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"Where’s the Grace?" Seventh Sunday After Epiphany - February 20, 2022

Sometimes a conversation occurs when preparing a sermon – you could call it a conversation between the different aspects of one’s character, or contradictory versions of the self, or the better or lesser angels of your nature, or sometimes it’s just a plain pushing against the text itself. Especially when it’s something like we just heard from Luke’s gospel.

Love the haters, bless the cursers, take it on the chin, give to the takers, lend to the swindlers….

“Do I have to preach on this? I mean I know they’re the words of Jesus, but c’mon…this isn’t the kind of thing that’s gonna grow a church, all this stuff isn’t gonna get more butts in the pew. I mean maybe this is alright for Quakers and Mennonites and for the Amish, and maybe even for those little churches in the strip shopping centers where people raise their hands and sing the same 7 words 25 times…But, not for St. Andrew’s – we’re different – our people could really use some kind of pick-me-up. Somethin’ that makes ‘em feel good, a pleasant story, part of a poem, a little soft-shoe, dog and pony biblical interpretation, and top it all off with a quote from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry…that’s all we want.”

“Yeah…maybe, Jared. But is that all you need.”

“Shut-up! Okay, fine. What’s Paul talking about this week?”

“The resurrection.”

“Dang! Should-a-known Paul wasn’t going to be any lighter.”

“Alright. Might be a good week to preach the Psalm. What’s it say this week.”

Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

“Hey, now that sounds pretty good. What else does it say?”

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently, do not fret over those who prosper…better is a little that the righteous have than the abundance of the wicked…

“Well now wait a minute…what’s happened…what about the desires of my heart – what’s all this patience and being good with a “little” about – this doesn’t sound any better. What kind of foolishness is this?”

“But, then again Jared…remember in that same letter to the Corinthians we were just reading from Paul he talks about the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength…So, perhaps you need a little foolishness. ”

And on and on it can go….

You know when all is said and done, you know why I’m hesitant to preach this gospel reading this morning?

Because it’s hard.

I mean it’s not really hard if we don’t take it seriously. It’s not really hard if we go along with the popular upper-middle class WASPy interpretation of this whole thing…which says, “Well this is Jesus’ ideal. He doesn’t really intend for us to be these kind of people. But it is nice to think about from time to time isn’t it. And these words do look good sewn on a pillowcase, but you know…we don’t have to do, really…do this.”

It's hard. It’s hard. I sure think it’s hard. Just the other day a woman cut in front of me in the school carpool line. Just cut-me off right there in the middle of the parking lot. I imagined the eyes of other parents in the other cars staring at me, waiting for a response, I imagined them saying, “Surely, he’s not just going to take that like a sucker.” And so I did what any good Christian would do. I waited till my boys were out of the car and then I laid on the gas, sped around her, and cut her-off right back. And that’s just a petty little situation – it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. How am I ever going to be this kind of person Jesus is talking about here?

Well, maybe one of the reasons it’s hard is because it’s about GRACE. “Now wait a minute,” you might say, “I don’t see the word grace anywhere in this passage.”

Well, you see that word “credit”?

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? If you give, expecting a return what credit is that to you?

That word credit…that same word, everywhere else in the Greek New Testament is translated – GRACE.

If you love those who are easy to love, where’s the grace in that? If you do good to the do-gooders, where’s the grace in that? If you give when it’s easy, where’s the grace in that?

Where’s the grace? That might be an important question. Where’s the grace in this world?

Day-in, day-out – it’s kinda hard to see.

Not too long ago I was eating lunch in a restaurant here. There was a man, an older man, working hard bussing tables, beads of sweat on his forehead, a stained apron – evidence of a hard day’s work. There was another man, younger, wearing a nice pair of boots, shirt perfectly pressed, and he unknowingly dropped a twenty from his wallet after paying. The older man saw this, stooped down, picked it up and said, “Excuse me sir, you dropped your cash.” The younger man took the cash, didn’t say “thank you,” didn’t acknowledge the older man, didn’t even stop the conversation he was having with his friend, and walked out.

Where’s the grace in this world?

A few years ago, I was at the bedside of a woman who was very near death. She loved God, she loved the church – I believe that. But she was what you could call…hard. She did not love easily, she kept an account of wrongs, she withheld not only a generosity of means but a generosity of spirit. No one was going to take advantage of her, you see – no one was going to get the best of her, no one…And I watched her take a last breath, her face pensive, wrinkled to a frown, alone.

Where’s the grace in this world?

Turn on the television, scroll through your social media, read the comments, look at what people are saying, look at the words being thrown around….

Where’s the grace in this world?

It’s hard out there.

A few months ago we were in Birmingham, Alabama. We found a place to eat dinner close to our hotel. There was a man outside, panhandler, smelly, raggedy clothes - “I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash,” I said. We ran a card through an ATM inside the spot so our kids could play arcade games. A few minutes later our daughter said, “Dada, that man is still out there.” My immediate response, “well ya know…this is for the arcade…so…” But I could see in her eyes. And I watched this little girl walk down a street she did not know, in a city she did not know, up to a man she did not know, and pour a handful of quarters into his hands.

Where’s the grace in this world? Oh, it’s there.

But you see, it comes from children or those who’ve become like children because that’s who the kingdom of God belongs to.

Isn’t that absurd?!?

Of course it is!

The kingdom Jesus preached and lived, as someone once said, is a “glorious, uproarious, absurd” thing. Absurd in its love, absurd in its goodness, absurd in its generosity.

We need that kind of absurdity, the world always has…

You need something that absurd to face such a harsh world. Say what you will about the reasonableness of God, about God’s strength and order – but it’s the absurdity of the gospel that captures me, the weakness and foolishness of God outlasting human power and wisdom.

Because life is hard,

But it’s even harder without grace.



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