Sunday, October 27, 2013

Grace for Less-Than-Perfect People ~ John 8:31-38; Romans 3:19-28 ~ Reformation Sunday

I must confess that I am a man.

As a man, I don’t read instructions.  I don’t ask for directions.  I don’t ask for help in lifting heavy objects.

All I need is my mighty strength, my infinite wisdom, my vast experience, and my nerves of steel…

And…I get into trouble.  For all the confidence I put in my flesh, my flesh fails me.  Contrary to what I’d like to believe, my flesh is weak  And that just stinks!

Who among us, male or female, wants to admit to being weak?  Who enjoys being imperfect?  Who loves to ask for help?  That you don’t have it all together? 

Who wants to rely on someone other them themselves to get through life?  Who wants to ask for forgiveness? 

Blindly, we believe that we can achieve anything, endure anything, or overcome anything, totally on our own. 

This can-do spirit can even infect our faith.  We define the Christian life in terms of what we do for God.  We “work our way into up to God” with our good works and our good faith.  We comfortably assume that God will judge us favorably if we do enough good works.  But even then, our flesh fails us.  We are so easily ashamed of ourselves when we question God, when we doubt and cannot trust; when we read the Bible and don’t understand it; and especially when we fail to do what we know is right.  When bad things happen and prayers aren’t answered, do you blame yourself?

The trouble is, we put so much faith in our own strength and our own greatness, that we literally make idols of our flesh.  After all, if we are so strong, so powerful, what do we need God for?

The most painful truth about ourselves is that our flesh is weak.  Very weak.  We all need God. 

And the most outrageous truth about God is that God is gracious.    

This is the truth that sets us free from the bondage of our sinful flesh.  Bound to the flesh, we die; bound to Christ, we live

Our Christian faith is built on the truth that God acts through the person of Jesus Christ to make us right with God’s own self.  Jesus’ blood washes away all of our sin and make us sons and daughters who shall inherit God’s kingdom, totally apart from our merit or deserving. 

Grace means that God does for us what we cannot do ourselves.  God freely gives what we cannot achieve—and what we do not deserve. I daresay that it’s easier to believe in God’s existence than God’s grace.  But this is the greatest truth.

And yet, grace remains so much of a mystery to us because we cannot bear to acknowledge our desperate need for it.   

Given the choice, we’d always choose a faith built upon what we do for God; so that we could put our trust in ourselves rather than in promises that we have yet to see come to fulfillment. 

Dear friends in Christ, the sinner in all of us loves the idea that we can achieve anything—even perfect faith—apart from God.  But if we fail to confess our daily need for God’s grace, we will turn away. 

We’ll never read God’s Word, thinking we already know all there is to know.  We won’t confess our sins because we believe we’re good people.  We’ll put other things first in our lives, believing that our lives won’t be as good if we miss out on them.  We won’t turn to God as long as we believe we’re doing fine. 

Yet God cannot be known apart from grace—and we can never know grace unless we confess our tremendous need for grace. 

Today, Jesus speaks of truth that sets you free: God comes to give you what you did not ask for and what you do not deserve.  God comes to give you what you desperately need. 

You are a child of God because of what God does for you.  God doesn’t come to us from within our hearts; nor do we compel God to come to us by our good works.  God comes from above and beyond yourself, to meet you where you are.  It is grace that brought you here to church today.  At the font, at the table, in the Word, and in the brothers and sisters who care for you, you are reborn into the being of God.  You are no longer a slave to sin, death, and fear.  You are bound to the one who forgives you and gives you righteousness, peace, and hope. 

Without God’s grace, you shall forever be but dust and ashes; no matter how much greatness you achieve in this life. 

Is your life filled with fear and worry?  Are you running yourself ragged to try and please everyone?  Are you ashamed of things you’ve done and the mistakes you’ve made?  Are you questioning God and struggling to believe because of all the hurt in your life and the evil in the world?  Stop putting your faith in your flesh.  Put your faith in Christ and his cross.  Let God’s grace fall upon you like rain. 

You free from your past and your mistakes.  You are forgiven.

You are free to entrust your fears, your worries, and your future into God’s hands.

You are free to be the person God created you to be—a living sign of God’s love in a world that knows so little grace.

You are free to live in God’s peace.  Don’t worry—there will be grace to meet your every need. 

Life will surely bring trouble—but God will always be gracious. 

So leave your sins, your sorrow, and your fear at the cross—and feast on the goodness of God. 

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