Grace and Gratitude
July 3, 2016
WAY BACK IN GENESIS 12, God called out two childless senior citizens named Abram and Sarai. God promised to make Abram the father of a mighty nation. If that promise sounded unlikely promise, the next statement was mind-blowing. Not only would Abram be the father of a mighty people, that people would one day spread the blessing of God over the whole earth.
Flash forward a few hundred years and the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — now known as Israel — actually exist. In Exodus 1, for the very first time in Scripture, Israel is referred to by Pharaoh as a “nation.” God leads that nation out of Egyptian slavery.
After a time of wandering, they claim a land of their own. But the Israelites routinely forget that they existed as God’s people to the wider world. The Book of Jonah in the Old Testament’s premiere tells that as Jonah initially disobeys God’s call to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. He was afraid they’d actually listen and God would actually save them.
Jonah was a card-carrying member of the Israelite “members only” club and was not keen to have Ninevites admitted to the party. But God declared his love for those people — and even for their cows — and did save them as one of many Old Testament reminders that Israel as a single nation was never God’s end-game scenario.
It was always to be bigger. Then Christ came and reached out to all people — and Pentecost came and universalized the message to all nations.
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THIS IS THE HISTORY Paul brings to the Galatians as he talks about the faith of Abraham and the coming of Christ for all people. As Paul wraps up this letter, he says a whole lot of things quickly but the whole letter gets summed up in two main themes:
● First, there is nothing to boast about except the cross of Christ alone.
● Second, we need to do our best to glorify God in how we live and in serving one another in love. It’s all grace and after that it’s all gratitude.
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LET’S LOOK at the first theme. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, writes Paul in his own handwriting. There is nothing we do to earn our salvation. God extends to us his grace out of his love for us. God makes the way for us in relationship through Jesus Christ. There is nothing we do, say, or think that prompts God’s steadfast love for us. There is nothing. Christ did all the work for us in his death and resurrection. Christ took care of it all for us on Calvary.
I’ve talked this over and over again but it’s the basic of faith. God’s done the heavy lifting. All that’s left for us to do is respond to such extravagant grace.
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WHICH IS OUR second theme. We do our best to glorify God in how we live and in serving one another in love.
We do our best to glorify God. To glorify God is to honor God with praise, admiration, or worship. Some people assume that’s what Sunday morning is set aside for. To honor God is not just being here on Sunday morning but living and serving every day, all the time. Loving God and loving others.
Service. We like to be served. That’s why businesses that really stress service do so well. The problem is that we aren’t really all that into serving. That’s for other people. Nothing frustrates me more than needing work done at home and I can’t get a business to return my call or give me a bid. Or worse, they accept the job but then drag their feet getting it done correctly.
Stanley Hauerwas said: “One of the great problems of Christian life in America is that we think we have a relationship with God that we go to church to have expressed. Church is a secondary phenomenon to our personal relationship with God and I think that gets it exactly backward.”
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WE COME TO CHURCH to have a relationship with God that gets expressed in the world through our loving service.
What does the Lord require of us? What pleases God? What glorifies God? When we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. We glorify God is through our service to others. Jesus modeled that in his words, “I came not to be served but to serve.” And through his actions: he took the towel and washed Peter’s feet.
That bumps up against our often desire to be served but not to serve. It happens in relationships. It happens at work. It happens in the community. It happens at church. Some people want to receive the benefits of other people’s service but aren’t interested in serving themselves. Reap the benefits but not do the work.
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PAUL SAYS TO CARRY your own load. It’s a military term, like take your own duffel bag. Wear your own backpack. Take responsibility for what you can.
But he also says we are to carry one another’s burdens. Sometimes our load is just too heavy. When life is hard. When illness is painful. When the future is uncertain. When decisions can’t be made. When the physical is overwhelming. When the mental is overbearing. When grief is consuming. When the spiritual is fleeting. When parenting requires more than mom and dad.
In all of life, we are to help each other. This pleases God. This honors God. This service to others demonstrates our love for the One who first loved us.
Each other within the church. And others outside the church. The stranger, the enemy, the hungry, thirsty, sick, poor, imprisoned, naked. Without pride but in gratitude to the love of God for us.
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IF YOU WANT TO TALK about how we get saved, Paul does not want to hear about human achievement. If you want to talk about the life of discipleship, Paul does not want to hear about self-indulgent living. What Paul wants to talk about is Christ crucified and our gratitude, our serving response to such wondrous love.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.
— Keith Cardwell