The Grace of God

Luke 14 vs 1 & 7-14 (from the Message)

 

The 4th July is the American Day of Independence and every year since, as far as  she is able to recall it has also been Lin’s birthday.

 

But 2007 was a very special birthday, not so much that she had arrived at the age of reason and maturity, but the surprise was that on that particular day we were both actually in NY.

 

Imagine NY on the 4th July with all the fireworks blasting off the shore line of Manhattan Island on the Hudson River. The celebrations the parties, it was a bit like Hogmanay in Glasgow!! 

 

But their was something even more spectacular about this trip, we were in an hotel opposite Madison Square Gardens, in Manhattan not because we could afford it, not because we deserved it, not because we had earned it, not because we had won the trip, but because it was a gift, someone had paid for our trip.

 

Someone had anonymously decided to give us a gift that we could never afford or earn or pay back.

It was a gracious gift. With no payback.

It was altruistic and unconditional.

BUT there is my embarrassing thought for the day. Given that it was a 9 hour journey, I walked about to try and dissuade my arteries from clogging up and giving me a DVT.

 

My walk up the aisle inside the big bird soon brought me to the veil, you know that curtain that divides the economy class from ‘them’.

 

I could almost smell the extra wide leather seats and free wine and the extra polite cabin crew presenting soft duck down pillows and cashmere rugs to help ‘them’ sleep in their special reclining chairs. It seemed that their every need was met.

 

I sauntered back to my cloth seat and opened another packed of roasted peanuts and soon a lovely hostess came to me and asked if there was anything I needed ?

 

A vague sense of shame crept over me, as the thought arose, “need anything ?Well why am I not in the first class department” I’m as good as them

 

It was a horrid thought, albeit fleeting but how dare I think such a thing, even if it was for a nano second?.

Just being on this plane had been an undeserved gift, A GIFT for goodness sake.

 

I did not deserve to be on the plane at all, but someone wanted to give us an unconditional gift

And there was I feeling, thinking, believing I had a some sort of right to be in a higher position. Wanting to be at “top table” as it were.

 

I hadn’t paid for the holiday, it was an amazing gift, freely given to us out of generosity and kindness..  and then to add to my internal guilt, the young hostess asked me if I needed anything more!!

 

The way I dealt with this amazing gift gave some insight into my understanding of GRACE

 

Grace is to be invited somewhere when you have no automatic right to be there.

 

A mnemonic for GRACE from a Christian perspective as I may have said before is ;

Gods, Riches At Christ’s Expense.

 

The opposite is to be ungracious which is

When we believe we deserve all the gracious care we receive from our lovers or friends our family from God

 

 When we believe that we deserve all the good things in life, when we really believe that we are worth it.. and are entitled to good health, nice, trouble free live, comfortable homes, good jobs, fine children.

 

When church people think the church belongs to them. When it fact it belongs to God, yes it really does. We are trustees

 

To be ungracious is when we determine by canon who can worship God how and when. 

 

When we believe we know best and separate ourselves from the weak and the simple and those who do not conform to our self appointed high elevated position

 

Bit of a tirade I know ; but I’m really examining myself.

Because a yet more ungracious thought of them and me entered my mind. But this time the tables reversed, someone coming into my exclusive space!

 

The church  

I heard on the wireless that they were closing libraries to save money. An appalling decision

Then someone on radio 4 suggested that libraries could be opened up in pubs and supermarkets; and I thought “Oh but we don’t it in church, all sorts arrive in libraries, some just to sleep!

( perhaps that already happens!!)

 

They would be coming to church for entirely the wrong reasons.

They would be sitting in our places, some may find a comfortable blue chair AND MOVE IT sit  and read the paper drink strong larger, imagine, and actually sitting amongst the choir.!!

For goodness sake they may just decided to sit up here next to me, or tinkle on the piano or organ!!

 

Next they will be pushing their way to the front of the queue and drinking all our coffee eating our cakes and give our church a bad name!!

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To the text Luke 14 Jesus arrives at the dinner party held by a senior Pharisee, a group of 20 or so.. they arrive all scramble and push their way to find a suitable place befitting their station in the local society.

No seating plan, no nice neat name places as we would have

We may mock this picture saying

‘we would never do that’!

 

I don’t doubt it, it’s not very English, but supposing there was offered seating, on a  first come first served basis at Wimbledon, Centre Court men’s finals.

OR

Any seat, any day, at the Olympics

OR two free tickets to see the Royal Ballet performing in Cuba ; Jules Holland in Seychelles

OR Swan Lake at Royal Albert Hall,

OR Cosi Fan Tutte at Covent Garden?

 

Would you not go for centre front row for you and yours?

Or you absolutely NEED that new coat, handbag, laptop, ipad, or Porsche Boxster ( you know who I’m talking about!!) and they are on sale 70% off ?

Where would you be in the rush?

Elbowing your way politely to the front?

 

Or for some, just as they call ‘last orders’ and you are with a very special group of friends which you have gently been impressing all evening, but   there is a crowd at the bar but you know the publican very well… a wave perhaps catch her eye and get your drinks before everyone else.

 

But how embarrassing when (as I have done) you  move the place names around, just a little, so your sitting, as it happens next to the guest of honour

But soon to discover that your sitting where the host had wanted their very close friend to sit.. what then !!

 

Then everyone is embarrassed,(i) the hostess, (ii)the person who finds themselves in totally the wrong place (iii) and you as you are publically exposed as an ungracious creep and are move to your allotted place .. at the bottom of the table

 

When Jesus told this very obvious embarrassing story as a lesson, I wonder if the intended hearers understood, did those very pious but judgemental Pharisees, did they get it?

 

Would we ‘get it‘? So what distinguishes the modern-day Pharisee from us, to days Christian

It is what they believe.

 

In addition to being moral and religious and zealous, the modern-day Pharisees believes that people’s own efforts, good works make the difference between salvation and damnation.

They do not believe that salvation is THE GIFT OF GOD.

To hard to accept that someone else has paid the fare to heaven. That Salvation, is by the sacrifice of Christ alone; instead, they believe that salvation is ultimately up to what we can add to Christ’s work..

 

Whereas the Christian believes that it is by grace we enter heaven.

Nothing we deserve but a gift of God.

And anything we do is in grateful response to God’s amazing gift.

Christians are a people who claim no righteousness of their own. Who would freely admit that they do not deserve Gods gifts of Salvation. Hopefully Christians are the ones who ‘get it’

 

In the parable Jesus also observes that actually there are others who have been invited to sit at table.

I have to remember Jesus died for EVERY ONE, that includes every Muslim, Hindu, and Methodist!!

 

Oh they may not look religious, they may not know when to stand sit or face East, to genuflex or to say AMEN in loud voice, they may not know how to chant the psalms

or know what it means to have “everlasting joy and felicity“, or know who can read the banns.

 

In other words they may not have the right table manners BUT God Himself has invited them as well as the Pharisee to the banquet.

 

What has this to do with us here in Bunbury August 2010?

 

Maybe it about how we humbly recognize the gift of God in Christ Jesus and how welcome our neighbour, the stranger, to meet with God.

 

*** begger finding free bread***

 

I often worry that on the last day when I stand before God, and I know I shall feel very small and inadequate but relived that some one showed me the way to meet with Jesus, the neighbour who prayed for me, (in my case it was our cleaner, back in the days of Merchant banking), the one who encouraged and walked with me into my first church.

My worry is that my neighbour, will look at me with pained expression and ask me why I never helped them to find God but rather left them to starve, to flounder and now on judgment day condemned, found guilty.

A further rather amazing statement made by Jesus in vs 12. Jesus turns to the host and says,

 

 “Isn’t it interesting that when you have a dinner party you only invite people just like yourself.!!

 

People who have invited you, then you return the favour, a sort of pay back.” An inability to receive a gift without obligation.. is this pride?

 

I assume Jesus was also asking, why do you not invite the ordinary people, those who sit in the economy seats , those outside your normal circle of friends, those who could never pay you back.

 

Why are we so blind, and our hands too closed to reach out to those who need God’s grace, God’s gift of salvation as much as we needed it, and found it at no cost to us?

 

I wonder is it really so abhorrent that we could open this church to include a library?

Some may say it’s not using our church properly?

 

I’m sure there is a cannon or Article or law that says you must not use the church for sleeping or reading or sitting in to keep warm.

 

But I wonder if we are not being a bit exclusive a bit Pharisaical  a bit exclusive not wanting to invite just anyone to the table, the Communion Table, the banquet, because they came for the wrong reasons, or the wrong side of the street?

 

Martin Luther King called Sunday morning in church the most segregated hour of the week!!

 

.. I’ll end with this

( any one from Bickerton I can preach shorter)

 

When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time, that is a wage.

When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize.

When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award.

But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award—yet receives such a gift anyway—that is a good picture of God’s unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God.

 

A gracious gift, with no pay back, altruistic, and unconditional.

 

Rick Gates