Theme: Grace #1 – Coming Home
10:45am Traditional Worship Prerecorded Service – Sunday 29 June 2020
Bible Reading: Luke 15:11-24
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
There is one thing that is different in Christianity than all other religions. In all other religions people need to do something to earn their god’s favour. The Buddist have an eight-fold path, the Hindu have a doctrine of karma, the Muslim have a code of law … each spelling out what a person must do to earn God’s approval. But in Christianity, we have discovered that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love, we just have to accept it.
There is a word for the way that God treats us – how he loves us no matter who we are or what we have done – that word is Grace. Grace is the underserved second chance that God offers all of us … Today and over the weeks leading up to Easter we are going to explore what’s so amazing about grace.
Grace – what do you think the word means?
Is it more than just something that we say before meals?
What did Jesus say about this wonderful word called Grace. Well believe it or not, Jesus never mentioned the word at all. Not even once did he define or even use the word Grace. However, he saw grace everywhere, he lived a life of grace and many of his parables are all about Grace.
Listen to some of them … Matthew 18:23-27
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him several million dollars was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.”
Did you catch that? He didn’t just give him more time to pay … he cancelled the debt. That’s Grace. We will look at the second half of this parable next week when we look at un-grace. Or what about the parable of the wedding feast when people off the street where invited to this huge banquet just because they were there. Or the workers in the vineyard where everyone got paid a day’s wage, whether they had worked all day or just the last hour. Or the good Samaritan who not only helped the wounded man, but took him to an inn and paid for his future needs. All of these people showed undeserved favour to the other character in the story … they all showed Grace.
But the best story about Grace has to be the prodigal son. Philip Yancey in his book updates this parable into modern day language and I would like to read it out to you.
A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard in a little country town called Traverse City. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the clothes she wears. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away to Detroit, a huge city 7 hours away … it is the last place her parents will look for her.
Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.
The good life continues for a month or two. The man with the big car – she calls him “Boss” -teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.
After a while she get sick and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. The winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. All of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She remembers what it was like back home. God, why did I leave, she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.
Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus.”
It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and her home town and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.
Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years. The bus his been driving with lights for a while. She notices a sign welcoming her to Traverse City. Oh, God.
When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She cheeks herself in a compact mirror, smoothes her hair, She looks terrible and wonders if her parents will notice. If they’re there.
She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepare her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”
Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry I know…” He interrupts her. “Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”
That’s Grace. Jesus told these parables about Grace not to tell us how to live … but rather to tell us what God is like. Note that God is not a stern God who only loves good people.
God is not a God who will only forgive if we come crawling back to him. No! The image we find in the parable of the prodigal son is one of a love-sick father, who publicly humiliates himself by picking up his robes and running out and embracing his son who has squandered half the family fortune. There is no stern lecturer, “I hope you learnt your lesson”, but instead there is pure jubilation, “My son was dead, but now is alive again.” and then threw the biggest party.
Grace doesn’t make sense in our worldly thinking. Grace is about God giving us a second chance when we don’t deserve it. Grace is about God being generous when he doesn’t need to be. Grace is about God going to extraordinary lengths to save us, not because we have earned it, but rather just because he loves us.
You see Grace solves a dilemma for God. On one hand, God loves us, yet on the other hand our he hates our sin. God yearns to see in people something of his own image reflected, but at best he sees shattered fragments of that image. Still, God cannot – or will not – give up. So what does God do … he shows Grace.
God, through his Grace, sent his son Jesus to take the punishment that we deserved, so that God can with integrity offer us forgiveness. Grace doesn’t cost the receiver anything. But it cost the giver lots. For God, his Grace to us cost him the pain of watching his only son die on a cross, so that we could be forgiven of the punishment that we deserved.
As our bible reading told us, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sins –it is by grace you have been saved. It is not from what we have done, it is the gift of God.
This is the really important point about Grace. We cannot earn God’s love. It does not matter if you have been going to church for years, or if you have been giving money to God, or if you have kept all the commandments … there is nothing that we can do to make God love us. We cannot earn God’s love, God just loves us – all we have to do is accept it.
There is nothing you can do to make God love you more
And there is nothing you can do to make God love you less
God just loves you. – Philip Yancy
I hope that you got the simple message of today. God Grace is shown to you by the fact that God loves you – unconditionally. Do you need to come home and feel God’s embrace of grace? Amen.