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Amazing grace

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Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018

Romans 5:1-5

William Barclay once wrote about a group of soldiers during World War II who lost a friend in the heat of battle. Being paratroopers far removed from the other soldiers and seemingly on their own they decided to bury their fallen comrade in a foreign land. So they made a crude device and carried their fiend until they came upon a small church with a graveyard visibly behind it surround by a nice white fence. It seemed as good a place as they could have ever imagined. Next to the church was a house and so the soldiers knocked on the door of the home and were greeted by a Catholic priest. The friends asked the priest if they might be able to bury their friend in the graveyard.

“Was your fiend Catholic?” The priest inquired.

“No he was not.” said one of the men, “He was a protestant… I believe Methodist sir”.

“I’m sorry, then” said the priest. “Our graveyard is reserved only for members of the Holy Catholic Church. Only Roman Catholics can be buried inside the fence.” “But” said the priest, “You can bury your friend here, he will just have to be buried just outside the boarders of the fence. And I promise you this… I will tend to the gravesite just as I do all the others.”

“Thank you Padre” said the soldiers. And with that they proceeded to bury their friend just outside the graveyard on the other side of the nice white fence.

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome (we call it Romans). He wrote it somewhere around the year 57AD. It is also his largest and densest work. Joseph Fitzmyer (a Jesuit) has said “It overwhelms the reader” and N.T. Write wrote of it, Romans is Paul’s “– masterpiece”. He continues, “It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages.”  When Paul wrote this letter, he hadn’t been to Rome yet and so at the beginning he has to introduce himself and his plan to visit. Because he hadn’t been there, Romans doesn’t have places where Paul clarifies positions or defends himself, refutes false teaching he’s heard from them or many of the other things that fill his other letters. See Paul didn’t know them. He doesn’t have anything to prove or correct. And because of that, Romans is seen as Paul’s pure theological legacy. It sounds odd but this book isn’t muddled with side lines and rabbit trails. In short, in Romans Paul never gets side tracked on the details. It is purely Paul’s Gospel. And just what does Paul say about the gospel? One word sums it up… it’s all about this one thing… Grace!

Romans 5 uses the word Grace more than any other chapter of the Bible. In fact, Paul uses the word grace 25 times in this one letter. For Paul… it’s all about grace.

Paul writes, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Now Grace is usually defined as “God’s unmerited favor.” But grace is actually more than that. The word “grace” is the Greek word, (Kar-is) “charis,” meaning also gift (which is where we get the word “charity” from – Kar-is).

Benjamin Warfield once famously said, “Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving.” That about sums it up. It is not just God’s unmerited favor. It’s “God’s unmerited favor in spite of our demerit.” You see, it is not that we are somehow innocent or neutral. No. We are the law breakers. We’ve been caught red handed. We’re not innocent. The cop saw us speeding and he pulled us over. We rightly and fully deserve condemnation. God caught us with our hands in the old cookie jar. But instead of conviction, we receive forgiveness. Instead of a ticket that cop gave us a $100 bill. Instead of a smack on the hand the Father turned the cookie jar upside down and dumped the whole thing out into our hands. That is grace. It can’t be earned, stored up or owed. And it’s what lies behind God’s entire plan of redemption. It’s the thing John Calvin said was behind everything else in the Bible (what he called a Covenant of Grace). That is why Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). God didn’t wait for us to clean up our lives, straighten ourselves out, or even invite Him into our hearts before he got active in our lives. When we were dead in trespasses; drowning in debts and sin, that is when he died for us… “yet while we were still sinners”. Not when we were perfect… if that ever existed…. When we were broken. When we needed it.

The story is told of a young boy that went to the store with his mother. The shop owner, a kind man passed him a large jar of suckers and invited him to help himself to a handful. Uncharacteristically the boy held back. So the shop owner pulled out a handful of his own for the boy and piled them into the boys two open hands. When outside the boys mom asked why her son wouldn’t take a handful of suckers when the man first offered them. The boy replied with a sly smile, “Because his hands are way bigger than mine”. (pg221 1001Ill.) Paul says that our God took the kind of gift we couldn’t ever possibly get on our own and he lavished it upon us with his gigantic hands.

The pew bible renders this grace as something “in which we stand” but that’s defiantly not the best way to translate that. Paul very specifically uses two different statements to describe this grace. He says it’s Grace in which we both “have” (already possess) and “now stand”. Almost every translation shortens that to “in which we stand” or “in which we now stand” but I think something is lost when they do that. Because, Paul is making a point with his exact words. He’s saying Grace is something purchased for us long ago and something we still have. It was, and it is, and it will be. That’s Paul’s Point… that grace absolutely abounds.

No doubt some of you will know this name well since he only retired from Regent 10 years ago. He actually used to worship in the congregation I now serve. Although Eugene Peterson’s The Message is often found in book stores next to Bibles and translations of all kinds, it’s not actually a bible translation in the normal sense – it’s what we call a paraphrase. Peterson is a pastor and scholar and he set about making a very unique compliment to the Bible. His goal was to take the original languages and spell out ideas behind the text in simple ways. He renders this section of Romans like this: “We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praises.”

Living in grace or as Romans puts it, “standing in grace”, will change our way of thinking. It will change the way you interpret the things that happen in your life. It will change everything.

In verses 3-5, the Apostle Paul explains that once a person understands the gravity of what it means to receive grace (unearned favor) from God, it changes everything else. And so he goes on and he explains for himself personally how he responds the tribulations of his own life.

He says “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” We tell people (scratch that) We brag to peopleabout the grace of our God. And then he continues, ButNot only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Grace prepares us for the hills and valleys of life.

Have you ever read the Peanut’s cartoon where Charlie Brown is telling his problems to Schroeder? To comfort Charlie Brown Schroeder says, “Don’t be discouraged, Charlie Brown. These early defeats help to build character for later on in life.” Charlie Brown asks, “For what later on in life?” Schroeder answers, “For more defeats!”

No doubt about it, the prophet Schroeder knew what Paul knew. Suffering produces perseverance.

Now let me be clear, that doesn’t mean it’s fun. But it’s true. Still what Schroeder didn’t say is that Perseverance produces character and that leads to ever better things.

Walter Payton, was 5 foot 10 and 202lb’s when he began his professional football career, (which sounds pretty solid but that actually made him one of the smallest running backs in the NFL). Although he was surpassed in 2012, Payton set the all-time-rushing record of 16,726 yards. That means that accumulated over time Walter Payton ran the ball over 9 miles on the football field. That’s a long way. But what’s much more impressive to think about is this: On average Payton was hammed to the ground every 4.4yards of that nine miles. For every 1.2 seconds of running, there was guy nearly half a foot taller than him and 100lb’s bigger than him smashing him into the ground. (449 1001Ill.) For me that kind of record is not as much about how far he went as it is about how many times he got knocked down and managed to get back up.

We stand in the grace of God. That doesn’t mean our lives will be all perfect all the time and everything is peachy keen 24/7 365. Suffering happens. Paul knows all too well what suffering looks like. His point is not that suffering doesn’t happen to Christians: just the opposite. Suffering does happen… His point is that when it does, people who understand the kind of Grace God has given to us will also strive to persevere, will build character; will find hope in hardest of times. That’s you he’s talking about. Because of Grace you will always find hope.

Back in 1945, when the war had finally ended, before those soldiers returned home, they decided to visit the gravesite of their friend once more together.

They remembered the location of the church and paid for a ride out to the place just outside the village. But when they got to the church cemetery, the grave was nowhere to be found. They searched for it… but couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, they went to the little house and once more they knocked on the door and once more they were greeted by the Catholic priest.

“Hello again Padre, do you perchance remember us?” asked one of the boys.

“I do” said the priest.

“Well sir, we can’t find our friend’s grave. Can you please tell us what’s happened to him?”

“Well” answered the priest. “The day after you buried your fallen friend, I went out to tend to the graves. And while dusting off that little cross something seemed so very, very, wrong about it all. It just didn’t seem right to me that your friend should be buried there outside the fence.”

“So you’ve moved him inside the fence then” said one of the boys.

“Oh, no” I’m afraid I would not be allowed to move the boy inside the fence. Rules are rules. I wouldn’t be allowed to do that at all. Only Roman Catholics can be buried inside the fence” said the priest.

Confused and saddened one of the boys begged with tears streaming down his cheeks, “Then please sir, tell us where you’ve moved our friend.”

“My son” said the priest, “I haven’t moved him at all”… “I moved the fence”.

God made the rules. He said that sin is death. And we don’t get to pick and choose to follow some and discard others. He said that he cannot be in the presence of sin himself and that if we sin we cannot stand with him. He made the rules. And I promise you this, the Father will keep his word to the last one. But when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he broke out the (Kar-is) charis like never before or since. He handed over unmerited favour; gave more than we deserved; put his gigantic hands in the sucker bowl; He through open the door before we could. He gave us a reason for Hope. He gave us something to brag about. He gave us grace.

He didn’t change the rules. He just moved the fence.

 Thanks Be To The God Of Our Hope and Our Salvation…for His Amazing Grace. Amen

 

Copyright 2018 – The Rev Bradley Childs, guest preacher and Minister of Fairview Presbyterian Church, Vancouver

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