If Grace Then…

The is the second sermon in our “If … Then” series for the month of September.


Grace

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
Grace
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world

And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
In everything

We ended last week with the invitation to respond to grace – to God’s grace – to God’s good will towards us.

How’d that go for you?

Did you respond to God’s grace this past week?

Because here’s the deal:  IF we are people of grace, then we must become people of grace!

IF we have received grace, then we will give grace away

Grace finds goodness in everything.

It seems like we are better and finding badness in everything.  Got a favorite political candidate?  I bet they’ve done something wrong sometime in their life….  I know: you are very familiar with what OTHER candidate’s wrongs and failures.  But yours is not perfect either.

But I’m not lamenting that all politicians are evil and suggesting we all throw up our hands and give up.

I am suggesting we learn to live by grace.

To put it in the simplest terms possible: IF we are people of grace, THEN we give grace away.

I know I have told you the story of the Dead Sea, but I’m going to tell it again.  Do you know why the Dead Sea is dead?  The Dead Sea is not dead because there is no water flowing into it. The Dead Sea is dead because nothing flows out of it.

We love grace. We sing about grace: amazing grace! “The wonderful grace of Jesus”!

But do we have grace flowing out of us?

If we have indeed experienced grace, then we have grace flowing out of us!

If we do not have grace flowing out of us, perhaps we ought to look into what is stopping it.

Some of us don’t actually let grace in in the first place

Some of us hold onto grace, saving it for ourselves, as though there is a limited quantity of grace available.

Some of us begin to think that God has charged us with choosing when, where, to whom, and how much grace to distribute.

I want to answer each of these 3, and I answer all three with this: If we have indeed experienced grace, then we have grace flowing out of us!

Some of us have been in church all our lives.  I actually didn’t grow up going to church every Sunday, but began doing so in high school and have never looked back. Some of you have even longer stories of being part of church than that.

Some of us are relatively new to this religion thing. Some found this church because they happened to be driving by noticed the building or the sign.  Some found this church through a friend.

Some found this church from the bottom of a hole, from the knot at the end of a rope they’d been clutching and were about to let go.

We might all say we have found grace, or grace has found us, but some of us mean it more than others.

Some of us have let grace in, some of us haven’t. If we let grace in, then grace begins its work in us.  Grace is wilder than a flood; it cannot be tamed.  If we let grace in, grace begins its work in us.

Jesus’ light metaphors are really helpful here: Besides saying that he is the light of the world (in John’s gospel, he tells his followers they are the light of the world), he says this in Luke 8

16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand so that those who enter can see the light. 17  Nothing is hidden that won’t be exposed. Nor is anything concealed that won’t be made known and brought to the light. 18  Therefore, listen carefully. Those who have will receive more, but as for those who don’t have, even what they seem to have will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:16-18)

Most of us, as good consumers, assume that when Jesus says something like “those who have will receive more,” he is talking about stuff. Things. Material possessions.

He is talking about grace. And mercy. And forgiveness. And hope.

Will you let grace in?  Will you open your life to the light of God’s grace, that it might begin the healing process in you? Remember: Grace finds goodness in everything.

Some of us hold onto grace, saving it for ourselves, as though there is a limited quantity of grace available. (grace wouldn’t be very amazing if there were only a limited amount, would it?)

This is where, I think, Peter’s question comes in.  How many times do I have to forgive? 7 times? Was Peter asking for a friend? Peter was asking for us.

Now,7 is a pretty generous offer. If you’ve ever forgiven anyone, you know.  But biblically, I mean, 7 is a generous offer.  Not only is it the biblical number signifying perfection or completion, but Peter is also referring to Amos chapters 1 and 2, where Amos writes: For three crimes of …[various nation/people], and for four, I won’t hold back the punishment,

Peter offers to forgive twice as much – twice 3 plus 1, even!  Surely to forgive someone seven times is generous, right?

If one hasn’t experienced grace, then, yes, indeed, seven sounds really generous.

If one has experienced grace, then one has stopped counting.  Because grace finds goodness in everything.  Because by grace

>As far as east is from west—
   that’s how far God has removed our sin from us. (Psalm 103:12)
>in the words of Micah: Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity,
           overlooking the sin of the few remaining for his inheritance?
     He doesn’t hold on to his anger forever;
           he delights in faithful love.
    He will once again have compassion on us;
           he will tread down our iniquities.
You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)
>and Paul in Ephesians 2: You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

I can assure you that God’s grace is not a limited resource.  No matter how much grace you have received, God will not run out!

Some of us begin to think that God has charged us with choosing when, where, to whom, and how much grace to distribute.

This is where Jesus’ response to Peter’s question comes in. The forgiven servant, who, I might add, has been forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents, goes and refuses to forgive a fellow servant’s debt of 100 coins.  Here’s the quick math on that: 6,000 pence or denari or coins equaled 1 talent.

So the debt he is forgiven is 600,000 times the debt he refuses to forgive.

Who died and made him God?

Well, actually, no one.

Again, if one has received grace, if one has opened oneself to the magnificence of God’s grace, then one responds by offering grace to others. In other words: If we have experienced grace, then we have grace flowing out of us!

The harshest part of the story – in fact, the only harsh part, is the end, when Jesus says,

“When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:31-35)

I noticed for the first time ever, in preparing this sermon, the weight of verse 31. The unforgiving servant was turned in, tattled on, snitched on, by his fellow servants.

I wonder how much snitching is going on about us?

I wonder how much of the world around us looks at the church and thinks we look a lot like that unforgiving servant.

I wonder if any of us really believe God has charged us with metering out God’s grace.

If we do, then this message seems clear: “His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

God’s grace is not ours to measure out and distribute or withhold as we think appropriate!  God’s grace is not a limited, scarce resource that we have to or could possibly control.

Grace is wilder than a flood; it cannot be tamed.  If we let grace in, grace begins its work in us.

The poem I quoted to open this message, for those who didn’t recognize it, is a song by U2 titled, “Grace.” I didn’t share the line I find most powerful: Grace “travels outside of karma.”

Karma: you know it: you get what you deserve?  You reap what you sow? What goes around comes around?

That’s the way the world seems to work. Sometimes that’s the way we say we want the world to work.

But Grace travels outside of karma.  The God who loves you because of God’s own character and decision, not your own, also offers grace, shares grace, showers you with grace.

Grace, I want you to know, is the most basic identifier of Wesleyan or Methodist theology and practice.  Wesley identified grace by the variety of ways it worked, and the fullness of it available to ALL.

I think Wesley would love the closing lines of the song I shared to open, which I share now to close:

Grace finds beauty in everything
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
Have you got ugly things that you would like grace to work on?

Anything you are willing to open up to the light of God’s grace, grace will find beauty, will make beauty of it.

If you feel you have been withholding grace from others, it is very likely you have not let yourself experience the depth of grace that God offers.

I believe that as we let God’s grace really get hold of us, it changes us.  It finds beauty in us, it takes what is ugly and makes it beautiful.

IF we have received grace, then we will give grace away

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