Ephesians 2:8, grace, Luke 18, Uncategorized

Grace

In a smoke filled room in Oxford, some Dons were engaged in debate about the differences between the word religions, when suddenly another Don -C.S Lewis- walked into the room. One Don asked him:

“Jack (his nick-name) , what is the difference between Christianity and all other world religions?”

To which the great C.S Lewis replied (probably whilst puffing on his pipe!):
“That’s easy, it’s grace!”

Grace is a word that is awash in our culture, we call our daughters Grace, Bishops are called “your Grace”, people compliment people by calling them graceful and those that don’t behave well are called a disgrace. Often meaning gentle and pleasing behaviour, and yet this is so short of what the Bible actually means when it talks of grace.

Grace means God’s undeserved goodness and favour towards us, it is grace that meant although we are sinners and fallen short of God’s glory yet because of God’s great goodness and love, he himself took our punishment and died for us in our place. Someone once described GRACE as an acrostic for God’s Richs At Christ’s Expense.

Paul talks of Grace like this in Ephesians:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph.2.8).

All other world religions have people stretching and straining to reach an almost unattainable God, whereas Christianity has a God who reaches down to us, as one of us.

All other religions are self improvement theories based around “pulling yourself up by your boot-straps”.

Grace meets us where we are in the mess, but loving us so much that it doesn’t leave us there.

Grace means that nothing we can do can make God love us anymore, nor cause him to love us any less.

Grace is something that we struggle with, as we like to think of ourselves as good people, we like to think that we contributed something to our salvation rather than being lost with no means of salvation save through the cross of Christ as a great old hymn so neatly puts it “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling!” -when we take communion we come with empty hands, we bring no bargaining chips to the table, in fact God says in the book of Isaiah that “even our good deeds are like stinking rags”!

One thing I find interesting is reading Paul’s letters he is that some of his harshest words are given not to the people behaving badly but to the God-fearing Galatians that are very religious but have drifted from salvation by grace alone to works, and Paul is clearly furious at the betrayal of the heart of the Gospel.

The removal of grace from the gospel in Paul’s opinion means that it is no longer the gospel, no longer good news.

Grace, is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ, because grace is at the heart of the Godhead.

Danielle Strickland talks of “Pharisees anonymous”. Pharisees were this very dutiful religious group that prided themselves on their good works, S/Paul used to be one. As Christians we can be a bit like the Galatians and turn from the grace of God and unleash our inner-Pharisee, we need to liberate ourselves from our inner Pharisee, and find our freedom and identity in God’s grace.

The author Brendan Manning in his book the Ragamuffin Gospel talks of the choice Christians face is not the choice the Jews faced at Easter between Jesus and Barabas, no one intentionally chooses to follow a murderer, but between Jesus and Caiaphas the High Priest -smug religious piety versus the undeserved but humbling grace of God.

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Which are we?

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Church, community of grace, comparisons, grace, Humanity, Luke 18, Pride

A Community of Grace.

Last couple of weeks at All Souls the word humility and grace have come up a fair bit in the talks, and that’s cool, as they are great words….

Which brings me to this passage… one I love, but I find so so challenging every time I read it.

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Grace might be amazing, but it is hard at times.

Hard to receive forgiveness for things we feel bad about.
Hard to forgive others when we feel aggrieved (I struggle with this one myself if I’m honest at times).
Hard to build a community of grace that is also holy, one of those weird gospel paradox we have to wrestle with.

I think that the heart of understand grace is realizing we ourselves are sinners, we did nothing to earn our salvation it is a free gift, totally unearned.

It is human nature to do comparisons, -actually both ways, both are equally destructive.
“I’m not as good as XXX”
or
“At least I’m better than YYY”

Yet someone-elses ‘success’ doesn’t make you any less loved.
Nor does someone else’s failure doesn’t earn you brownie points and more divine love.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more.
There is nothing you can do that will diminish God’s love for you.

The problem with the pharisee is his pride has blinded him of his need of God, it is easy to maximise someone elses sin, whilst minimising our own, yet as some theologian once said, before the cross the ground is flat, we all come needing grace.

Sometimes we need to experience Grace to share grace.

Just as in the parable of the workers in the field, we all get the same reward of eternity with Christ whether we have been Christians for 5 minutes or 50 years.

It is only when we ‘get’ Grace does this not feel unfair.

The tragedy is (as we heard on friday) the number of “Lost Sons” who are actually like the older brother in Luke 15, who is keen to point out to the Father the failings of his brother, because he didn’t realise the extent of how much his father loved him… “You are always with me and all I have is yours” is how the father replies to him.

Grace felt unfair to the older brother as he didn’t know how loved he was by his father.

Grace is tough because people get what they don’t deserve and sometimes we don’t feel that is fair… well until we slip up and then we are so glad of grace!

I used to have an accountable relationship with my friend Jon in Bournemouth, and I was going through a tough time and did some silly things, and told Jon expecting him to kick my sorry butt (which I fully deserved) but he lent over and put his arm around me listened, (he even) bought me another pint of fosters; which has remained one of the most beautiful moments of my life. His grace and loved actually was the spur I needed to sort myself out. Grace, it’s beautiful. I want to see more of it.

As Paddy reminded us yesterday we let pride blind us to our own faults but point out the faults in others; echoing Jesus words about specks and planks.

I love the line about the woman who washes Jesus feet, those who have been forgiven much, love much…
She knew her need of Jesus’ forgiveness.

Grace and holiness can walk hand in hand, but only in the shadow of the cross of Christ.

Andy

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Bible, Luke 18, Luke 19

A beer… And Two Blokes…

Those at All Souls Southey probably have heard me going on about reading the Bible like a beer rather than a sherry.

Sherry drinkers take small sips.

Whereas a beer is a long drink.

In other words, when we read the Bible, don’t just read a verse or two, read a whole book (lots of them are just a few chapters, a few pages).

Or if you are reading a longer book, read it in a couple of sittings.

Why?

Because context matters!

You wouldn’t with any other form of literature read chapter 39 of Bleak House and then next day read chapter 7 or David Copperfield and then the next day read the last page of Oliver Twist… We don’t read Dickens like this, but that is how we read the Bible.

Such is the case with Luke’s Gospel, we see two very different blokes, with stories that are a chapter apart and (18 & 19), Luke wants us to make a comparison/contrast between the two, a message Luke is shouting at the reader, but most of us have missed this because we have learned to read the Bible in a way which is frankly bonkers!

So, who are these two guys?

One is the Rich Young Ruler, who wants to follow Jesus but also wants to keep his cash, he wants to have his cake and eat it, follow Jesus but do want he wants with his life and his cash… Although Jesus looks at him and loves him… Jesus says to him “go and sell all your possessions and give it to the poor” and the guy walked away from Jesus as the cost of true discipleship and cross carrying was too much for him.

The other guy, is call Zacheus, he’s a rich guy, money probably has been his God, yet when he encounters Jesus, who speaks with him (and his controversial friends)… and Zachaeus’ first response after his encounter with Jesus is to give half his cash away and refund (plus extra) those he’s ripped off and exploited.

It is a very different response.

Yet I wonder, whether if the Rich Young Ruler wandered into our Churches he’d probably be welcomed with open arms, his piety would probably get him parachutted onto the leadership… Yet Jesus turned him away.

And would a Zacheaus character be welcomed the same way? I think sadly not, yet he was the one Jesus described as ‘Salvation coming to this house’.

Jesus urges anyone who follows him to think carefully, count the cost, before people come and follow him.

I’m currently reading Francis Chan who said he hates running, but would like to join the marines, and said he wouldn’t be able to say to the recruitment officer “I want to be a marine, but I don’t want to run anywhere!”

We can’t accept Christ on our own terms.

Both get it.

Both get that results is cost, sacrifice and surrender.

One can do it.

One can’t.

And the one who can, isn’t the one you think it would be.

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