I wasn’t looking last Sunday when the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs started hitting the news.
This wasn’t some intentional media fast. Actually, it might have been because I don’t always have time on Sunday afternoons to watch news or scroll my newsfeed.
And, I confess, I realized I’ve become a bit desensitized to this kind of tragedy.
Maybe it’s a sign there’s something wrong in the world when one can say something like, “Oh, great, there’s been another mass shooting.” and go on with one’s day.
But here’s the deal – in my defense. There are going to be more. Well, maybe not more, but there will be another. It might be at a school, or a live outdoor concert, or a church.
It is foolish to think that last Sunday’s will be the last. Especially since, as a society, we are absolutely, totally, unwilling to do anything differently.
So, while worship ought to be a celebration, today’s worship is, at least in part, a memorial service.
We wanted today to be about remembering veteran’s and their families and the collective commitment to something larger than themselves – that when country calls with a legitimate need to defend freedom and honor, these among us have set aside their sense of self to answer that larger call.
But we can’t even let today be about worshiping God and remembering them. And we are struck by the truth that Devin Patrick Kelly, the shooter a week ago right now, had been, in fact, a member of the US Air Force.
And the USAF did, in fact, drum him out.
But we can’t drum him out of the human race.
And honestly, as Christians, we cannot be about drumming people out. We are about getting people in!
The gospel is good news and it wants to be good news for everyone! Mike Slaughter, recently retired United Methodist Pastor from Ohio, says frequently, that if it isn’t good news for the poor, it isn’t the gospel.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for everyone!
So, if the good news of Jesus Christ is supposed to be good news, why is it that sometimes Christians are the saddest sad sacks in the world?
Sometimes, it’s like, “Uh-oh: this feels good. It must be a sin.”
Then there’s the guilt-trip we lay on ourselves and others. Some of us have carried burdens for YEARS for things we’ve done or things we’ve been through. We feel guilty for them, and then when we finally have a day we don’t feel guilty, we feel guilty for not feeling guilty!
As though the good news of Jesus Christ is carrying an appropriate amount of guilt on your shoulders throughout your life.
We come by it honestly, I suppose. Our faith heritage is a people who were redeemed from slavery – just absolutely busted FREE from slavery, and then given some rules to live by.
And what did they focus on? The rules.
Rules are good for keeping people feeling guilty.
So I have to stop and ask you this: Does your understanding and experience of God lead you to believe that God is all about the rules, and that God mostly wants you to feel guilty?
Does that sound like good news? Does that feel like good news?
When you and I talk about how great being or becoming a christian is, but then we go and live defeated lives, it seems like we’re offering fake news.
But the gospel isn’t fake news! It is real, good news for everyone!
Yeah, what’s your “if”?
The gospel is good news if…
- If you follow the rules?
- If you don’t do this, that, or the other thing?
- If you go to church enough?
- If you pray enough
- If you read your bible enough?
- If you sing the right songs in worship?
- If you read the right translation of the bible?
- If you have the right position on
- The Trinity
- The virgin birth
- Gun control
- If you keep the law of Moses?
That’s where we find ourselves with this morning’s scripture reading.
Make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said, so they were. The Gospel had begun to spread among the gentiles, so friction naturally came up:
Specifically, Paul and Barnabas were leading evangelism among the gentiles, and men who converted were not required to get circumcised. The gentile converts were not required to keep the law of Moses.
So, Acts 15 starts, “Some people came down from Judea teaching “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom we’ve received from Moses, you can’t be saved.”
“They ought to have to go through what I went through!” some of the insiders apparently thought!
“we’ve had this Law, that we’ve never been able to keep, but it is still hanging over us, so those gentiles better come along and know what it’s like, too!”
I’ve been there. It’s tempting!
When you finally get “inside” or move toward the top of the control structure, why is it so tempting to want to make sure other people – people “outside” or people below you on the org chart – suffer at least as much as you did?
So there are these two factions (sound familiar?)those from Judea, who aren’t named, and Paul and Barnabas from Antioch. One group wanted everyone who came to Jesus to be subject to the law, just like they had been.
I feel like I have to offer an aside here. I mentioned this earlier, and, while I’d like to think we’ve all caught it because I have said it, perhaps, more times than anything else besides that bit about following Jesus a bit better today than yesterday.
Way back near the front of the book, these people were enslaved by other people. The enslaved just happened to be God’s people. They cried out, and God heard their cry.
God always hears the cry!
So God did what God does: God delivered them from slavery.
Then AFTER God delivers all those people from slavery, AFTER they are removed from the land and the presence of those who held them down, AFTER they were on their way to a land God would give them, THEN God gave commandments.
Most of us live it the other way around. IF we can live up to the law, THEN God will deliver us, many of us think.
That may be how your god works. But the God who delivered the Israelites, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, doesn’t work that way!
Our God delivers FIRST!
Here ends the aside. That’s just one of those things I feel like I need to keep in front of us. There’s still much in me that is oriented otherwise, but this is clear, I believe, throughout scripture:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
If God wanted to condemn the world, the law would have come before the deliverance from sin. But that’s not how it happened. And that’s still not how it happens!
So: this sermon is titled “Grace is the Word!” partly because my mind works, as many of you know, with lyric references That’s “grace is the word” rather than “grease is the word”). But mostly because GRACE is THE essential component to our claim that the Gospel is not fake news.
So: the church in antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem – headquarters – to present their case – the case for grace.
And “some people,” we aren’t given names – come to argue the opposite. Now, the fact that we aren’t given names of those on the other “side” is a good hint as to where this story is going. Which, in fact, if we had read the whole book of Acts, and Luke, that goes along with it, we would know. Both Luke and Acts are, in a sense, fact-checkers in support of the position that gentiles have always been part of God’s plan. In other words: God so loved THE WORLD.
Another is this, and some of you caught it when ______ was reading it: in verse 5, Luke wrote “some believers from among the Pharisees stood up and claimed , “The Gentiles must be circumcised. They must be required to keep the Law from Moses.”
This is one of those points that ought to really challenge us. Sometimes when we read the gospels and come across “Pharisees,” we know they’re the bad guys. They’re kinda the bad guys in this story too, but I hope you can also see how they’re kinda us.
At least they are kind us whenever we are the ones who are ruled more by rules than by grace.
So: the debate is set. Can you imagine what the twitter war would have been like? (collect images)
Peter stood and announced the Jerusalem Council’s decision:
God, who knows people’s deepest thoughts and desires, confirmed this by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith. Why then are you now challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? On the contrary, we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”
“We believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Please notice: They weren’t, and I’m not, saying that rules don’t matter, or that the Law doesn’t matter. Peter did ask, though, and he asks the Pharisee within each of us: “Why are you challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear?
Wow. Just wow. Why would we CHALLENGE GOD by placing a burden on the shoulders of others that we couldn’t bear ourselves?
- Because if we had to suffer, so do they?
- Because our vision of God is more mean than loving?
- Because somewhere, deep inside, we still feel like we have to earn God’s love?
I think that’s it. I think we – most of us – have within us a sense that we still have to earn God’s love.
If you have to earn it, it isn’t grace.
And grace is the word. The gospel is grace! Specifically, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace makes the Gospel good news. Without grace, it is fake news.
Don’t let the gospel you share be fake news. Don’t let the gospel you live be fake news.
Grace is the word. Grace makes the gospel good news!.
Grace, briefly, is defined as unmerited favor. I also like that the lexicon added: kindness.
That’s definition. Here’s a lyric for what grace is (thanks, Bono):
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world
Grace finds goodness
She travels outside
When she goes to work
You can hear the strings
Grace finds beauty
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace finds beauty
Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace is the word. May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ fill you and be good news for you, in you, and through you.