You know, being a pastor is a pretty good vocation. I can’t think of another occupation that would be as spiritually rewarding as the one I am currently blessed to have. How many jobs encourage you to seek God at every moment and work to help others do the same. What other profession gives you more chances to have one-on-one time with the Father. What other trade gives you the opportunity to work so intimately with others from birth to death. None that I can think of.
One of my very favorite things to do as the pastor here at Prince of Peace is to visit our shut-ins. Each and every one of them help in so many ways to encourage me and prop me up and I hope to do the same for them. With every visit we are blessed to share Holy Communion together one on one and it never gets old. We talk, we laugh and we pray together.
Sometimes when I visit, we go through a little church service together and recently I noticed something about the service itself. It begins with grace and forgiveness and then ends with peace. In the beginning we are reminded of God’s great gift of grace and at the end, we are reminded of what that grace has given us, a welcome reminder in all our lives.
The Greek word for grace is “charis” and it means, among other things, gift of kindness. Paul uses this word in Romans more often than he does in any other book. The people of Rome grew up focused on law, Rome was an empire with law as its very foundation. To these people Paul emphasized the free gift of grace that no law abiding citizen could ever earn. To Paul’s followers in Rome, his message would have fallen on eager ears when they were told the promise that with God, you get His gift of grace, His gift of kindness undeserved. Our New Testament lesson for this morning is reminder of this grace which we all share.
So what does God’s grace mean for us? Martin Luther says that grace is the gift of God that “signifies that favor with which God receives us, forgiving our sins and justifying us freely through Christ. This kind of grace is not a quality of man but of God.”
Who but God could see us as blameless even in repentance? Who but God would be willing to forget our sins, even as we repeat them time and time again. Who but God would sacrifice His only Son so that this grace could be given to all who look to the cross. Only God is willing, therefore, only God can provide the purest form of grace.
You and I, we could never hope to share this kind of love. We were born into sin and because of this curse, we deserve nothing but damnation. We are not capable of this kind of pure love because our old Adam works so hard to lead us to our own destruction. For every righteous act within us, there are 100 acts of unrighteousness fighting to be heard. For every loving action towards our neighbor, there are 100 loving actions that we turn our back on. For every attempt at purity, there is something that Satan uses to blacken us. For every promise to do better, there is a broken promise that follows. We, by ourselves, have no hope. We are broken, battered and bandaged. Our sin has left us desolate and undeserving of any kind of forgiveness. Our broken promises deserve nothing but deaf ears.
But, thanks be to God, that is not where it ends. Thanks be to God that He showers us with His grace despite our unrighteous behaviors, our lack of respect for our neighbors and our impure thoughts and broken promises. Thanks be to God that He is not like the world but instead chooses to provide us unmerited love and undeserved forgiveness just in the asking. Despite their grumbling, God provided water from a rock when Moses struck it and despite our many blemishes, God has provided us with living water so that we will never thirst, a water that, to us, is like a spring of water welling up to eternal life. The grace of God has been with us from the very beginning.
Adam and Eve deserved nothing, but God gave them everything. We share this same promise through the same faith that they had, a faith that reaches up and receives the grace that God has promised.
Together, we stand in the beautiful grace of God and that means we have found favor with Him because of that grace which He shares so willingly with those He loves. Through this we all can find the peace that is beyond our own understanding. It starts with grace and it ends in peace. Because of this gift of kindness, we have our peace and security not only for today but for all time and we have a quality of life beyond anything we could ever hope for on our own.
Living in grace changes the way we think as Christians. It changes how we see things and interpret things. Paul says in our New Testament lesson, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith (through grace), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Vs. 1-2
God Himself provides us with this grace in which we stand and, because of His grace, our hearts have been changed and our response to suffering has been changed. No longer does suffering defeat us because now we have cause to “rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope which does not put us to shame, because God’s love has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
If our attitude is different than this it is because of the sin that lives within us. We, as God’s children, should understand that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) As Christians we no longer have to live in a state of panic and depression, which only serve to destroy our health and ruin our relationships. Because of the grace that God offers us, we can live with the assurance that our sins will be forgiven and our everlasting life has been secured.
God doesn’t wait for us to clean up our lives on our own because we are simply not capable. He doesn’t wait for us to fulfill our promise to be a better person because He knows that this is beyond our competence without Him. He doesn’t wait for your invitation, He waits for you to accept His.
We are rightfully dead in our trespasses and because of this Christ died for us. It is a rare thing for one person to die for another. It takes an incredible love that is hard even to understand. It might be that you would die for someone who is dear to you like your spouse or children but there is a very short list for people who would even do that. Many have stepped up to defend this great nation and preserve our freedom but their desire is never to die.
No, what Christ did was remarkable because He knew the fate that was His and He willingly died a most horrible death so that you and I could be free of the sentence that our sins deserve. It’s amazing because Jesus died for His enemies. He died for us when we did not love Him, when we were on the other side.
And, because of this grace of God, we have a future to look forward to with eager anticipation. If the Lord treated us that good while we were enemies, think of how great He will treat us when we claim our inheritance in heaven with Him.
Verse 10 in our Romans passage says that we have been saved through His life. We make a mistake if we only notice the word, “saved,” because that’s not the climax of the sentence. We have only been saved because Christ was willing to give up His life. Because of this we have been delivered from death to life, from damnation to salvation.
Whatever you have in life that you need to be delivered from, Christ is the answer. Ephesians 3:20 reminds us that, “To Him who is able to do immeasurably more then all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” There is nothing too big for God, no problem that cannot be covered by His grace.
The word grace and the word gift can sometimes be used interchangeably. In Romans 5 alone, Paul uses it 20 times. It’s true that every good thing that we enjoy is because of God’s grace. Every victory, every joy, every happiness is a gift from God to us. That is God’s gift of kindness towards His people, even those who turn their back on Him. That is a gift that can only come from a God-sized love.
2 Corinthians 9:8-11 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
You can do two things with the gift of grace that comes from a loving God, you can accept it, or you can reject it. One might not accept it because of procrastination or neglect, another might reject it because of unbelief, but the reasons don’t matter. To fail to receive this greatest of gifts is to fail to be a child of God and to fail to have life. To accept the gift, one must come to God in repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ.
Will you accept His gift of grace to you? Will you claim the prize? God sent His Son to die on a cross in the hope that you would. How about your neighbors? Could they benefit from this gift of grace that only God can give? If so, are you willing to tell them it’s waiting for them?
Every day should be a day we remember God’s grace and what He was prepared to do in the name of grace for all who come to Him. But this message was never intended to keep to ourselves. Grace is showered on all of God’s people, even those who deny Him. Christ died even for His enemies of which we, regretfully, have to claim a membership in.
Share the message of grace, proclaim the promise of forgiveness, claim your inheritance and help others to claim theirs. May the grace of God be with you now and always and may it lead you to peace. Amen