expressed throughout the Bible and we’ve looked at Grace displayed in an
unlikely person, in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time and two weeks ago we
saw how Jesus displayed grace at the table when he invited his 12 closest
friends to celebrate with him at the last supper even knowing that those who
were there would betray him, deny him and doubt him. 

And then we looked at Grace in an Awkward
Situation, when even after Peter had denied him three times Jesus didn’t give
him what he deserved, he didn’t deny Peter, instead he embraced him and forgave
him. 

And last week we watched as the thief on
the cross stepped over the line of salvation with his dying breath.   And all he had to do was the same thing each
one of us has to do, accept the gift of grace, a gift that was summed up in 2 Corinthians 5:21 For God
made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could
be made right with God through Christ.  And
that is the Scandal of Grace

And through all of Paul’s preaching on Grace he seems to anticipate
the response from some folks in the church because he asks the question in Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God
can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?

This seemed to be an ongoing discussion in the church at Rome
because Paul had addressed it earlier in Romans 3:7-8
“But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my
dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some
people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it
is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.

It is a twisted logic that leads us to the
rationale that our sinful behaviour actually becomes a public service by
introducing more of God’s grace into the world. 
And so Paul asks the question: Romans 6:1 Well
then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his
wonderful grace?  And then he
answers it in the very next verse by stating Romans 6:2
Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

This type of argument and debate was common
in the era that Paul was writing and was referred in Latin as: Reductio ad Absurdum 
And the definition of that term is: The process of refuting an argument
on the grounds that absurd – and patently untenable consequences would ensue
from accepting the item at issue. In other words reducing it to the
absurd. 

For example, sometimes someone will say
something that just doesn’t make sense or is unlikely to happen.  “If I won the lottery, all my money problems
would be over.”  And I will respond one
of two ways, both of which fall into the class of Reductio
ad Absurdum.  So I will either say
“And if wishes were horses beggars would ride.” Or I will respond “And if my
grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon.”

So taking it to the extreme, if we do
continue to sin it is an opportunity for God to demonstrate his grace over and
over again, however we are told that God hates sin and the ultimate consequence
of sin is spiritual death and so while it provides the opportunity for grace it
ultimately leads to our destruction. 

But what is this grace of which Paul speaks
and which others would use as a licence to continue in their sinful
behaviour?   Well we have defined it
before as God’s unmerited love.  That is
love that we don’t deserve and that we can’t earn.  It is spelled out in Ephesians
2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit
for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things
we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

  

You’ve heard me define it time and time again by saying Justice is
getting what we deserve, Mercy is getting less than we deserve and Grace is
getting something that we don’t deserve.

For example, if a certain cleric was stopped by the local
constabulary for speeding, remember this is just an example, justice would be
getting a speeding ticket for doing 73 in a 50. 
However if the office said that instead of issuing him a speeding ticket
he would simply issue him a ticket for failing to obey a traffic sign which
would mean the fine would be over a hundred dollars less and there would be no
loss of points and the imaginary cleric would not lose his licence for a week,
that would be mercy. 

However if the officer had of said, “Hey don’t worry about it and
I’m on my way to Tim Horton’s, follow me and I’ll buy you a coffee.”  That would have been Grace.   In the story the fictional cleric would have
been shown mercy.

For those who like numbers in the New
Living Translation the word Grace is used 88 times in bible, only 5 times in
the Old Testament and 83 times in the New Testament.  Of the 83 times the word grace is used in the
New Testament 13 of those instances are in the book of Romans.  And the word Grace is not used in any of the
four Gospels.   

It is easy to define grace but that doesn’t
always bring us any closer to understanding it. So let’s look at Grace in
action.

His Name was Joseph and he began his life with a silver spoon in his mouth.  His father was Jacob, Abraham’s Grandson, who
had become a wealthy land owner and farmer and Joseph was his favourite
son.  From the time he was just a child
it was evident that he was favoured, and perhaps a little bit spoiled, or
actually perhaps a lot bit spoiled, actually there was no perhaps about it, he
was daddy’s favourite and Daddy wasn’t afraid to show him or his other children
how he felt about Joseph. 

I don’t know what the final straw was,
maybe it was the beautiful coat that his father bought him, or maybe it was
when he had the dreams about his brothers bowing down to him and worshipping
him.  Maybe it was when the rest of his
brothers had to tend the sheep out in the field and Joseph stayed at home.  Or maybe it was just that opportunity
presented itself.  Joseph had gone out to
the fields to check up on his brothers for his father, and the brothers saw
their opportunity.  They threw Joseph
into a dried up well and then to add insult to injury they sold him into
slavery.

From favourite son to slave and the story
doesn’t end there.  Joseph was taken to Egypt and was
sold to a man named Potiphar.  If we
follow the story along we discover that Joseph was able to gain the trust of
his master and eventually became manager of everything that Potiphar owned, but
when he refused to give in to the advances of his master’s wife she framed him
for rape and he ended up in prison.

From favourite son to slave, from trusted
servant to prisoner, you really know the path to downward mobility don’t you
Joseph?  And to be fair, Joseph’s
problems began because he wasn’t very gracious. 
Well it’s pretty obvious that if anyone needed God’s grace it would be Joseph.  But he’s not alone.  Some
Need God’s Grace Because of Their Attitudes
you know, the way we speak to
people and treat people.

If Joseph started from the top and worked
his way down Moses started from the
bottom and worked his way up.  The people
of Israel had become slaves to the people of Egypt and when the pharaoh began
to feel threatened by the growing number of Israelites in his country the Bible
says he decided to make their slavery even more bitter, kind of the old “I’ll
give you something to cry about”.  When
the harsh working conditions didn’t break their spirits he issued an order to
the midwives to kill the baby boys of Israel as soon as they were
born.  When the midwives refused the
Pharaoh ordered all the newborn boys to be thrown into the Nile River.  And it was into this climate that Moses was
born.

His mother hid him for three months and
when it became apparent that she could hide him no more he was put into a
floating basket and placed in the reeds at the edge of the Nile in hopes that
someone would find him and take pity on him.

And don’t you just love it when a plan
comes together?  Because that’s exactly
what happened and the story gets better because he wasn’t found by just anyone
he was found by the daughter of the Pharaoh. 
Who promptly feel in love with this beautiful little baby boy. And the
story gets better and better, Moses was adopted into the royal household and
enjoyed all the perks and privileges of growing up the adopted son of the most
powerful man in the country.

What an opportunity to help his people, to
make a difference in his world, to impact society.  There was so much that he could do, but did
he?  No. 
As a matter of fact we find no indication that Moses even acknowledged
his roots until he was forty years old and on that one occasion he saw an
Egyptian beating an Israelite and he killed the Egyptian and buried his body in
the sand.  Nasty temper Moses, obviously
you never read anything by James Barrie because
he said “Temper is a weapon that we hold by the
blade.”

Moses, what were you thinking, you had the
power the prestige and the position to make a difference in your world and you
blew it.  Obviously you weren’t thinking
were you? You ever feel like Moses?  You
had it all and then you blew it, and all because you couldn’t control your
temper.  Some Need God’s Grace Because of Their Temper, we say and do things
in the heat of the moment and hurt those around us.

Some called him King, others said he was a
man after God’s own heart, she called him honey. David was Israel’s
greatest King.  He had taken the Jews
from being nothing more than a collection of Nomadic tribes to being one of the
most powerful nations in the known world. 
It was under David’s leadership and direction that Israel reached
the high point
of her history.  Economically,
politically and spiritual Israel
was at its peak. And David was riding high on the crest of popular opinion.

Now I don’t know if David got bored or if
he was going through a midlife crisis thing or what happened but one day when
his troops had all gone off to war, David stayed home.  And you know what they say, “Idle hands are
the devil’s hands.”  Well David should
have kept busy doing what he was supposed to be doing.

The bible tells us that one afternoon that
David has just gotten up from taking a nap, a nap, must be nice to be king.  And as he’s strolling along the roof top of
the palace he notices that one of his neighbours is taking a bath in the buff
in the backyard. Well this lady was not hard to look at all and David sent
someone to find out who she was.  The
answer came back that she was Bathsheba and that she was the wife of one of
David’s soldiers, a man named Uriah.  

David didn’t waste any time, he had
Bathsheba brought to his home, I don’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he
didn’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he wasn’t thinking.  Maybe it was all innocent and he wanted to
compliment her on her beauty, or maybe warn her that when she bathed in the
buff in the backyard that it wasn’t nearly as private as she thought it was.  Or maybe he knew all along where this would
lead.  It was Scottish Writer Margaret Oliphant who so wisely pointed out “Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought.” 

Well it may have started out innocent but
it didn’t end innocent, I think David must have been a fan of Robert A.
Heinlein who wrote “Always yield to temptation, you never know when it will
pass your way again.” The bible says they slept together and if that is all they
did there wouldn’t have been a problem, but the next time David sees Bathsheba
she had some news for him, she said something like “Hi Daddy.”  David, David, David.  What have you done?  Well we know what he did, but why did he do
it.

Well David begins to think, and scheme
after all he didn’t get to be King for nothing. 
And he sends for Uriah thinking that Bathsheba could seduce her husband,
although he had been away from home for a while so there probably wouldn’t need
to be a lot of seduction, and Uriah would think the child was his, he must not
have been real good with math.

But that isn’t the way it happened.  Uriah refused to go home; he said his fellow
soldiers were out defending the country it wouldn’t be right for him to be spending
the night with his wife.  Oh drat, it’s
on to plan “B” then so David invited Uriah to dinner, proceeded to get him
drunk and then sent him home, but still Uriah refused.  Well if you can’t blame hubby then get rid of
hubby, and that’s what David did, he had Uriah’s commander send him deep into
enemy territory and Uriah was killed.

So let’s see, David, you slept with another
man’s wife, and then you had her husband murdered.  Hope she was worth it.  David you were thinking with your hormones
and not your head.  And if you were to
get what you deserved under the law of your kingdom and your God you would be
killed, you are in serious need of God’s grace. 

 Some
Need God’s Grace Because of Their Actions. 
How many of us have done what we knew we shouldn’t be doing?  Because we going to enjoy it for the here and
now regardless of how it might affect our future or the future of those we
love.

It was a great gig, and if he played his
cards right someday he would take the place of his boss.  But then it was over.

His name was John Mark and the first part of his career is summed up in eight
verses in the book of Acts.  The story
begins in Acts 13:5  There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish
synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their
assistant.   And pretty much
finishes in Acts 13:13  Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for
Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and
returned to Jerusalem.

John Mark just quit and walked away, and we
don’t know why, although there has been all kinds of speculation through the
years.  What we do know is that it caused
a huge rift not only in the relationship between John Mark and Paul but
eventually between Paul and Barnabas. 

If we pick up the story in Acts 15:36-40  After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back
and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see
how the new believers are doing.”  Barnabas agreed and wanted to take
along John Mark.  But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had
deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.
 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John
Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.  Paul chose Silas, and as he left,
the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care.

Wow. 
I wonder how John Mark felt? He was young and he blew it, and now it was
coming back to bite him.  He was rejected
by his mentor and basically declared untrustworthy and unreliable.

Some
Need God’s Grace Because of Their Quitting. 
One day they are on board and the next day
and they quite and just walk away.  

Have you ever
felt like you had blown it in your Christian walk?  Have there been times that your behaviour has
been less then admirable?  Perhaps like
Joseph you just can’t seem to get it right, and you know that God must be angry
at you or you wouldn’t have such rotten luck. 
But the story hasn’t been finished yet. 
Joseph eventually became the second most powerful man in Egypt and
because of his position he was able to save his entire family during a famine
that affected entire Eastern Mediterranean.  He summed up his life in a conversation that
he had with his brothers in Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He
brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

Maybe like
Moses you have a temper that needs to be brought under control, and let there
be no doubt about it, if you have a problem with your temper it will need to be
brought under control.  But Moses story
didn’t end with him on the lamb, instead God brought him back to Egypt to
deliver the people of Israel
from slavery to freedom.  That was where
the original Passover celebration came from. 
  When the writer of the book of
Hebrews was listing all the heroes of faith in the bible he gives Moses five
verses, more space than anyone else on the list.  This is only part of it Hebrews 11:27 It was by
faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept
right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.

Have you struggled
with moral failure like David?  Figure
that you’ve blown it and there is no hope for you?  Don’t know if you can fall much further than
David fell, and yet in Psalm 51 we read David’s prayer of repentance Psalm 51:1-2 Have mercy on
me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my
sin.

And?  Well in 2 Samuel 12:13 David is
talking to Nathan the Preacher who confronted him with his sin, and this is a
part of that conversation:  2 Samuel 12:13 Then
David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan replied,
“Yes, but the LORD has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.

The story wasn’t over.  In the
New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Son of David on at least 15
occasions.

Do you ever feel like Mark?  But that wasn’t the end of John Mark’s
story.  God hadn’t given up on him and
neither had Paul apparently.   Eventually
his name would be shortened to just plain old Mark and we read in Paul’s second
letter to Timothy 2 Timothy 4:11  Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you
come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.   And then Paul writes in Colossians 4:10  Aristarchus,
who is in prison with me, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, Barnabas’s
cousin. As you were instructed before, make Mark welcome if he comes your way.

Grace has such a wonderful way of giving
second chances.  Do you ever feel like
Mark?  In your life, or your behaviour or
your words have you quit when you know you should have gone on?  And you can’t believe that you will be
trusted with anything ever again. 

And then you are given a brand new future
and yes, this is the same Mark who wrote the second gospel words  that have been read by billions of people
over thousands of years. 

And maybe you
have nothing in common with Joseph, Moses, David or Mark but here is the
reality:  We All Need God’s Grace Because We Are People

Each of us is
far from God, and according to his word justice for us would be to be separated
for eternity from God and goodness, and light and love, and compassion.  In our tradition that is called hell.  Mercy for us would be annihilation, to simply
cease to exist at death.  But instead God
offers Grace, the thing we don’t deserve, eternal life in his presence. 

Why did Jesus
come?  It was the tax collector Matthew
who recalled a prophecy from the Old Testament that speaks of the coming
messiah, the one we call Jesus Matthew 12:20-21 He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering
candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be
the hope of all the world.”

It was that great American Philosopher
Yogi Berra who said “The game isn’t over until it’s
over.”  If you feel like you’ve
failed in your Christian walk Jesus isn’t going to crush you or put out your
flame, even if that is what you deserve, he is there to pick you up.  

Which is why Bob Goff, Author of “Love
Does” wrote this great definition of Grace 
“Grace
is a painting God’s still completing over our torn canvases.”

Listen to the promise of the Bible, this
is for you this morning, I don’t know where you are on your spiritual journey but
this promise is for you. 

Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit
for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things
we have done, so none of us can boast about it.