Read Ephesians 2:4-10
For me, this is a main reason why so many have a hard time hearing and accepting these words of Ephesians. “We are saved by grace, through faith.” Faith literally meaning, “to have a deep belief or trust in.” We find salvation, meaning finding ourselves in an intimate relationship with God, in at-one-ment with God, by trusting fully in God’s grace. We often hear grace defined as unconditional or unearned love. This definition has always seemed like a redundancy of words to me, like describing something as a round circle. Of course a circle is round, just as love has to be unconditional. If someone’s affection is based upon earning it, then it is a reward and not love. So how many of us trust in God’s “Amazing Grace?” I like the way Philip Yancey describes love in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? Yancey says, “Grace is knowing there is nothing you can do that will make God love you any more, and also knowing that there is nothing you can do that will make God love you any less.” Isn’t that a great understanding of grace? It is trusting in the words of Paul in Romans 8 that “nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians reminds us grace is God’s gift to us, freely given. It sounds so nice. But theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost Of Discipleship, wants us to know that even though grace is free, it is never cheap. That statement may, itself, seem a little contradictory for, “How can something that’s free not be cheap?” How much cheaper can something be than free? Bonhoeffer reminds us that grace always costs the one who gives it deeply. God’s gift of grace to us cost God the life of God’s son.
This is in part, why we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It is a time to remember the cost of grace which shows us the real depth of God’s love. The elements of bread and juice are symbols reminding us that God’s grace was not deterred, even when God’s greatest gift of love, God’s son was rejected and crucified. This, again, showing Yancey’s definition of grace, and Paul’s words about God’s love. When we come to the table for communion, we come trusting in that amazing grace that is always ready to welcome us into the arms of God. But something else happens when we come to the table. Nancy and I share often that in Jesus’ day, table fellowship meant that the people you were with were acceptable to you. They were your friends. When we come to this table together today, we are reminded that God loves each and every one of us. What an incredible thought. God’s amazing grace is a gift freely given to each of us. All are invited to the Lord’s table. We are all called in grace to come and receive this incredible, free, unearned, unmerited gift that was given with the ultimate cost. And the challenge becomes, seeing each other with the eyes of God. Seeing the beauty in all the people of God, not just here but around the world as we are reminded on World Wide Communion Sunday.
Once you accept this premise, you can never look at another person in the same way, for we know they are loved by God. That God’s amazing grace embraces them. And boy, does that complicate our lives. Remember Dr. Sam Downing standing here a couple of weeks ago witnessing to us about his faith journey, and especially how the spiritual weekend called the Walk to Emmaus was transformational for him in his Christian faith. The thought he closed with was, “I learned to see the face of Christ on everyone I meet, and as I look out over this congregation I see the face of Christ on each of you and you are beautiful.” See me beautiful, as you see the face of Christ on me. What a testimony, and for those of you who were here, I bet it felt wonderful to hear. I am the face of Christ. And so is the person next to you. To affirm this, complicates our lives, for now we realize that every one we meet is the recipient of God’s amazing grace. Every one is special in the eyes of God. And as Marcus Borg reminds us in his book, The Heart Of Christianity, what does it mean to love God? It means to love what and who God loves.
So now I or we can no longer be unconcerned about a drought in Ethiopia that may cause the deaths of up to 9 million people. Now we can no longer be unconcerned that people do not have access to health care. Now we can no longer be unconcerned that young women and children are dying on the desert. Now we can no longer be unconcerned that people must sleep on the streets and orphaned children must fend for themselves in countries around the world. The list goes on and on. But they are all people who are the “Face of Christ” and loved by God. If we believe in God’s amazing grace, we then must believe in our call to be people of grace. And as Bonhoeffer reminds us, grace always costs the giver.
To live by grace, to be the presence of love to all we meet, is to live by the very core of who God created us to be, and who God always seeks to help us become. I would like to share a thought as to how we may seek to do this. It is a belief that guides me in my Christian walk, and I share it in hopes that it may make sense to you as well. But in sharing, you will understand what motivates me and drives me in my relationship with God. When I prepare to make choices about my life and how I live it, I go through the following scenario. I picture myself standing before God, and God’s grace filled eyes. I then try to explain to God why I made the decision I made. If I cannot explain what I am doing as a response to seeing with the eyes of God and how what I am doing is an expression of grace, then I know I need to pause and make a different choice or wrestle with the issue a little longer. I realize that sometimes, maybe even often, I do not want to pay the price or suffer the cost of freely giving my grace. But how do I explain that to the one who never wavered from giving me that precious gift.
As someone said, “As you look at the paths before you, choose the one that appears to have the greatest heart and take it.” It is the path that has the best chance to live our grace.
Come, the table is set before us. God’s grace awaits us all. Come and freely receive this incredibly costly gift.
Sermon delived by Rev. George Cushman on May 4, 2008.
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