As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Gift of Grace, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 21 September, 2014. The Reading was Matthew 20:1-16.
Have you ever received a gift, but it wasn’t what you were expecting? I’d like to tell you about a guy who was going to college in America. His father had told him that on his graduation, he would get the same present as his brothers – a new car. Now, this wasn’t just any car, but it was the top of the range, Porsche 911
, with all the trimmings. It was this that kept him going through college. He pushed through every class, he studied hard every night and passed his exams, and eventually came to graduation. He got up on stage, got his paper, and after the ceremony, his dad came over to him and handed him a present. He opened up the present, hoping to see the keys to his new car, but instead, what he found was a bible.
He was furious. He said to his dad, “I’ve spent four years working as hard as I can, to get the grades to let me pass, and all you give me at the end of it is this stupid book!” He marched off home, and threw the book in the corner of his room, never even opening it. He never talked to his father again.
Years later, one of his brothers called him to tell him that his father had died. He’d moved many times since, but he still had that bible. He opened it up, and found a letter, tucked inside. The letter said, “I am, and always will be, proud of you, my son. Your car is waiting for you at the dealership, all you need to do is pick it up.”
We are all sinners, and we can’t work off our sin.
God created us all, and wanted to have a relationship with us. But he also gave us free will, and because of that free will, we chose to sin. Ever since Adam, humanity has been a fallen race, living in sin, and not able to enter fully into a relationship with God. When the laws of God were handed down, it was clear that there was a price to be paid for sin, but that price was nothing that any of us were able to pay. Romans 6 tells us that the Wages of sin is death – that is, the cost of our sinful lives is death. There is no way for us to work it off, there is no way for us to repay for our sinful lives. The only way is death.
Jesus paid the price for our sin.
But, because God loved us so much, and he wanted to be in a relationship with us, God decided to make us an offer. In John 3 we read “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Because God loved us so much, and he wanted to be in a relationship with us, he made us an offer: He would give his only Son to pay the price of our sinful lives, so that through believing in God we would have eternal life with God.
Who has seen – or read – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? If not, let me set the scene. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy have come into Narnia. Edmund has been captured by the white witch, and she is claiming his life as he is a traitor. Aslan offers himself as the witch’s sacrifice, so that Edmund may be free. Aslan is sacrificed on the stone table, which is where we join the scene, where Susan and Lucy – having seen everything that happened the night before, are laying next to Aslan’s dead body on the Stone Table.
In the BBC mini-series version, it speaks of an incantation that was spoken before the world came into being, that the White Witch would not have known about. Aslan knew of the incantation, but still didn’t know that it would work because it had never been tried before. But he was still willing to pay the price, so that Edmund may live. Similarly, Christ knew God’s plan, but may still have had doubts. In Luke’s Gospel, we read of Jesus praying just prior to his arrest, asking God, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Christ may have had doubts, but because of his love for us, he went through it anyway, so that we can have the opportunity to spend eternity with God.
That offer is one that stands before us all. When Christ died on that cross, he died to pay the price of all his disciples’ sins, but he also died to pay the price for all of our sins, all the sins we have committed, and all the sins we will commit. He knows us before we were born, and he knows every step we will make. He knows when we will sin, and when we will choose God’s way. But he stands there, offering us this gift.
The story that we heard today from Matthew’s gospel tells us a bit about what the Kingdom of God will be like, and what we can expect. The landowner makes an offer to the first workers – a day’s wage. Similarly, Christ makes an offer to the first believers – the grace of God. The landowner goes out and hires more and more people throughout the day, and offers to pay them whatever is right. Similarly, Christ calls more and more people, and offers them whatever is right. Finally, with only an hour of daylight left, the landowner goes out and hires some more people, with no mention made of what they will get. Similarly, Christ will call people with only an hour left of their day.
What the landowner – and Christ – offer is equality. Sure, the people who have worked less may not deserve to get a full day’s wage, but he gives it to them anyway. Similarly, we may feel like those who turn to Christ at the end of their lives may not deserve the same grace as us, hardworking people who have been at it all our lives get – but that’s not what happens. God made us an offer – believe in me, and I will pay for your sins, and you will live for eternity with me. Whether we worked for a whole day, or an hour, that offer is the same – that offer is what is right.
We can live in the grace that Christ gives us
But just like the boy with his bible, we have a choice to make. We can take that grace – given to us, and as a result of that we can live in the light of Christ. We can take all the blessings and privileges that grace contains, right from the moment we accept it. Or we can reject that gift, and fail to take those blessings. The boy could have opened up his bible and had his car then and there, and used it over all those years. Instead, he lived his life without the blessing that was rightfully his. All he needed to do was pick it up.
So what does that life look like? Living a life that follows the teachings of Jesus. In Matthew 22, we hear Jesus telling a lawyer the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.” – This is what we are called to do – Love God, Love others, and love ourselves.
There’s much more as well – and through reading our bibles regularly, we can begin to shape ourselves into more of what the Gospels tell us of Jesus. And through accepting the love of God, the grace of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make.
Jesus is standing at the door, knocking. He has the most amazing gift, the best gift you’ll ever receive. This amazing grace, this uncalled-for grace, this grace that we don’t deserve. The question is: what will you do with that gift? Will you throw it in the corner, complaining that it is not packaged how you expected it, and letting it sit there until it’s too late? Or will you open that gift, and allow the grace of God to transform you?
Your grace still amazes me,
Your love is still a mystery
Each day I fall on my knees cause your grace still amazes me.
These lyrics speak of a grace that is amazing to us, and is a mystery to us. It’s a grace that we don’t deserve, but it is like a river with no end that overwhelms us and covers our sin. There’s nothing that we can do to repay God for this glorious gift, but to offer our lives in praise to him. This grace is deeper, it’s wider, it’s stronger and higher than anything we can see. So while we listen to this song – and feel free to join in if you wish – take this time to accept the grace of God in your life. Maybe you want to thank God in silent prayer. Maybe you want to come and ask God to help transform your life to be more like Jesus. Maybe you just want to come and sit in the amazing Grace that Christ has given us, and is available to all here today. So as we sing, as we listen, as we pray, remember that the gift is there – all you need to do is open it.