Tuesday, March 8, 2016
The problem of grace. . .
Lets face it. Though our congregation is named Grace Lutheran Church and we insist we are saved by grace, as St. Paul says, grace is a problem and it is always a problem. It is foreign to our sinful hearts and we find grace inherently unjust. Sure, it is no problem when the grace is applied to me but what about when my scoundrel of a neighbor receives God’s grace? As long as we are beneficiaries of God’s kindness, grace is okay, even good, but when the undeserving escape punishment and receive the same forgiveness given to us, that is a problem. Sinful hearts hate grace and God much teach us to love the mercy shown to all.
Look at the parable we just heard. Both sons are worthless disappointments to the loving Father. One is a greedy, selfish, user who wishes his father dead to get what he wants. The other is a hater who resents his father and despises his brother. If there were justice, the father would have disowned them both long before one asked for his money and the other confessed his begrudging service to his father.
Like the elder son, we are in love with the law (or as Pastor Ulrich put it last week karma or balance). People ought to get what they deserve (except me, of course, I deserve a break). Every sinner should be punished – nothing makes us feel better than when the guilty back what they gave. You should have to earn your breaks. We dislike no one more than those born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Everyone should have to earn their breaks – isn’t that what we did? We paid our dues.
Like the elder son we hate the Gospel. Why should that poor excuse for a brother be forgiven, welcomed home, and rewarded for his scandalous life? We resent the forgiveness that God shows to the undeserving – those whom we deem unworthy and unfit for God and His kingdom.
We resent the kind of grace that throws a party for a sinner, that sets a place at the high table and serves the guilty as if they were righteous. No, we complain, what did we ever get for being good? If life is fair, the guilty should expect and receive only punishment. Grace is fruit basket upset for such thinking.
Ultimately, the reason we resent grace is that it implies that we are as guilty as the unworthy sinner, as needy as every other helpless soul who cannot repair wrong or make it right. The worst thing about grace is that it means we are not here by our merits but by mercy, we are not righteous but forgiven, and we have as little consolation with justice as the worst sinners have.
This story is all wrong. The profligate son did not deserve the Father’s welcome or forgiveness or the fatted calf. But that is exactly the point. Grace is not for the deserving or worthy or valuable but for the sinner, the unworthy, the lost, and those beyond their own redemption. While we were yet sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us... He died for YOU. Grace does not ignore wrong or erase guilt or brush off sin but forgives it. God forgives YOU!
God’s values are helplessly at odds with the world’s values and with the judgments of our own hearts. His grace is wasteful and extravagant – totally unreasonable. But if we refuse the grace to the prodigal sons of this world, we also refuse it for us. That’s why this parable is a call to faith. There is no explanation for the Father’s mercy in welcoming back, forgiving, and restoring his worthless son. There is no explanation for the Father’s love for such a hard hearted older son. It is all grace. So the Spirit must intervene to break through the barrier of our sinful hearts and teach us both to delight in the grace God has shown to us in Christ and to rejoice at our sinful neighbor who is also redeemed by grace.
Our sinful hearts are not only at war with God but with His grace and favor. Without the Spirit to convict us of our sins, we resent the Kingdom of God and refuse the gift of mercy. Today we can but pray the Lord to teach us His ways, the ways of grace and mercy, and to give us faith.
What did Jesus say last week? Unless you repent, you too shall perish. Grace is not logical or reasonable. The guilty find forgiveness and the lost are found and the undeserving are given a party and a place at the head table. This is not theory. It is not merely a parable. It is reality. Look around you. It happened again today. Whether you have wasted your life in the shameless pursuit of wine, sex, and song or you lived a good life because you thought it would get you a break from God, the Father’s arms are outstretched to you and His welcome reaches out to you today. Come, enter into the joy of Your Father. Receive forgiveness, wear the Father’s robe of righteousness, and eat the holy food and drink the holy drink of His table. Amen.