I would like to combine one verse from our First Lesson today with the one verse from last Sunday that served as my sermon text… Isaiah 42 and John 1: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”   Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

We who have been led to see and experience the dark reality of sin and death, who have been blessed with a spirit of repentance, of acknowledging our broken status as ragamuffins, have seen a great light... the light of forgiveness and grace. (altar) Behold the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sin of the world.   (sacrament)  Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (screen)  Behold the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sin of the world.

Another author that I feel is an authority on grace, Philip Yancey, who wrote what is probably the second most given-away book by me: What’s So Amazing About Grace?, describes what happened on the cross this way: To some, the image of a pale body glimmering on a dark night whispers of defeat. What good is a God who does not control his Son's suffering? But another sound can be heard: the shout of a God crying out to human beings, "I LOVE YOU." Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to - because of us.

Grace is enormous!  Grace is incredibly costly… to God.  It cost the Father His Son; it cost the Son of God His life.  It cost us… nothing!  It is a free gift.  It is a gift so amazing that it is to lead us to give a gift back… the gift of ourselves, of our lives.  But another very profound truth is this: the more we give our lives over to the calling of God through grace, the more abundantly blessed and meaningful our lives will be.

But before we get there, we must first encounter grace on a most profound level.  And to be encountered profoundly by grace, we must come face to face with our great need for grace.  Let’s return to Brennan Manning’s words from The Ramamuffin Gospel: “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.  To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, "A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God."

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned--our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night's sleep--all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, "If we but turn to God," said St. Augustine, "that itself is a gift of God."

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

Do you see the absolute importance of not turning away from, or ignoring, your dark side, your sin?  If grace has been cheapened for you, if it’s really not a very big deal, if it’s not fueling a gratitude-based response and commitment to living in the way of Jesus, then I urge you to earnestly and honestly pray that God will reveal to you the true depth of your brokenness.  This hurts.  It hurts to be shone that all pretense aside, we are deeply broken.  This brokenness may show itself in a wide variety of shapes and forms, but it is universal.

I would like to illustrate this truth using the illustration of a balance scale.  Let’s imagine the weight of our sin being placed on this side of the balance.  Now, let’s start to think about the weight of the sin that would be place on the scale. 

Ever get angry with someone and call them a “fool”?  You are guilty of murder.  Ever look with lustful thoughts at someone of the opposite sex?  Adulterer!  Ever have the necessary resources for helping someone in need and pass by the opportunity?  Thief!  Ever value something or someone more than God?  Idolater!  Have you even really analyzed why you do the good things that you do?  Ever struggle with an addiction?  Ever judgmental toward others?  How close do you come to living and loving as Jesus did?  Ever say anything bad about anyone in authority?  Ever use God’s name in vain?  Ever neglect the Sabbath day? Ever lie about, gossip about, or slander someone?  Ever covet anything that didn’t belong to you?

Need I go on?  How unbalanced is your scale?  Even if you have good works that you have done with entirely pure motives, does it come close to balancing the scale?  What is the only thing that can turn the balance in your favor?  GRACE!

It is with an awareness of our sinful brokenness that grace comes to us like a tidal wave of mercy.  It is at that point that Jesus comes and says “I love you… I love you this much (cross)!”  All of your sin, and the punishment and death that goes with it, I have taken away by taking it upon myself.  I dare you to trust that I love you!

So let’s let the late Brennan Manning close this sermon with some familiar words:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQi_IDV2bgM&t=58s

   November 2018   
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