Sermon – September 21, 2014

Grace

Have I told you this joke? Good one for a college town.

The joke goes something like this:

The science graduate asks, “Why does this work?”

The engineering graduate asks, “How does this work?”

The sociology graduate asks, “How will this affect the rest of the community?”

The accounting graduate asks, “How much will this cost?”

The theology graduate asks, “How can this be used to further the kingdom of God?”

The liberal arts graduate asks, “Would you like fries with this?”

In that joke is a lesson that we all have a point of view, based upon how we have been educated and reared, where our passions lie, what our experience has taught us. Out of that context, then, come our questions, and we need the answers to be reasonably congruent with our point of view or we will dismiss them. We have a context in which we have developed and we pose questions which we need to have answered within the boundaries of that context. It raises difficulties if the answers are outside of that, of course.

I have seen this, as you have, in people’s conversations and understanding of Christianity. One will say, “unless you can prove to me that God exists, I will not believe.” or, “People don’t rise from the dead. Therefore your religion cannot be valid.” or, “I will not believe because a terrible tragedy occurred in my life, and if God is God, then such tragedies would not be allowed to occur.” or, “I don’t believe because I don’t think God would want someone like me as a member.” These are responses to the question of God and of Jesus Christ that are not uncommon and are a consequence of the experiences people have had.

The problem is, for all of us, that the basket in which we put our eggs, remains pretty static and constant. We don’t change so easily. We’re not nearly as flexible as we let on. Once we get there we don’t want to change because it is how we have defined ourselves, Nine times out of ten it has taken us some work to get there, and now we want to stay. “I will not believe this because it does not fit my world view, how I’ve experienced life, because this is what my little basket of eggs tells me, even if some of the education or training or experiences that we have are invalid or even destructive.

Even those of us who profess the faith routinely fall into this behavior because of of how we have let other birds feather our nests. Despite our confessions of faith, often we don’t want a Christ who calls us to sacrifice, when we have worked to gain an abundance. Often we don’t want a Christ who calls us to love all people when we have been raised to hate those of another race or nation or religion. We don’t want a Christ who doesn’t meet all the fine points of our agenda. We don’t want a Christ who makes us feel uncomfortable, because finally, any imposition on our point of view is a source of discomfort. No surprise here. It is because we are sinful people. But that is not enough to stop the persistence of this Christ, this God, who so loves his people that he refuses to let them alone.

God has been prodding faithful people since the disciples. The church has been prodded to reform itself over the years. Each individual believer is called to turn, change. And that reveals tender spots. Causing us to examine ourselves as the church, to name what is essential and where we can be flexible, where the Spirit can break in.

Tender spots. That’s how Christ comes to us. That’s how the Spirit moves. Touching those tender spots, and if we feel that, then somebody’s trying to tell us something.

I guess that may be the discomfort that we feel in Jesus’ parable today. The discomfort that those who were called to the vineyard early and those who were called late all share in the same wage, the same benefit. Doesn’t seem fair. Jesus hits those tender spots, knocks down those boundaries we erect, and says in my kingdom, this is how the world goes around. He says those who come to believe today share the same benefits of the faith, the promise of God, as those who have come to the faith before them. Grace would not be grace if it were not available to all. Tomorrow/today we baptize/d Maggie Beatrice Loftus, baby girl, child of God . . . and God claims her and promises her the full measure of his grace.

Thing about Jesus, is that he would not be taken from his point, his mission by people’s expectations. In fact he is drawn into those challenges so that we might be changed and better understand what it means to be a child of God. He was a man with a sense of urgency for his mission, his sacrificial living and dying. He had a sense of urgency to convey that his life was for the benefit of all who believed that it was true. That was his mission. God is near. You can know that through me.

Too often, the world saw God as up here and humanity as down here. . . . and now this Jesus comes to say God is this close, flesh and blood. The one who bears into the world the full measure of grace to all who believe.

We have a sort of personal space around us and whenever someone gets inside of it we began to get a little squirmy. Jesus comes inside that space . . . stirring up our preconceived notions. Pushing us in the tender spots. Cause us to act or react. To learn. Reminding us this is important. This is personal. This is close.

But we say, Whoa. Let’s keep God up here so I can beg ignorance, or deafness and play by my rules. No. God this close means God in your face. . . . Why? So may receive this gift. Against all expectations, the one who gets inside of our space speaking shocking words of a radical equality of believers. Comes to say, though others of greater faith have gone before us, here is a great gift. I’ve not come to take from you, but to build you up with this gift of life.

This is grace we’re talking about, friends. Close, personal, sacrificial, focused. . . on us, for us, in our faces. . . flesh and blood, grace.

To share in that mission and ministry, to be a part of this family is to engage the character of this man and to wallow in the grace that he offers whether we are new to the kingdom or veterans. It is to have our status quo altered, our basket of eggs upset, made new. Changed. Reformed. Even with those difficult things he will help us that separate us one from another.

This Jesus has a way about him. He is not going to let the status quo determine what he is to us. He will not let us be bound up in our preconceived notions about who he is, who God is, why he would go to the trouble, how this can be measured or proven or understood.

And so, Jesus is a bit our face, just as he was with the detractors of his time, invites questions, shocking, encouraging us to ask and to seek . . . as he still does for us today.

He calls out of the questions on our minds in the face of his great mercy. He begs us to speak,

How does this work? Love

Why does this work? Because I love you. Because God wills it.

How will this affect the rest of the community? It will change the world.

How much will this cost? He says, “My life, my blood.”

Why? Love

What? Grace, friends, Grace, Grace Amen