Saturday, September 29, 2012

Grace: Sermon for 9-30 2012

This is my sermon for Sunday to be delivered at the First United Methodist Church of Caldwell at 8:30 and 10:30.

Ephesians 2:1-10
This letter to the church in Ephesians is very important in our understanding of Christianity, Sin and Grace.  Sin.  Such a small word, such a big thing.  If you asked a thousand random people, Christians, non-Christians, Muslims, Jews, whomever, you would get a thousand different definitions, a thousand different examples.  It's as if we all have an innate knowledge of it, but until we have really studied it, it is difficult to grasp and even harder to define.

So before we can begin our discourse here, I would like to submit my own understanding of Sin.  Sin is anything that keeps us out of the Holy and personal relationship that Christ offers each of us.  It really is not putting God first, but relegating him to some back seat in your life, telling Him that I'll get back to ya just as soon as I'm done with the game, or with one more drink, or with whatever it is that is keeping us away from Him.

The great and eternal truth is that we are all sinners.  See as humans we have free will and we don't always make the best decisions.  When that guy cut me off on 21 the other day, I wasn't thinking about God in my response to him.  When I read about our government and the morass they have made of our Education system, I have a difficult time staying focused on God.  When the Texans are not playing as good as they should and I am yelling at the television set, God is not the center of my universe.  Do these things sound familiar?  Please hear me when I say this next part, I'm no saint.  I'm a sinner. I'm a sinner who deserves hell and eternal torment, but thanks to our great redeemer, our savior, Jesus Christ, who's sacrifice on a cross, whose precious blood was shed, died so I can be forgiven.  I have been redeemed! Glory to God.  And my prayer for all of you today is that you also know the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ. 

As humans we have a way of categorizing sins.  We say this one is just a little one, while those big ones, we'd never do!  It makes sense to us that on some logical level that some sins are worse than others.  But the truth is all Sin is an anathema to God.  That means he can't look upon it, he can't let it in to heaven to become a part of himself as he is the ultimate goodness, the ultimate truth.  God is the exact opposite of Sin.  Remember he tells us in the Old Testament that he is  a jealous God.   In Exodus 20:3 he tells us “You shall have no other gods before me.”  He calls us into an eternal relationship with him, in perfection, in truth, in love.  But we can't get there, or at least we can't stay there very long.  See our sins gets in the way.  They interrupt our relationship with the God of all creation and drive a wedge between us and Him. And when we have chosen sin instead of Him, he cannot even look upon us. 

You know, we men especially, like to think that we are in charge of our lives, that we make all the big decisions, and we like it when our families think of us that way.  I remember how proud I was when I heard my son David when he was about six say, “I'll take it to Daddy, he can fix it.”  It was just a broken little toy, but there was no way I was going to let him know I couldn't fix it.  What great faith my son showed me that day.  Undeserved, I assure you, as my wife Tracey will let you know, I'm not much of the fixer-upper kinda male, I'm more the if it ain't broke to badly, leave it alone kinda guy.  But men, me included, like to be thought of that way, even if it's not true.  I did my best to fix that toy.  But it was beyond repair.  At least beyond my capacity to fix.  So I did the next best thing....I bought him a new one.  He was satisfied, and I kept that “Daddy can fix it” label just a little bit longer. 

You know that belief that we are the ones in charge of our own lives and everything that happens, that egotism, is a sin as well.  To live in a relationship means to live with another, sharing equally, showing devotion, caring, communication, and love for one another.  God wants to be a part our our lives.  Genesis tells us that  He created man to be caretakers of the creation that He loved.  That's right, the earth, the universe, God looked at it and said it was good!  So good, he made it a gift to us.  Man, we sure no how to mess up a good thing don't we.  He wanted us to choose to be in relationship with him.  He didn't want preprogrammed robots, that's not a relationship.  See he wants me.  He wants you.  He wants all of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

So how can a sinner, someone who is easily caught up in the world and the distractions of this world, to be redeemed?  How can we overcome sin?  Can we ever be good enough, give enough money to charity, give enough time to others, do enough works to pay down our sin?  I hate to break this to you, but the answer is no.  I can never be good enough.  You can never be good enough.  We can never be good enough.

But, some of you may say, “Ed, I'm not a bad person.  I sin, sure, but not like Johnny over there.  He's the real sinner, not me.”  Really?  You think so?  Remember that all sin is evil in the eyes of our Holy God.  All sin.  Not just the little ones, and not just the big ones.  All sin.

So we are back to the big question.  What can a poor sinner do?  The answer is so easy that  many people today can't honestly wrap their minds around it. Or they feel compelled to argue it, or add human things, rituals, or traditions to it.  That's really unfortunate, because God made it really simple for us.  John 3:16...I know ya'll that one, especially if you go to or watch many sporting events, says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”  Grace is that forgiveness we gain from Christ's sacrifice on our cross.  Our sins require us to die, not only physically, but spiritually for eternity.  But Christ's grace is a free gift offered to all of us, everyone, all of us sinners, all of us who think we are saints, everyone of us.  See the price for our sins is death, but that price has been paid in full.  When Christ allowed himself to be nailed to that cross, when he basically said to you and me, “step aside.  I'll do this for you,” he paid the eternal cost for our sins.  So each of us is forgiven.  We are made whole.  We can have that eternal relationship with God.  What a gift.

In John 15:13, Jesus told his disciples, “No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends.”  Romans 5:8 states that  “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans goes on in 4:25 to state that “he was delivered to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Later it states, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

What did his death on a cross and subsequent resurrection do?  It served to pay the cost for all our sins, and allowed us to accept Jesus as our savior so that “neither hight nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  John 4:10 brings this home, “This is love.  Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  What a gift?  What love?  Now think on this a moment.  He didn't just die for Paul.  He didn't just die for Todd Jordan.  He didn't just die for the band.  He didn't just die for me.  He died for each one of us.  If you had been the only one, who would believe in him, he would still have suffered and died on that cross, for the personal love he holds for you. 

Do we deserve such love?  Such forgiveness?  Such sacrifice?  No we don't.  That is why it is Grace.  It is not what man can do to reach God, but what God has done to reach man.  In my humble opinion, I offer this thought.  That of all the religions of the earth, only one is about God seeking man, not man seeking God.  There is truth in that.  Praise God!

Why did he do this?  He came to show love.  He came to serve others.  He didn't come for the rich and powerful, though he loves them too, he came for those that were hurting, sick, poor in wealth, and the poor in spirit. Jesus came to show us how to love, how to give of ourselves to others, freeing us from our sin to express the love of God to others.  As your sins are forgiven, we must share the good news so that all humanity can come to know the saving Grace of God.

Every converted sinner is a saved sinner; delivered from sin and judgment.  The grace that saves is the free, undeserved goodness and favor of God; and he saves, not by the works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus.  I've heard it said, and I believe it, that church is not a sanctuary for saints, but a hospital for sinners. 

So what is my message to you today?  It is the eternal message of hope.  It is that we are all forgiven of our sins (even the big ones) through Christ's death on a cross and sanctified by his resurrection so that we may have an eternal relationship with Him.  That he did this because of his divine love for us, not for anything that we did, but simply because he loves us, just as a parent should love their child.  So lay your burdens at the foot of the cross.  Develop that relationship with God through worship, through prayer, through witnessing to others, by being the one that is willing to step out on faith, to help the needy, feed the hungry, visit those in hospitals and in jail, and to show Christian love to everyone, even those who consider themselves our enemies.  Reflect Christ's love for others.  That was his great commandment.  He said Love God above all, but the second greatest commandment is to love thy neighbor as thyself. 

If you don't know God, or would like to know what it means to have a relationship with him, please consider coming to visit with me at the altar as the band sings our next song.  Remember that once you have accepted His grace, Jesus dwells within you, and we must let that light shine.  Let your light shine.