Grace, God’s Forgiveness sermon

May 26, 2019

Summary

While I was waiting to receive my first call in the months before I was ordained I worked in the St. Paul, Minnesota Public School system as a substitute schoolteacher.  Those five months gave me a good taste of what that line of work is all about, and how so many of my friends and parishioners whom are teachers spend their careers.

I started subbing in that school district because my lifelong friend Paul is a teacher in St. Paul.  In fact my first sub job was in his school, and by the time I was done that spring I had spent cumulatively a number of weeks in his school.  This allowed me to get to know some of his fellow teachers.  There was a third year teacher just down the hall from Paul who I would talk to and got to know a little bit.  He was a normal guy, telling stories and jokes like normal guys do, stories or jokes that sometimes were a bit off color or contained the occasional swear word.  He was a nice guy.

One day near the end of my time of substitute teaching, I was at Paul’s school when this fellow teacher came up to me in the hall with a grave look on his face and said to me.  “I was just talking to Paul, I didn’t know that you’re a pastor.  I am so sorry for anything that I might have said wrong, or anytime I swore in front of you these past months.  I just didn’t know, I am really sorry.”

He then turned, walked away and virtually didn’t talk to me again, except in the most polite and deferential manner.  I’ve thought of that moment many times in the years since and have pondered not so much what it showed me concerning he and I, but more so what it shows me about the world’s attitude towards, and beliefs about Christianity.

To this teacher, up until the moment he learned I was a pastor awaiting ordination, I was a fellow teacher, albeit a substitute, who he was getting to know and with whom he liked to talk.  You might even say that we were starting to move from being acquaintances to friends.  Yet that stopped as soon as he found out I was a pastor.  Upon learning that, he started to think of me as a morality agent of the church, or probably in his eyes, of God.  In his belief I had simply become a judge of his behavior, noting his actions and weighing them, as right or wrong.

To be honest, at the time it really bothered me, although sadly I’ve kind of got used to that reaction from so many people by now.  But over time it has bothered me much more to realize that for so many people all that they see, and understand of the church, and more so, of God, is judgment.

Sadly enough there are Christians and churches that very vehemently further this idea of God.  I once saw a sign along a highway that read, “If you don’t stop using my name in vain, I’ll make your rush hour longer. Signed, God.”

What?!  Are you kidding me?  Why spend the thousands of dollars it takes to rent a billboard along the freeway, to chastise and rebuke drivers, and so reinforce their negative and stilted perceptions of God?

Christianity is not about ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ but about a relationship that gives life.  I am so sick and tired of Christians speaking out for morals rather relationship, telling people what not to do, rather than telling them what was done for them by Jesus dying on the cross and leaving an empty tomb behind in his moment of triumph.

We need to approach the world with grace, in love.

The Apostle Paul did not travel all around the Mediterranean world to tell people to act morally.  He wasn’t preaching at people to not swear, or lie, or cheat, and thus if they acted correctly Jesus would accept them.

No!  Paul came preaching Jesus and his love.  He and his fellow believers went from place to place creating relationships, getting to know people and telling them that Jesus loved them and was there for them.

Sure Paul spoke and wrote about behavior and sin, to those who were believers, so that they could find and create good and healthy relationships, but that was to teach believers about life with God and each other.  No, he approached the world in love and forgiving relationship.  To see this reality, let’s look at his first days in Philippi.

When Paul and his companions came to Philippi, after a vision from God had led them for the first time to Europe, they went and found the place of prayer.  The city of Philippi did not have enough Jews to support a synagogue, so they and any believers in the true God met along the river running through town to have prayer meetings.  Upon finding their prayer meeting Paul and his companions sat down and worshiped with the townspeople and started to tell them of Jesus.

So, the question is, what did Lydia hear that brought her, the first European, to believe in Jesus?  What did Paul say to those listening that day?  How did he relate to those whom he met?

We don’t know for sure, for the scripture doesn’t say, but we can assume that Paul must have spoken of Jesus’ love for humankind.  Paul must have told them of Jesus’ forgiving ways, something of which Paul knew so deeply in his own life.  For he who had led the persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem was now preaching of Christ’s grace and promise of new life across the sea in Greece.  Lydia and those of her household must have heard of Jesus’ love and grace and of his offering them everlasting relationship, not condemnation.

You see, Paul did not come preach morals, but the good news of Jesus gift of life.  What disservice and damage do we do to God when we share ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts,’ ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’s’ with the people of this world, rather than sharing relationship, second chances and Jesus’ grace? Paul shared the good news of Jesus’ gracious gift of eternity, not damnation.

Paul and his companions must have approached Lydia and the others that day with humility and compassion.  They must have related to them the very same way that Jesus had related to the people whom he met.  Jesus started conversation and initiated friendship with others, not enmity and hate.  He approached other people with grace, compassion and love, not judgment and rebuke.

The important point is that Paul came to Lydia and her family with an offer of loving grace, not rules for morality.  And so I believe, that is why Lydia heard them.  That is why she came to believe and invited them into her home.  She gave them the love that is hospitality, because she had entered into true relationship not only with Jesus; God the Son, but also with Paul and his companions whom came with Jesus’ grace.  God’s grace is all about forgiveness and loving relationship.

There’s a great song that speaks of God’s gift of grace.  It’s a song that tries to explain grace, and speaks of grace as a woman.  The band U2 wrote “Grace” almost twenty years ago.  The timeless words go like this,

 

Grace – U2

 

Grace
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace
It’s the 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

Grace
She’s got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She’s got the time to talk

She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
Of karma

When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty
In everything

 

Grace.  Grace is what the world needs. It needs to know God’s love and forgiveness in real relationship.  Grace changed Lydia’s entire life.  What could it do for the world?

Amen.

Bible References

  • Acts 16:9 - 15
  • John 14:15 - 29

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