Growing in grace
- Us? Prodigals?
I love that story Jesus told of the prodigal son – do you remember it? There is the son who has it all – a loving father and home environment, good work to do, wealth and riches to spare, servants to look after him, more than enough food on the table, it’s all there, it’s all laid on him, it’s all good, it’s all his – and what does he do? Demands his share of the inheritance, ‘give me my share’, and he takes the money and runs away from home. Far away from home; far away from father and brother; into a far country. He wants to get away, he’s had enough of his family, he wants his independence, he wants to live for himself. And so he does – party, party, party. Until the money runs out. And then he’s all alone – no money, no friends, no family. And then there’s a famine – the hard times of life come, and he has no work and no prospects. Nothing. As a last resort he gets a job feeding pigs.
And then he comes to his senses. What am I doing? Here I am starving to death – and those hired men at my home have food to spare. I’ll go back home and ask dad for a job. That’s a big realization to come to isn’t it – very humbling, to go back home and admit it didn’t work and I’ve lost all the inheritance. Takes guts I think.
But what will dad think? How will he react to his son coming home having squandered so much money? Some fathers would refuse him – you’ve made your bed, lie in it; some would begrudgingly let him back home, but remind him all the time of what he’s done; some might give him a job with the hired servants. But not the dad in Jesus’ story – he’s been waiting for his son to come home, looking every day down the road hoping against hope to see him trudging up the dirt path, every day disappointed. Until that day when he spies a figure in the distance – it must be him. It is him. And runs up to him, embraces him, kissing him, welcoming him back, loving him. And hearing just part of his son’s confession and brokenness, he lavishes his love on him. Bring the best robe, give him a ring, put sandals on his feet, bring the fattened calf, let’s party – my son is back!
I love that story because in it Jesus tells us of the character of God. He is the Father in the story. He is the God who made us and gives us all we have, but longs for us to come back to him. Why? Because we are like the son.
You see we all take the good things God gives us, in fact we so often expect and demand God gives us good things – God I want a job, God I want money, God I want food on the table, and I want a good table to eat it from, and I want a big house to put my table in, and I want to live in a nice crime-free street, and I want a nice, loving spouse and beautiful children to live with me (9.45 – perhaps like Emma), and I want to live in a nice, prosperous, safe, democratic country. I want, I want, I want – and God so kindly gives us so much, but then we take them and run. We run away from God – we don’t want to acknowledge him, we don’t want to thank him, we don’t even want to know him. Worse, we pretend it’s all because of me – I did all this. And God is far from our thoughts and our lives.
And we don’t realize what a mess we’re making of the world, of our country, of society, of our lives. And we don’t realize our spiritual state – our spiritual poverty, our spiritual blindness, our spiritual nakedness. We think we’re all right, and God says we’re not. God says we are like that son in the story – desperately lost and broke. And no way home by ourselves, too proud to turn our hearts back to God. Too defiant to come home.
- What Jesus did for us?
But into our story comes Jesus. God doesn’t just sit and wait for us to come to our senses. No, God acts. God himself comes to find us – in the person of Jesus Christ. Which is a staggering thought.
ILLN – imagine that your child has left home. Taken ½ of all your money and wealth, and gone. And you get word that he is living in Outer Siberia, or more that he is now imprisoned in Siberia, for he is broke and destitute and ran into trouble. And the only way to get him back is to sell up the other ½ of all you own – your house, car, furniture, plasma screen, and everything else, to get a ticket to go and see him. You will have nothing left. Would you do it?
Jesus does that for us.
Did you hear that in the second reading we had – from 2 Cor 8:9 – Paul writes ‘you know that grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.’
a) How was Jesus rich?
Jesus was rich. He was rich beyond our comprehension. To be sure he was materially rich – after all he made everything, it’s all his, everything in the universe was his. His wealth was infinite.
But he was much richer than just materially rich. Much richer than that. He had all power and authority in the universe. He spoke and it happened. He had all authority in heaven and on earth. He was the object of worship of thousands upon thousands of angels – he was so splendid and majestic and pure that none could look at him and live. He shared in the very glory of God. He was the Father’s beloved and only-begotten son, sharing in intimate communion with the Father at the deepest of levels, such as no one else could. Oh he was rich. He was the king of kings, the lord of lords, there was none greater nor none richer.
b) How did Jesus become poor?
But Jesus gave up his riches. He gave it all up, and became poor. This is the riches to rags story. How did Jesus become poor?
We know materially he became poor – he left heaven to be born in a manger, to a poor family, living in a poor backwater of the Roman Empire, part of a nation living under oppression. We know that as he lives the last few years of his relatively short life he had very few possessions – nowhere to lay his head, nowhere on this planet really to call his home, dying penniless. At times his friends misunderstood him, and even deserted him. We know he was reviled by many, rejected, scorned, abused, threatened. And at the end he was tortured, scourged, and crucified. Dying as a criminal – nailed to a rough wooden cross. Buried in a borrowed tomb.
Oh he was materially poor. But he had left everything else behind as well – put off his right to use his power and authority, leaving behind the worship of those angels, giving up his seat in glory, willing even to forego that intimacy with the Father. He became poor.
CS Lewis once put it like this - "Imagine that lying at your feet is your dog. And imagine, for the moment, that your dog and every dog is in deep distress. Some of us love dogs very much. If it would help all the dogs in the world to become like people, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you put down your human nature, leave your loved ones, your job, hobbies, your art and literature and music, and choose instead of the intimate communion with your beloved, the poor substitute of looking into the beloved’s face and wagging your tail, unable to smile or speak? Christ by becoming man limited the thing which to Him was the most precious thing in the world; his unhampered, unhindered communion with the Father."
Jesus willingly gave up all the riches he had. Why?
c) Why did he do it?
Why did Jesus do this? The answer is inconceivable, but it is there in the second half of the verse – ‘so that you through his poverty might become rich.’ Jesus did it for us – so that we might become rich. He offers us the riches he had.
ILLN – these days it seems almost fashionable for media stars to adopt third-world children – whether it be Madonna or Angelina Jolie. And it’s an amazing thought what change of life these kids will have. But it’s nothing compared to what God offers us. It is as though a rich man, the richest man in the world, goes out onto the streets and finds you – a street child, dirty, barely clothed, hungry, cold – and says to you, would you like to come back with me and I will adopt you into my family. I will be your loving father, I will give you family, I will give you all the rights of a natural child, I will give you food and shelter, meaning and purpose, all that I have will be yours.
Humanity had lost its original glory and dignity, it had become enslaved to sin and could not escape, its understanding was darkened, its future bleak, we were all destitute and without hope. But Jesus comes and offers us his riches, offers us himself, offers us God. Jesus offers us forgiveness of our sins, he offers us the gift of eternal life, he offers us the hope of heaven, he makes us co-heirs of the kingdom of God, he offers us his Holy Spirit, he offers to be with us in this life, and to take us into the life to come. They are true riches.
It’s called grace. It means getting what we do not deserve. In Christian terms ‘grace’ is God’s favor shown to those who deserve only His condemnation. Grace cannot be deserved or merited. It can not be earned. It can’t be paid for. Grace is freely bestowed by God. Sometimes people use the word ‘grace’ as an acronym – God’s riches at Christ’s expense. It sums up what Jesus did.
He says to us – I’ll give up my riches and take on your poverty, so that you can have my riches. Will you take it?
- How will we respond?
And that’s really the question. Will you take it? How will you respond to God’s offer?
Today is the day to say yes (9.45 – baptism). To receive God’s grace. To become his child and enter into real, eternal life. Do it today – see me after if you want to. Don’t harden your hearts to God any more.
If said yes – then God wants you to grow in grace.
- Growing in grace
If you have received God’s grace God now wants you to grow in that grace. God’s plan is for you to be more like Jesus. God’s plan is for you to be grace-filled. To show his grace to the world.
If you understand God’s offer to you in Jesus, if you understand that Jesus came into this world, was born into this world, to die, so that you and I who were dead in our sins and our ignorance and rebellion of God might have the gift of eternal life, if you know and accept and trust these facts, then you will be different from what you were before. You cannot stay the same. Grace changes those who receive it.
You will live for God, not for yourself. It’s what the Macedonians did in 2 Cor 8 – they gave as much as they could, even beyond what they could afford, because they gave themselves to God first.
Grace will show in the way Christians live. It must.
In a World Magazine article Joel Belz writes: “Grace has symptoms. If one does not have the symptoms, does one have the condition? (and going on to speak about money he wrote) People who have genuinely experienced God’s grace will demonstrate liberality in their giving. If liberality in giving is not in evidence, have those people genuinely experienced God’s grace?’ Paul essentially says in 2 Cor 8:6 – giving is an act of grace. For Paul, it is unthinkable that anyone who really delights in knowing this Christ could be stingy. And it’s why we had those readings from Proverbs about money. I want to challenge and encourage you about how you use your money, for as someone once said - “the wallet is a sort of acid test of the reality of our surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
But it’s more than just money. If you have really received grace you will live grace. If Jesus lives in you, you will live grace. You will give grace. You will grow in grace. Giving ourselves to God makes the difference. It changes our perspective on everything. On money, on self, on relationships, on career, on materialism, on the world, on the future, on life, on death. We will love others, even our enemies, and do so out of sheer grace, not for what we can get out of it. We will give to Christian work and to the poor for we know grace, not for some dividend or reward. We will volunteer our time, and use our skills and abilities, in all sorts of ways, for the world says time is money, and God says our time is his.
And Jesus is our example, and our power and our motivation. Jesus is God’s standard of our giving and of our life as Christians. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the model of Christian life and generosity.
Have you received the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Then prove it in your life.
Mother Teresa said “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world."
We are Jesus to the world; our actions speak louder than a hundred books or preachers. Show them grace, show them in your life the grace of our Lord.