From our First reading, Micah 6: "With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"  He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?   Thus far our text.

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

Wow!  This all can get really confusing, can’t it?!  We’ve just spent three weeks focusing on grace, on the core truth of the Gospel, that it is by God’s incredible, love-inspired actions that we are saved, not by our own efforts.  And now this week we hear Micah speaking about what the Lord requires of us.  We hear those famous beatitudes of Jesus calling for a new kind of morality, focusing on us hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful in order to obtain mercy, being persecuted peacemakers, all the while being pure in heart.

So which is it?  Is it all about what God has done and continues to do in His grace?  Or is it about what we do?  And the answer is… yes, both!

First and foremost, it is all about grace.  It is all about God’s love and what He has done and continues to do for us.  If we don’t get that straight, everything else gets messed up.

But here is a most profound truth: Grace must be much more than a concept, it must be an experience.

In the past three weeks we have heard grace defined: from the words and witness of Brennan Manning we have heard that grace means this: “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.”   We also heard author Phillip Yancey’s definition of grace as meaning that there is nothing we can do that will make God love us less, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us more.  God’s love is infinite, and God’s love is a gift, something we inherit, not merit.

In the story of the life of Rich Mullins, and through his music, we witnessed grace through the eyes of the Ragamuffin, the one who comes to understand that we are all simply beggars at the door of God’s mercy, people whose broken lives continue to be touched and healed by the pure love and forgiveness of God.

And last week I sought to help us further understand grace through the illustration of a balance scale, by focusing on how much we really need grace by giving consideration to the weight of our sin and the depth of our brokenness, and God’s response to it all.  That is the message of the cross, which might strike others as foolishness, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God, as Paul states in our Epistle reading.

But you know what, simply understanding grace is not enough.  It’s not a concept to be grasped, but a reality to be experienced.  I honestly don’t care if I have done a masterful job of helping you to an intellectually deeper understanding of grace.  That is just a starting point.  This truth must travel the distance between here (head) and here (heart).  So one more time, these words from Brennan Manning:

Jesus Christ… this moment comes right to [you and to me] and says, “I have a word for you:  I know your whole life story. I know every skeleton in your closet. I know every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty and degraded love that has darkened your past. Right now, I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship.  And my word is this: I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never gonna be as you should be.”

Do you believe that?  Do you trust that?  Have you experienced—and are you continuing to experience—that reality of God’s unconditional love for you?  Grace has changed everything!  God’s grace has changed us from enemies of God to children of God.  It is a gift to be received. 

This gift is so incredible and so powerful that it continues to change us.  In Romans 12 Paul describes this transformation: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.   

There it is: any speaking about morality, any talking about obedience, any urging to align our behaviors with the will of God must always be done “in view of God’s mercy.”   Our ongoing encountering of God and His love and mercy and grace is what moves us to change, to carry out true repentance.  We come to see that it’s not only about confessing our sin and acknowledging our brokenness, it is about seeking to turn away from it, it is about being transformed by a renewing of our minds.

Our response to the gift of amazing grace is to offer a gift back… we offer our bodies, we offer our whole selves to God as “living sacrifices.”  That is the New Testament “thank offering.”  This truth is reflected in the words of our prayer in the liturgy following the offering: “May these gifts be signs of our whole lives returned to you, dedicated to the healing and unity of all creation, through Jesus Christ.”

This all involves a lot more than head knowledge.  It is not enough to understand all of this; we need to experience this.  It is not merely dedicating ourselves to doing a better job of following the rules, of doing justice and practicing kindness, or trying to do a better job of obeying all of the commandments.  As some of us heard in a Bible class earlier this week, we are not called “human doings, but human beings.” 

This is all about gratefully commending everything into the hands of our Creator, about seeking a greater and greater indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God, about being healed and strengthened, about being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  This is about living grateful and joyful and meaningful lives as children of God, lives lived in the awareness of the very presence of God, lives that reflect the very nature of the God who created us in His image, who breathed His Spirit of life into us.

My family in Christ, may our heavenly Father touch each of us and all of us with His grace, May God continue to breathe into us His Spirit of life, may we more and more powerfully be touched and healed and moved by His grace and goodness, as we worship together and serve together, and walk together as His beloved children.  Amen.

   April 2019   
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