Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Glorious Name of Grace

Proper 13+B         
2 August AD 2015           
The Rev Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15                                                                                            Psalm 78: 23-29
Ephesians 4: 1-16                                                                                            Gospel  John 6: 24-35

A lady in Nebraska named Theresa, , decided to mail the old family Holy Bible to her brother in Maine. The postal worker asked if  there was anything breakable in the parcel.
'Only the Ten Commandments,'  she responded with a smile. Hmmmf.
The Bible, a word that means, "book" is replete with honest stories about the strengths and weaknesses of human nature.  No other faith on earth is so starkly honest about its heroes' triumphs and weaknesses, personal tragic character flaws displayed when they are least heroic as does the Bible.  Note the recent extreme responses to even a drawn likeness representing the "prophet" of Islam.  The fatalistic attitudes toward life and eternity of others, paint a picture of near despair about the meaning of life pale when cast against the positive and hopeful view as revealed by the Older Testament writers and those of the Newer Testament as revealed by the Gospel and Epistle writers in the  Renewed Covenant of Jesus Christ. This radical honesty about the characters of the Bible is perceived by many as a testimony to its genuine character.  No more shocking of such a portrayal is the story of one of God's chosen ones, who clearly loved God and was used in mighty ways to accomplish his ends is David.  Another is Moses. The Older Testament largely makes the argument for why ultimately God in Jesus Christ had to come and had to do for us what we would not and could not do. 

God's remedy to our human, sinful and broken dilemma is a word that has for us such familiarity that it may have lost the full impact of its profound meaning.  That word is GRACE! I have heard grace defined in differing ways.  One acronym was God's Righteousness At Christ's Expense.  I have usually defined it as God unmerited favor.  Grace cannot be earned, it's free!  Pastor Tullian Tchividjian said: "The gospel is not for good people to become better, if anything, the gospel is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good." Yet we have centuries of guilt-laden, exhausted baptized Christians who still try to earn God's favor by doing good works.  But as our first reading amply demonstrates, even God's heroes are still plagued by human failure and sin.  Remarkably as we read the Book, we see human moral failure after human moral failure. Adam and Eve fell, Cain fell, the builders of Babel fell, the people of Noah's day and even Noah fell.  What about other Bible heroes?  Abraham fell, Isaac fell, Jacob fell, Moses was a murderer, David was an adulterer and on and on we read until we encounter Jesus--who lived a sinless life of perfect favor with God--whom we killed. But God, in his infinite, inexhaustible grace and love, still loved us and in Christ Jesus and our murder of His Son, purchased our pardon.  That is the Christian Good News.  That is the gospel.  This my brothers and sisters living under the blood of Jesus is why grace is so AMAZING!  Though you may not have considered it before, this Bible, is the book of Grace and if we are nothing else, we are the people of Grace!

In our reading from Ephesians, Paul continues to share his heart with the community of believers in Ephesus.  Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, from the city of Ephesus.  He wasn't vacationing there or even on a preaching mission.  No this letter was written from prison!  In our reading from last we read these words:: "being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…."  Is he for real?  He's behind bars and he is writing to them about God's love? But even as we turn to the text from this week,  we are reading the words of a man of a singular focus and purpose:  to build up that Body of Christ for which Jesus shed his blood and whom Jesus loves with an infinite love.  How do we experience the grace of God, by living in God's love. 

Back to the Ephesian Church; in John's book of Revelation, he records the words of Jesus saying to them: 

 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. (Revelation 2)

I once heard a story of a man in marriage counseling who had difficulty talking about his feelings.  The doctor had heard the complaint from his wife that: "he never tells me that he loves me!"  He asked the man, why he never told his wife he loved her.  His reply:"I told her when we got married, I'll let her know if I change my mind." 

God gives us love constantly and continuously.  Do we return it?  How many churches are on fire with God's love?  When love leaves, the church dies.  We love one another because God first loved us I John 4:19 tells us.  But then John writes these words:  " If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.…"

 I was so overjoyed at the way our diocese has responded to the division in this diocese.  All I have seen has been loving from Bishop Charlie and even those who have left congregations to continue with the Episcopal Church.  Paul experienced grace from God in such a profound way, that he who had personally seen to the imprisonment and death of followers of Jesus, should encounter such forgiveness and Divine love on the road to Damascus.  But to keep our love for God alive, we must exercise it, partake of it, and share it with others.  A deeper truth is that God has put his love into our hearts.  If God is within, I do not know how we can possibly keep it to ourselves!  Love is action--thought, word and deed.  We are here to love the unbeliever and the believer for Jesus' sake.  That is why the Holy Spirit lives in us, to continue the work that Jesus began.  

If God could use as many sinful and broken heroes as we read of in the stories of our sacred texts, then he can surely use each one of us.  This is a corporate mission not a private one. This is not a spectator sport and ever team member is essential in the game of life that God has given us.  So may I encourage you, each day remember that you are part of a Divine family and are sent out on a Divine mission. 

We began this Eucharist with the collect: "Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness;…"  God governs us by his grace and love.  Be of good cheer my family in God, we are loved in mercy, cleansed in mercy and filled with the goodness of God.  Now let us share that in the assurance that we are loved and share that love with the world for whom Christ died.  As we feed at God's table, let us remember Jesus is the bread of life.  Let this Divine encounter spur us on to share Jesus Christ, His love and grace, while we have time until he comes.

Jesus + nothing = EVERYTHING

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