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The Way of Grace

22 May 2022

To watch videos of the Introduction to this Service and then the Bible Readings and Sermon itself, you can follow those links:

The Introduction: Grace is not fair https://youtu.be/a2jAzA1KY-0

The Readings and Sermon: The Way of Grace https://youtu.be/V-pBE_N4zA4

You may be familiar with the parable of the unforgiving servant. It wasn’t one of our readings today, yet it could easily have been. In that story the first servant receives grace in abundance and then goes out and fails, or refuses, to show grace to others.

It strikes me how illustrative this is of many people. Indeed, sadly, it strikes me just how illustrative it is of many Christians. You see, so much of what goes on in the world can be described as graceless, and I wonder if this is part of what tends to lead to people to come to the point of asking, “Isn’t it enough to do good to get into heaven?”

 

For people outside the church aren’t always shown an image of Christians that shows them to be different to the world. All too often Christians do not manage to stick to the dictum of being ‘in the world, yet not of the world.’

 

You may remember me commenting in a previous sermon that Philip Yancey states that the single reason that drove him to write his book on grace was hearing an horrific story about a prostitute who was renting out her daughter to men so that she could get money for drugs.

And the thing about that story is how it serves an indictment on the church, and upon Christians. And it does so because this woman, like so many people in trouble and difficulty, did not feel able to approach the church without fear of condemnation and recrimination.

 

The person who shared the story with Philip Yancey went on to say this,

                                    At last, I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help.

                                    I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face.

                                    “Church!” she cried. “Why would I ever go there? I was already

                                    feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”

 

And sadly, as we’ve already said, this woman is not unique. Far too many people who need to receive grace and love from the church only receive accusations and judgement. We find it far easier to shake our heads and suck our teeth, than to try and reach out in love to those who are in need.

We are like the early workers in the parable of the vineyard; we only see injustice according to our standards. We are like the older son in the parable of the prodigal; we only see the bad that has happened.

 

What a contrast all this makes with Jesus. We, who claim to be his followers, who make up his church, have a tendency to drive away the very same sort of people that came running in their droves to be near him. People like the woman caught in adultery, like the Samaritan woman that he met at the well, like Zacchaeus, and like so many others.

 

But how often are we like the unforgiving servant and not like Jesus? We accept the grace God gives, but we are not gracious ourselves.

 

Yet, this is what the grace of God is: where someone appears to deserve condemnation Jesus comes bringing compassion and love.

 

And there is good reason for this. Firstly, people respond so much better to love than to condemnation; and, secondly, if people can be brought to a point where they accept that Jesus can help them, then the Holy Spirit will work to convict them within of their wrong doing, and then bring about change in their lives.

 

As followers of Christ, we should show that same compassion and love. The church needs to show grace to the world, and it needs to do so actively and confidently. After all, if anyone had reason to recoil from the sinner, it was Jesus. Yet, he did not turn away from them, and he does not turn away from us.

Rather, he welcomes us all. Seeing and knowing the need for love and healing, he wishes to bring everyone into his fold, that they might be made clean. And, if Jesus is willing to welcome us, with all our faults and failings, surely we should also be willing to welcome others.

 

But how do we go about showing grace to the world?  Well, we start by looking to Jesus. We see how he treated people; often people that we would not want to associate with, but he loved them, he welcomed them, and he cared for them.

 

Are we willing to welcome those who are different? Are we willing to love those who do not meet our standards? Are we willing to care for those who are in need? Will we hitch up our robes and run to meet and embrace the penitent sinner before they have a chance to grovel, just as the father rushed to his son in the parable? |Or will we be like the elder son and grumble when we see others receive the blessings that we believe we have earned? Forgetting that God’s grace is never something that we can earn.

 

Likewise, will we be willing to include those who have not shared in God’s mission as long as we have, like the owner of the vineyard included all the workers? Or will we begrudge the new Christian, the new believer, when God blesses them in a way we wish we might be blessed?

 

Perhaps seeking to share grace with the world is a big step for us. Perhaps we think it too great a step to make. Perhaps there are steps we need to take closer to home instead. Do we welcome, truly welcome, everyone who enters through the doors of this building? Or are there those who, if they did ever find the courage to come in, we would find it hard to extend the right hand of fellowship towards?

 

Do we treat each other with grace as we should? Do we accept that we all make mistakes and slip-up from time to time, or are we quick to frown, to judge, and to criticise when people do not do things exactly as we want them to? Perhaps instead of the frown, the judgement, the criticism we should seek to smile, to accept, and to encourage. Perhaps we could try to build up rather than put down? Perhaps we could be willing to take risks with who we welcome into the building. In that way we might start to truly foster and encourage a community of grace that is modelled on the grace of God.

 

You see, grace is preposterous. Grace makes what is unthinkable and impossible possible.  Grace changes lives for the better, and grace gives us hope.  Grace means that the ways of the world are turned upside down. That those who come to God whoever they are, and however they come, are welcomed and given equal rights in his kingdom.

 

Grace means that we do not have to stick to the letter of the law, but that we have to do what is right in God’s eyes.

 

Grace means that we receive all that is good, when what we deserve is entirely different.

 

Grace means that everyone has a place at the table.

 

Grace is a wonderful and marvellous thing, and it is our duty to share the grace of God with all people, so let us seek to do so.

Amen.

 

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