Deserting Grace

Text:  John 6:51-69

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

Erma Bombeck used to tell a story that illustrates our “grace starved” culture. One Sunday while attending church, she saw a young child struggling to keep proper etiquette. He was squirming, humming, turning around in the pew, and smiling at other parishioners. Finally, his mother jerked him by the arm and said in a course whisper that was loud enough to be heard by most of the congregation, “Stop that grinning.” Then she gave the child a firm spank on his fanny as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Bombeck said that she would not advocate misbehavior, but she wanted to hug that tear-stained child and tell him about a God who is happy and smiling. “My God has a sense of humor big enough to have created someone like me.” She wanted to say to the mother, “You fool. You are sitting next to hope, light, and joy without even noticing. If you can’t smile at church, where else can you go?” If you can’t find grace in a church, where else are you going to find it?

We have spoken in the past of the many gifts God has given us that we often take for granted. We get so worried about our mortal lives that we forget about Christ’s promises of eternal life. We get so caught up in the business of life that we forget about the peace Christ has won for us by laying down His own life.

We beat ourselves up because we’ve messed up to such a great extent that we forget about the grace and forgiveness through repentance bestowed on us from a loving God who will do what He has to so that He might grant us these gifts, even if it costs the life of His own dear Son.

In our Gospel lesson today in John chapter 6, we witness the confusion at Christ’s Words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Their confusion led them to miss the message of God’s grace and the sacrifice behind His love.

In our New Testament lesson in Galatians they were missing the message of grace in the one true Gospel message because they chose to believe in a Gospel of their own design. Paul gives them a stern warning when he says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a Gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” He even repeats it twice for more emphasis.  Like today, they were getting so caught up by the hope they might find in the world they were missing the gifts of grace received by the Spirit. They had missed the beautiful call in the grace of Christ because they were searching in all the wrong places.

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul addresses one of the most controversial subjects of the Christian faith. While most Christians agree that salvation is a divine work of grace extended to those who respond to God’s offer of eternal life through faith, numerous disagreements have plagued the Christian community how to live once we are saved.

Mark Twain used to tell the story of putting a dog and a cat in a cage to see if they could learn to get along. They did fine after a few adjustments. Then they tried a bird, pig and a goat. They got along surprisingly well. Then Twain put a Baptist, Methodist and a Lutheran in the cage. In less than two days, nothing was left. The sad thing is, sometimes you don’t have to put three different denominations in the cage. Sometimes you can put in three LCMS Lutherans and they’d kill each other in a matter of days.

We all know and cherish God’s amazing grace, but few of us know how to live in it. We go from “Amazing grace how sweet the sound,” to “Follow the rules and act like me.” This message of grace is hard for many to accept because it is a foreign teaching in the world in which we live. It cuts us to the core because we understand that we could never match it and we wonder why God would even go to the trouble.

When Christ was passing off the message of salvation through His body and blood, it didn’t make sense. Their worldly thoughts counter-balanced what Christ was actually teaching them. His was a message of grace and sacrifice. It was a calling to greater things that could only be achieved through the death He was willing to undergo. The meal He was offering wasn’t a worldly one for our mortal bodies. It was a divine gift meant to strengthen our Spiritual bodies. So great was his love that He was willing to give of Himself in the most intimate way, but their minds were not able to see the gift. They weren’t willing to hang around to hear the rest of the promise.

In Galatia, the young congregation bowed to false teachings that attempted to expand the Gospel message beyond the message of truth. Leaders were telling them that salvation could be found by following Jewish laws passed down from Moses about such things as circumcision, diet, food sacrificed to idols and observing Jewish Holy Days and festivals. They wanted to add to what they had been taught but they went beyond the message. The issue of requiring any law for salvation is contrary to the Christian faith. It deserts the grace that God freely gives.

When you move away from grace you create a different Gospel than what Jesus offers. This was a true threat to the church because the issue that was threatening the church was not just about salvation but also Christian living.

We’re still like that aren’t we? When the message is too hard to grasp in the short time we give it to make sense, we clasp onto other things we’re comfortable with and that we understand. We all understand legalism. If we do this then we get this.

Yet Christ’s message to us is deeper than that. It includes grace we can’t fully appreciate, a love we could never conceive, justification we would never give and salvation that seems too good to be true. It includes the unselfishness of the very Son of God to make things right where we could not. A hope that we could never feel we’ve earned and the promises of the Creator of the world that, despite our unworthiness, wants to share all He has with us, even calling us His children in the process.

Sometimes, we in the church are the greatest violators of this message of grace. Let’s say Roscoe comes to you and says that he is trying to read his Bible and become a better person so that God would forgive his sins. You tell Roscoe the Good News that Jesus died to save sinners. You share the incredible truth that we are saved by grace through faith, and Roscoe finally gets it and is saved.

Then, you tell Roscoe the bad news. The good news is that we are saved by grace alone, in Christ alone by Faith alone. But once you are saved it’s time to get busy because all “real” Christians are busy.

First you have to go to church every Sunday including Bible study. You have to be on some committee, try to pick one you’ll like but if you can’t, learn to like the one you pick. You’ll have to take Adult information classes as soon as possible and be involved in the churches outreach programs. If you can sing, then you simply have to be in the choir because if you don’t use your gift you’ll lose your gift.

After establishing all this you must establish your own personal worship and devotion regiment. Make sure to say your prayers every morning and every evening. Read the Bible every day, 3 chapters from the Old Testament and two from the New so you can finish in a year and then start over. In addition to this its best to start praying for 30 minutes every day in addition to your morning and evening prayers.

Now that you’re saved, Roscoe, you need to become a soul-winner because Christ said so in His great commission (Matthew 28 in case you’re wondering). Try to average one soul saved a month. Oh, and give 10% to the church, here are your tithing envelopes.

You see how we sometimes do the same things as the leaders in Galatia. We claim grace but then desert it. Would it be nice to do all the things I listed? Of course. But that’s not what saves you. Trying to be the perfect Christian doesn’t include works. Christ has already done all the work that needed to be done. The rest should be a by-product of the faith we have in Him.

You see, after all we’ve put poor Roscoe through, he’s experiencing a grace hemorrhage, but you don’t even notice the bleeding because you’re too busy trying to show God through works of your own. We’ve deserted God’s grace by trying to write His story over again into something we’re more comfortable reading.

The body and blood are still stumbling blocks for people today. This miracle of transformation from bread and wine to body and blood is too hard for many to fathom because they have changed God to be more like them and they, themselves, are incapable of doing such miracles. They have deserted the grace and written a Gospel they can better relate to.

All god-based religions claim their god is powerful, knowledgeable, immortal, transcendent, etc. While the one true God is certainly all of these, He chose to reveal His true essence at the cross. This was an expression of God’s inner most being. Yet people want to rewrite even this message. There are churches who refuse to show the cross in fear that it might offend someone. How sad it is that so many who believe they are Christians, reject so much about what makes Christianity, Christianity.

It is still all about Jesus. It is still about grace. No change we could ever make could overshadow this story of love shown by our mighty God in such an intimate way. No matter how many re-writes we make of the Gospel, the one truth will still remain that it is all about Christ.

Praise God that not all who receive God’s call, reject it. In our Gospel lesson Jesus asked His disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” And  Saint Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus has said his words are life and now Peter confesses that Jesus and Jesus alone has the words of life. There is nowhere else to go, no other Gospel to write. It’s still about Jesus. These are the words God uses to draw us to His Son. They are the words that the Holy Spirit uses to instill faith. They are the words the Holy Spirit uses to teach us the truth that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Christ. As Peter says, Jesus is the Holy One of God. Always has been and always will be, no matter how hard we try to shape Him into our image.

All four Gospels tell us that there was a time when Jesus’ followers got fewer and fewer. They couldn’t stomach the words so they deserted the grace. As the day of crucifixion grew closer Jesus made the cross clearer and the clearer it became the smaller the congregation became. At the end, even one of the twelve would forsake Him and the rest would scatter. On the cross, even His Father rejected Him as Jesus faced our sin and its punishment in utter loneliness. In this way, Jesus’ body hanging on the cross and His blood shed on the cross freed us from sin and eternal death.

Those who eat and drink His body and blood in truth – it is they who believe in our crucified Lord and Savior who will bring us to a glorious resurrection when He returns to raise His own to eternal life.

And all of this because of God’s own grace bestowed on those he loves, you and me. It is not something we can earn by being the perfect worker. It cannot be realized by rewriting the story. It is simply grace, something we have given that we had no hope to earn in our own. And Jesus is the bestower of that grace because it was He who was willing to pay the price for the penalty we had earned. Only by grace could we be saved and it is grace God freely gives. Do not desert this grace, claim it and cherish it for the great gift that it is because it is because of that grace that you have been saved. Amen.

 

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