Today's scripture reading from the Gospel of John is intended to help set the stage for an upcoming sermon series beginning September 30th entitled "God's
Glory Revealed," because this scripture will under-gird the seven week sermon series.
But before we can really consider how God's glory is revealed to us, we need to understand what it means to live in grace, because as I hope you'll see it's
grace and grace alone that reveals God to us. And that the awareness of God in our lives is a gift, a gift from God.
You know as I've thought about grace, and talked to people about grace, I've concluded that many folks think of grace as something being bestowed upon us like
a ferry godmother touching us with her wand. To be sure there's something other worldly about grace, and certainly there are times when the affects of grace are specific and
spectacular, so it's understandable why we might get this ferry godmother impression from time to time. Certainly at times we do experience grace in an exciting way, but grace
doesn't come and go like night and day, grace is always there,
What I'm suggesting is that we actually live in grace. We're enveloped in grace like we're enveloped in the air around us.
But the challenge we often face, like with the air we breathe, we don't give grace much thought or pay much attention to it. And we can sometimes just take
grace for granted or chalk it up to "luck."
I mean, for the most part the only time we really think about the air we breathe is when we have difficulty breathing or we sense the absence or contamination
of air. Well the same is true of grace. Often the only time we may think about grace is when we're ill or struggling and desire some intervention by God, or when we experience
something miraculous that we profess can only be the work of God.
Our scripture reading this morning lifts up in verses 16 and 17 that "From the fullness of [Christ's] grace we have all received one blessing after another.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Some translations say "we have all received grace upon grace" (NRSV) meaning that through God's law
we come to know the nature and will of God, which is grace itself, and now we come to know the nature and will of God through the person of Jesus Christ; specifically the grace
conveyed through mercy, love, and forgiveness. This itself is a great example of, "Grace upon grace." And what we receive in Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's law and the
decisive intervention of truth and grace in our lives.
But what is grace? Well simply defined grace is "unmerited favor," meaning God is giving us something we don't deserve because of our sin, and as the Bible
tells us, the penalty for sin is death, not special favor. But God is saying look, I really love you folks and I want to offer a better way, so by his grace he provides a better way;
namely in the person of his Son Jesus.
So God sent his Son Jesus as an example of right living, he sent Jesus to teach us and model for us God's ways of living, he sent Jesus to heal the sick, feed
the hungry, clothe the naked, and to help us set a new direction for our lives. And he also sent Jesus to serve as a sacrifice, he sent Jesus to pay the price for our sin. So Jesus
was sent to be the ultimate gift of grace as he paid the penalty for our sin, the sins of our past, the sins of our present, and the sins we will commit. This is the ultimate example
of grace, something given that we clearly don't deserve.
Now God's grace is not some tool God uses to try to persuade us to follow him, that choice is ours. And God's grace can't be earned or bought, it's not a
consumer good. The reason God offers his grace is to move us into a deeper, closer relationship with God by helping us grow into the image of Jesus Christ. It's that simple, there's
no hidden agenda, no political motive, God just wants a right relationship with the pinnacle of his creation, us, you and me.
So it seems to me if we understand grace to be analogous to air, and we're more conscious of its presence we're likely to more readily recognize the grace in
our lives, perhaps in more ways than ever before. And as our awareness of grace improves, our recognition of God in our lives becomes more acute, then as we respond to God's grace
our relationship with God improves, we draw closer to him, and our connection with the divine gets stronger.
Now that's a clean systematic pattern, and sounds easier than it actually is, because as we all know life is more complex with all its ups and downs,
certainly more complex than a clean systematic pattern.
For a moment consider what it's like to fall in love with someone. When we're in the midst of falling in love with someone, our awareness of their presence in
our lives becomes more acute doesn't it, our relationship with them grows, and we feel closer to them and our connection with them gets stronger and stronger, sometimes to the point
we want to be with them all the time.
Well this is the same with God and his love for us. God wants to be with us always and everywhere. God wants to be an active part of our lives and desperately
want s a close personal relationship with us. So because of his love he offers us grace, his blessing, and as we recognize God's grace in our lives, and as we respond to God's grace
with repentant and obedient hearts, we in turn grow closer to God, just as we do with another person.
Like air fills the voids and cracks throughout creation, God's grace fills the voids and cracks in our lives. The issue isn't whether the air is there because
it is; the issue isn't whether the grace is there because it is. The issue is whether we recognize the presence of God's grace and then respond to it. And notice experiencing grace
involves a two-fold process if you will: recognition and response.
Now we also need to understand that our response to God's grace is also two-fold: repentance and obedience, other wise we're engaging in what Dietrich
Bonheoffer calls "cheap grace", which is "a desire to accept God's gift without the corresponding response of repentance and obedience."
George Wilson was sentenced to hang after he was convicted of killing a guard while robbing a federal payroll from a train. Public sentiment against capital
punishment led to an eventual pardon by President Andrew Jackson. But unbelievably, Wilson refused to accept the pardon.
So the question of that day was can one refuse a presidential pardon? Well the case became so legally confusing that the Supreme Court had to rule on it.
Chief Justice John Marshall delivered the verdict which stated, "A pardon is a parchment whose only value must be determined by the receiver of the pardon. It has no value apart from
that which the receiver gives it. George Wilson has refused to accept the pardon. We cannot conceive why he would do so, but he has. Therefore, George Wilson must die."
So consequently, Wilson was hanged. You see God's grace becomes a pardon from sin only to those who receive it. Again, recognition and response.
Now God's grace is universal meaning it's available to all people. God's grace is not only for Christians, so called "good people," and so forth, it's for all
people. Jesus said to the Pharisees when confronted by them for eating and hanging out with sinners, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call
the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32), and the truth is all human beings are sinners and in need of repentance.
The central point or question to reflect on then becomes, how do we respond to God's grace? Do we respond with repentant and obedient hearts, or do we respond
with a cheap consumer-driven attitude? Our individual responses will determine our today and our tomorrows; our individual responses will also determine the effectiveness of Christ's
church in carrying out his mission for today and tomorrow.
Living in grace is not meant to be a passive experience. There's a responsible aspect associated with grace that allows for continual growth in responsiveness
to the grace we receive, and the continual transformation we experience as we grow more and more into the image of Christ.
When we recognize and respond to Jesus, and receive him into our lives, again by being repentant and obedient, we are washed in his blood and forgiven of our
sins, we then experience the fullness of God's grace; and we begin to recognize we do indeed live in grace as we encounter the unending stream of divine blessings in our lives.
"Grace upon grace," its God's gift to us all. Amen.
The Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible were used in the preparation of this sermon.
Read other messages by Pastor Wade