Tuesday, September 9, 2014
The scandal of grace. . .
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? That is what reason says. You look at what you have, what you can count on, and this is always weighted more than the prospect of something more. If you don't believe me, ask those Let’s Make a Deal contestants who gave up a sure thing for a chance at something better than never came through.
All of this is true except where God is concerned. First of all, God’s promise is worth more than the sure thing in your hand. This is not simply theory with God. Such is the scandal, the offense, and the confusion of grace to the mind and heart of the sinner. Today, amid the many riches of the Gospel lesson, we heard Jesus tell a parable about the scandal of grace.
If a man has 100 sheep and loses one, what should he do? What would you do? Jesus acts as if any reasonable man would agree with him and leave the 99 to find the one lost. But no would do that. In our world, a 1% loss is acceptable and barely noticeable on a financial worksheet. How many of us would have been content with a 1% loss in our IRAs after the 2008 downturn in the economy? No, we would sigh with relief that we lost only 1%. Life is hard. You have to expect that you will lose 1% here and there. It is reasonable, rational, and understandable. But not to God.
We would worry less about the one that got away than about keeping the 99 who remained. We would double down our efforts to guard what we had instead of running out on the fool's errand of trying to retrieve the one lost. That is how things work in this world. But that is not how God works. And this is the scandal of grace.
God's math is radically different from our own. God has no acceptable losses. God does not content Himself with a reasonable loss. God does not guard the 99 even more; He risks all in order to find the one who got away. It is shockingly extravagant and seems utterly foolish to our minds and even to our hearts. But such is the way of the Kingdom of God.
One lost sheep is the deliberate and constant focus of the Lord's relentless heart of grace. He allows us the privilege of rejecting Him but He continues to seek us out and to win over our stubborn hearts by His relentless and consuming grace. That is the love that sought YOU out when you were dead in trespasses and sin, that refused to leave you lying in the dung heap of death that was your lost life, and that willingly sent His one and only Son to bear your sin and die your death and redeem your soul.
God could have rightfully written us off and justly left us to the consequences of our chosen sin and rebellion and He. But not the Lord. He cannot forget us and He cannot console Himself to losing even one. He continues to seek us out with the voice of His Word, with the invitation of His grace, and with the promise of His mercy. If we are not saved, it is not the fault of the Lord. It is ours and ours alone. But we who are saved owe the credit to the Lord alone.
Who would expect such relentless pursuit of one lost sheep? Such is the scandal of grace. But what about us? How sad it is that we treat the unyielding pursuit of God’s mercy as something common and ordinary! How sad it is our response to His relentless mercy and grace is the shrug of our shoulders as we continue to go on our merry way of sin that leads to death!
We think: you some and you lose some. That is what consoles us in our losses but not the Lord. Grace is radically unreasonable, its values hopelessly out of sync with the world. So radical is His grace that the unborn are valued the same as adults. So radical is His grace that no sin and no sinner can be allowed to stand outside the realm of His mercy. So radical is His grace that the child who trusts in Him is the model of great faith. So radical is His grace that He values the sinner more than those who presume righteousness.
Just as only one sin makes you a sinner, steals your life away and leaves you with eternal death, so even one sinner moves the Lord to action, to seek out, to address with the grace of forgiveness, and to restore to everlasting life and communion with God the creator.
This is why it is such a damning lie to shrug our shoulders at sin. When we do this the sinner remains lost, left beyond the sound of God's voice in His Word, and left to the death that is his now and forever. This is why we cannot be silent about sin, about evil, and about wrong. This is why those whom sin has wounded will seek out the sinner to restore him through forgiveness. This is why those who refuse the admonition of God’s people and His Church are treated as Gentiles and tax collectors to be won all over again for the Lord.
We cannot reduce the Gospel to mere sentiment and feeling. It is always about sin and forgiveness, life and death. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself so that those who dead in trespasses and sin might be redeemed to new and everlasting life. Grace means nothing when sin is no longer counted. God does not shrug sin away but confronts it in Christ, on the cross, by suffering and death.
Here is grace at work. The water of that font kills the already dead so that God can make us alive in Christ with a life stronger than death. Here is grace at work. God cannot sit idly by while we stew in our own sin and death and so confession and absolution releases us from the torment of our sin and guilty consciences. Here is grace at work. The voice of the Word of God calls us back here week after week to restore us from our sin and weakness before temptation and equips us to call those not yet of His kingdom with the same voice of grace. Here is grace at work. Those who have no right or place are given the privileged place at this Table where the flesh and blood of Christ feed us forgiveness and eternal life.
He sent forth His Son to save us. He continues to speak His Word to a world lost and condemned. He washes the sinner with the water of forgiveness and drowns the dead to raise them up to eternal life. The one lost will not be written off. Look around you at the lost ones whom the Lord has reclaimed by His mercy. Now look into a mirror and see the face of the lost one whom the Lord has redeemed by grace. That lost one is YOU! Now, do not squander what God purchased and won but live your life nobly for His kingdom and doing the good works of Him who has called you from darkness into His everlasting Light. Amen.