Preached June 20th, 2010
1 St, Peter 5:5–11
St. Luke 15:1–10
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We began the Trinity season with a look at the glory of God on Trinity Sunday; you will recall the mysterious lesson from Revelation 4:1–11. This was followed on the first two Sundays of the Trinity season with a consideration of Divine Love, the Love of God, how that implies love of our fellow man, and what the implications of that love are. We now begin a new three Sunday sequence.
1. Today, we consider the love of God in relation to sin which is grace.
2. Next Sunday, the love of God in relation to suffering, and that is mercy,
3. The third Sunday, the love of God in relation to trials and dangers, and that is peace.
Thus our theme for these three Sundays is “Grace, Mercy, and Peace from God our Father.”
Love and grace are, on the one hand, one and the same thing, and yet there is a distinction between them as well. The love of God is the eternal source, the fountain, from which the streams of grace issue forth, bearing the name grace to men. Love is the furnace, and grace is that which warms the hearts of men.
In the original New Testament Greek, the word “charis” appears a number of times, and this is the word that translators have given us as “grace.” Charis means graciousness of manner or act; especially the divine influence upon the human heart, and its reflection in the life of men; including gratitude. Thus this word is particularly well suited to describe the effect of God’s love upon the heart of man expressed through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our Epistle lesson this morning shows us two different perspectives on grace. The first is the grace associated with sanctification. We understand that the ability to live a holy life, the strength to do this comes only by the grace of God. The Lord has told us this in numerous places, for example:
2 Corinthians 12:9a And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee:
1 Corinthians 15:10a But by the grace of God I am what I am:
2 Corinthians 6:1b that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
Peter begins by teaching two things regarding this aspect of grace. The opening words of our lesson for today are, 1 Peter 5:5b All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. It is the humble, those who recognize their own weakness and are willing to be dependent on Christ alone, it is to those that grace is given. One of the primary evidences of this humility is a willingness to serve others, to not see ourselves as being of great importance, but rather to put the needs of other people before our own. This is impossible for the proud man, and grace does not come to the proud man for precisely this reason, just as St. Peter warns.
There are many forms of service, and leadership can indeed be form of service if it is done for the benefit of others. The leader who leads for self aggrandizement becomes proud and is cut off from grace. The serving person who washes and cleans for other people with a loving, cheerful heart does indeed show true humility and receive grace. The serving person who is bitter and resentful about his hard lot in life does not show humility and does not receive grace. The point is that it matters not so much what we are doing, provided it is honest work, as our attitude in doing it. Do we do it in an humble spirit of serving God’s other children, or do we do it in a spirit of getting for ourselves?
The second point that St. Peter makes regarding the grace of sanctification is that effort is required on our part. 1 Peter 5:8-9 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. He says that we are not to be walking around in some starry eyed dream world, thinking that we are protected by a magic shield such that temptations will simply bounce away from us. The Christian life does not work that way, and the grace of God is no protective bubble. St. Peter tells us explicitly that we will continue to face exactly the same temptations that face those who are not part of Christ Church, those that are in the world. The devil is out to get the souls of all men, both those in the world and those in the Church, and we must not think that our baptism is a guarantee that we can never be lost. We have been received into the Church, we have been started on the road to Heaven, but we must still be aware, and we must resist the devil with the aid of Christ. We cannot resist the devil alone, but with the help of Christ, we can.
The second view of grace provided in the Epistle lesson is that associated with justification. The very fact that we are in a right relationship to God at all, established when God “calls us sons by adoption” in our baptism is often called the grace of justification. That justification was won for us by our Lord Jesus Christ in His death on Calvary and His Resurrection and Ascension, and in baptism we are baptized into His death that we might rise with Him, thus receiving this grace in baptism.
The grace of pardon, given in baptism, is the pledge of the additional grace of sanctification that God waits to do in us. By grace are we justified, and by further grace are we sanctified. It is God alone that knows exactly what each of us needs because the needs of each of us are different; grace is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing. The grace of God is given to each of us exactly as we individually need it to develop true Christian character. God alone is able to take each shaky new Christian and develop him into the confident, stable and reliable soldier for Christ that comes with being well along the road of sanctification. This comes when 2 Timothy 1:12 I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. In this way, he gives us a solid foundation for our lives, and since all grace comes from Him, all glory must also be given to Him. Alleluia!!
Just as God is love, Jesus Christ is that love, the grace of God manifest toward men. For this reason, the common people of His day flocked to hear Him, the simple people, the publicans and sinners, the lowly and the unsophisticated. He had an appeal for them that the Scribes and Pharisees did not have because He showed them the love of God, something that was never seen from the Scribes and Pharisees. He offered them what their spirits needed, forgiveness, restoration to a right relation with God, and a way to holiness. He offered them hope of eternal life, hope that they were not cut off from God even though they did not keep the Levitical Law in all of its detail, hope that they were still children of God. By accepting invitations to come and eat with them, he inspired them to new levels of self–respect and at the same time to repentance, to a turning away from their previous ways of life. Recall the definition of the word charis, the gracious ability of God to influence the heart of man, particularly to changing the life of man; this is the effect of Jesus on the ordinary people of his day. Grace is that aspect of God that brings sinners back to God.
The religious leaders of the day, the Scribes and Pharisees, were rather displeased that Jesus so readily received these religious outcasts, the publicans and sinners, the ordinary folk of the people. These were people that they looked down upon as far beneath them because those people did not keep the Law, and certainly were not a part of the “true Israel” as they understood it. So they murmured about Jesus saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. They thought that Jesus ministry should be limited to themselves only. The response of Jesus is to tell two parables regarding their wish to limit His grace. The first is the parable of the lost sheep that the shepherd searches for until it is found. The second is the parable of the lost coin that the good woman of the house searches for until she finds it.
Both of these parables deal with grace, the concern of our Father for each individual. Notice that the shepherd does not look at the flock as a whole and say, “well, it is only one sheep out of a hundred,” but rather the shepherd is concerned for the individual sheep. In human terms, we many puzzle at the wisdom of this, but it is not intended to be understood in human terms, but rather in divine terms. Even so with the single lost coin. And even so with us, the lost people of the earth, with all the universe to consider, our heavenly Father has chosen still to care about each of His tiny creators here on earth. We are left to wonder why He bothers, but we must be eternally grateful.
Grace does not come to us because we earn it in some manner, but rather it comes purely because of our great need. The sheep wanders through a lack of sense of direction, just as we do. The coin lay inert and lost, unable to rescue itself, just as we are. The grace of God is unconditional, the pure gift of God. The very idea of “conditional grace” is no grace at all.
How long does the shepherd search? He searches “until he find it,” which means that the search goes on as long as it takes. This is the way God pursues every sinner throughout their entire life, without limit. If one approach does not work, He has many others waiting to be tried. The candle that shows the light of Christ is the Word preached, read, and witnessed by the Church in the lives of its members. Warnings are issued by bad examples, signs of disease and decay, and personal reverses. God does many things to preserve His own image imprinted in man, an image that is that is always there. Man is always a spiritual being with a will, an understanding of right and wrong, and remains precious in the sight of God on account of what he may be if he turns from sin.
We may have a tendency to look at grace as something like a covering, a curtain that covers sin, but definitely a thing. But that is wrong. Grace is an attribute of a Person, God the Father, extended through another Person, God the Son, working in the world today through yet another Person, the Holy Ghost, with the object another person, man. When we look at the parables that Jesus tells, there is intense personal feeling in the description of grace. He speaks of “My sheep” and “the piece that I had lost.” The Person God seeks man because both He owns and He values. Thus the loss is His, and when recovered, the joy is His also. He does not bid us to rejoice with the sheep but with the Shepherd. Thus the grace of the sacraments is personal and it is the grace of Christ given through them.
2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.