Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Unrelenting Grace -- He wills but we would not...

Sermon for Lent 2, preached Sunday, February 28, 2010.

When sorrow and tragedy strikes, whether in Haiti or Chile far away or in a family’s loss of a child so near, we come to God with the predictable questions.  How could you allow this to happen?  Where were you when this happened?  Christians feel the pinch as the world turns to us in unbelief and says to us: What kind of God would stand by and let this happen?  And the truth is that we have no answer to those questions.  In fact, hidden in our own hearts are the doubts and fears about a God who can let these things happen.

Would it surprise you to know that God also has questions.  They are not the presumptive parental style questions addressed to our sins: How could you do that?  Why did you think you would get away with that?  What were you thinking?  No, the primary question God has have to do with His grace.  Why do you refuse Me?  Why do you reject Me?  Why do you turn away from My unrelenting and unlimited grace?  This is not the lament of a God who judges but the lament of a broken heart from a God who loves but whose love is refused.

Today we heard Jesus speak those haunting words of lament.  He cries out not in the curse of judgment but in the pain of love refused: Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you would not... This is the lament of a God whose love is offered but refused.

God’s mercy reaches us in myriad ways.  God has no one size fits all approach to sinners in need of His redemption.  The answer to our need is always the same – always Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  But how that Good News comes to us is rich and varied.  God speaks directly through His Word, through the visible Words of baptism and the Eucharist, through the mediated word of our own witness to others and their witness to us, and through the compassionate word of service.

God speaks to us on the mountain tops of our lives and He comes down into the valleys.  He is even there when we are buried in the pit of sorrow, despair, and loss.  God speaks directly to us and does not mince words and He also speaks to us in stories and parables.  God speaks through official channels of prophets and Pastors, through the casual address of family, friends, and even the stranger on the street corner.  God’s Word of mercy comes in many ways.

The goal of our Lord is not our destruction but our salvation.  Although our sinful hearts have been taught to fear the Lord and His approach to our lives, the desire of the Lord is not to condemn us but to save us, to gather us into His merciful care and protection as a mother hen gathers her chicks.  God does not work against us as an enemy but for us as our Savior.  He works through the Spirit to open our hearts to the sound of His compassionate voice and to open our lives to the care of His mercy and grace.

But we refuse Him.  We are the hardened soil that deflects the seeds of His mercy and the rocky soil that refuses to allow it to root in our lives and the shallow soil that cannot support the flowering of His grace.  We are the scornful chicks who refuse to be cared for and the curious chicks who go our own way unknowing of the danger and the willful and proud chicks who think we know what is best for us.  We wonder where God is thinking He has abandoned us. But we were the ones who refused Him and refused the gift of His mercy over and over again.

Our hearts are stubborn before His unrelenting grace.  That have taught us not to want a God if having a God implies we need something more than justice from Him.  That we do not want to be pitied and we do not want to believe that our cause is so lost it requires a Savior to act for us.  That we do not want mercy or grace if it means we could not help ourselves.  That we do not want to be loved if this love means that apart from Him we are lost to sin and its death.  That we do not want to surrender the illusion of freedom that is really a lie because of sin and death for the genuine freedom only He can impart.  No, we do not want a God if knowing this God means giving up sin’s lies.

So we refuse His love, we stand apart from His presence, from His mercy and grace... because it might mean we needed them in the first place, that we could not provide for ourselves, or that we were lost and condemned until He interceded for us and our salvation.

God is the hen at work gathering her brood.  From the first moment in Eden when Adam and Eve were confronted by God for what they had done to the words of this sermon, God spoke mercy and grace, rescue and redemption, hope and promise.  All through history God was at work gathering what was lost to Him, restoring what sin took from Him, reclaiming us from death’s captivity.  His entire activity is for us and our salvation.  The story of Scripture is the one story of love and redemption, of sacrifice and salvation – from Eden to Calvary to Clarksville, in the person of His one and only Son.  God has always been there to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctifie us in Christ.  We are the distant ones.

This past week I blogged about a Pastor's regret over so many Christians who are absent from worship.  I received this response: “I am not so naive as to think that all your absent folk are missing because they are laboring beneath the crushing weight of their sin and fear approaching the altar, but some of us are. Some of us, despite being saved by grace, struggle beneath the weight of the Law, confronted with our sin at every turn.”

My friends, if it is sin that keeps you from the warmth of our hiding place in the wing of our God, then listen to His Word speak mercy and grace, hope and redemption and lay down that sin at the foot of the cross.  If it is pride that keeps you from the safe place with the flock of God gathered by grace, break that pride with the Word of the cross and cast that pride away because it will be your doom.  If it is fear that keeps you from being gathered by the love of our mothering God, then surrender those fears where fear was broken at the foot of the cross.  To our need, to our wounds, to our sinful and lost condition, to our pain, to our doubt, to our questions... unrelenting grace is God’s answer.  God has not rejected us.  We have rejected Him.  It is not God who places the barrier between us but we who have built this terrible wall.

We stand as those far off.  We are held prisoner by our sins, by our fears, and by our doubts.  We have all of these questions for God.  God has only one for us.  Why do you refuse Me?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, could it be that we are choosing to live in sin’s misery instead of love’s mercy?  The cross is the bridge God has built to us, the hand of love He has extended to us, the fruit of His unrelenting grace at work through time and eternity in His Son.  Will we heed the call of the Spirit to let God gather us as His own, to be nestled in the wing of His mercy and grace, love and protection... for the journey of this life and for the life that is eternal.

Here, right now, we are gathered under His wing, secure in the grasp of His grace, where He gives our old lost lives  new birth, where He feeds and nourishes us for today’s troubles and for eternity’s bliss.  For God so loved the world and each of you that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life... Amen

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