On the evening of February 19, 1982, CBS Evening News correspondent, Bob Schieffer, reported many important stories of the day including President Reagan’s budget, the Polish Solidarity movement, human atrocities in El Salvador, and a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island. However, a different story seemed to attract as much attention as any of these other stories.
“After a lot of hoopla and millions of tax dollars spent on commercials and other things to tell us why we needed to go metric, it is the metric system that’s about to go,”
Schieffer said the dismantling of the Metric Board, a board set up to guide America to changing their form of measurement to match the accepted system of most other nations..
You may remember that attempt to change the way we measure things in the early 1980s, or you may remember it from another attempt in the early 1960s, as well as many other moments in our nation’s history. The switch from a measurement of halves and quarters, and even thirds, is so engrained in our thinking that switching to a measurement system that uses tens to measure is just a too big of leap to make. The United States, along with Liberia and Myanmar are the only three nations in the world that still do not use the metric system of measurement.
Despite many business that have made the addition of the metric system to assist in their global trade and some remaining traces of our attempts to switch systems – such as the section of Interstate 19 connecting Tucson to Mexico – the only highway in the US to have distance signs in kilometers – we remain a nation that measures differently than most of the world.
While there was surely a measure of nationalistic pride at stake in the public’s refusal to make the switch, it was mainly because it is next to impossible, as human beings, to switch our ways of thinking. I admit, I am one of those humans, while I could adapt to seeing Coca Cola measured in liters, I found it impossible to make the switch to metrics when helping my kids with their third grade math. There could not be enough cheat sheets for me to be able to figure out the number of kilometers Joe was going to have to travel if his trip from Denver to Albuquerque was 449 miles.
As the close of Jesus earthly ministry was coming to a crescendo, and he was beginning to recognize the shadow of the cross looming a short distance ahead, he began to urgently focus on the things his disciples needed to fully understand. They were going to be the ones to lead the believers and there were certain things they needed grasp. Things like forgiveness and trust, things that would be essential elements of their teaching and leading, but even more, things that they would need to persevere and survive as leaders.
Grace was at the top of that list.
You may remember singing ‘Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.’ Even as we would sing it, a full understanding of Grace was, and is, a difficult concept to fully grasp. It is even a greater trait for us to absorb and practice.
The precipitating moment that led Jesus to share the parable about grace in our gospel passage for today, was a discussion with his disciples who inquired ‘What are we going to get for giving up everything to follow you?’
It was an extraordinarily blunt, and, I would think, inappropriate, question, yet it was met with no resistance from Jesus, he seemed to understand the measurement system these men automatically defaulted to. He understood it was difficult to change the measurement systems of our expectations.
He began, and ended, his response with a very odd and difficult to swallow, statement:
‘The first shall be last and the last shall be first.’
A statement that I am sure solicited the same response it would receive today,
‘Well, that’s not fair!’
If we are the first in line, we expect to be the first to enter.
If we are the first to work, we expect to be the first to be noticed.
If we are the first to raise our hand, we expect to be the first to receive praise.
If we are the first to be born, we expect to be the first to be blessed.
If we are the first, we do not expect to be last.
Even more, if we are last, we are not expecting to be first.
Let’s face it, it is a crazy system of measurement. It may work in heaven but it is preposterous here on earth. But still, it is the measurement system that God uses because it is the driving characteristic of God, it is his undeniable nature.
Jesus explained Grace by telling his disciple a parable. A parable of a system of measurement that was totally foreign to any system on earth. It was a system designed in heaven, for heaven.
The fact that this alien system was now being used on earth only made sense if you remember that Jesus told his disciples to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is the standard in heaven.
This is why it was essential that these men, who would be the leaders of Jesus’ followers, understood, it was their calling – they were to switch their system of measurement. They had to understand!
In this parable there was a farmer that had a field that was ready for workers. The farmer went to the community market square where workers who needed a field were waiting. The farmer found out the need of the workers, agreed on the measurement of addressing their need and took them to his field. Later that morning, the farmer recognized that his field had room for more workers so he returned to the market square where he loaded more workers needing a field, in the afternoon, he once again did the same. At five o clock in the afternoon, basically almost quitting time, as we was in the marketplace again, he noticed more workers standing in the square.
‘Why are you not working?’ He asked them.
“Because no one will hire us,’ they said.
He looked at them, this was not an uncommon collection of people to still be looking for work. They were seldom taken to a field. For all sorts of reasons, these people could never get to a field. Some talked to much while some didn’t talk at all, some didn’t understand, some couldn’t be understood, some looked weird, some were not from around there, some smelled bad, some were just plain odd, some were the wrong gender, while the gender of some was not identifiable, some didn’t fit in, some were trying too hard to fit in, none of these workers met the measurements of the hiring system for being taken to the fields.
This farmer used a different system. These people wanted to go to a field, that was his measurement criteria, so this farmer loaded them up and took them to his field.
At the end of the day, the farmer paid the workers. As the original workers watched the system of payment, they were liking this system, it surely meant that they were going to be paid more than they had been promised. They saw that these undesirable workers were paid what they had expected to be paid. These all day, original workers were shocked, then, at the injustice when they discovered that they were being paid the same as the five pm workers.
“That is not fair, that is not just!’ They loudly complained.
“Are you upset because I am generous?’ The farmer asked, ‘Have I not paid you exactly what I promised?’
Quite honestly, the workers were correct, according to our earthy forms of measurement, the system of this farmer was unjust, it was unfair.
This was Jesus’ explanation of grace. This was the heavenly measurement that was demanded by grace. A measurement that was not dependent on an amount, a numerical figure, it was about entry into the field. It was about the need to be in the field.
Much like when Peter wanted to know a number for forgiveness, numbers are our system of measurement. Now, once again, Jesus is teaching a system that does not depend on numbers, it cannot even be calculated through addition or subtraction.
When the Hebrews were liberated from slavery, they were heading to their field – the field they had been promised through Abraham. They had been enslaved subtly over generations until the ever increasing brutality of their existence had become their normal. They did not recognize life outside of Egypt, they didn’t expect freedom to be so difficult, they never imagined that they would think fondly on their lives in slavery, they had not realized that they didn’t really know their God, the God of Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.
Outside of Egypt, however, they were getting a crash course in ‘God’. They saw his power as he parted the waters for them to escape Pharoah and his armies. They began to see God, to really know God, not in his power, but in his grace. It was in God’s grace that he became personal – he began to be known.
This is the principle of provision, it is not in God’s power that we know & trust him, it is in his grace.
Oddly, it was because of their complaining that they became acutely aware of God’s presence daily. It was in his response to their complaining about him that he revealed himself to them.
God met them where they had to be met, where they were able to see their need. Only there would they be able to begin to receive. Only then, could they be able to begin their journey of knowing him.
Grace is a singular trait that governs from within. Grace and pride cannot mutually exist. Grace fuels God’s pursuit of us as long as we are pursuable.
‘We are hungry, at least in Egypt we had food. We are tired, at least in Egypt we had rest. We don’t know what to expect, at least in Egypt we knew what was happening. We are afraid the unknown ahead, at least in Egypt we knew what we had to fear.”
Moses was frustrated, Aaron was tired of dealing with their complaining, God, however, showed his grace through his patience and provision. He provided them what they needed while giving them a lesson in who he is. Everyday, their food would be there for them, enough for that day. It would be there again the next day, and on weekends, he would give them enough on Friday for two days, to cover the Sabbath, on that day he would give them rest.
This was God’s way of measuring out his provision. God didn’t have a set template of how to respond to needs, nor did he have a set pattern of how to deal with those who were ungrateful. He didn’t respond with a earthly system of screaming, “I delivered you, I gave you freedom, I welcomed you into the field, I protected you…and still, you are complaining. I am washing my hands of you ingrates!”
Instead, he recognized their cognitive, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual level of development and began there. He did not say ‘quit complaining’, instead he said, ‘I am going to help you know me, everyday when your food is there, remember, I gave it to you. That is what I do, that is who I am. I see your needs and will meet them. Trust me, for you will need to know me in the fields where I am placing you.’
Grace takes a lot of unlearning, and then re-learning, and it takes open eyes to understand. The disciples were not the only ones that need to understand grace. It is only when we understand grace that we can then begin to grasp God’s presence in our lives. Understanding life in God’s field is dependent on understanding the grace character and grace nature of God.
Jonah missed the full immersion into God’s grace and therefore missed God while he was measuring who should not be benefactors of grace. His judgement, born out of hatred of a people, replaced the grace of God in his own life. He missed the joy of being in the field.
God is grace, to not know that grace, to not fully ascribe to that grace, to not seek to live in that grace, to not approve of the moments of that grace, to judge who should be in the field of grace, restricts our own immersion in God’s grace.
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. I can be received gladly or grudgingly, in big gulps or in tiny tastes, like a deer at the salt.”
Imagine the world if we were to see with the grace vision of God.
I vividly remember a friend in high school telling me that her mom was wanting to switch churches. Since I also attended the same church I was very curious as to the reason. The story was that her mom was mad at the pastor because he didn’t speak about sin enough. She especially wanted him to preach about the sin of smoking. I found this amusing as my first memory of church was going to a small town First Baptist Church every Sunday morning and the doorway which we entered in was also the smoking spot for all the deacons. Mom and Dad would tell us to take a breath and in we went.
Bobby Schuller, pastor of Shepherd’s Grove Church in Irvine, California, tells the story of being a new pastor, and coming up with what he thought was a genius marketing strategy to reach their surrounding area. Most of the commercial business establishments in the immediate vicinity of their church building were bars, so Bobby thought it made sense to have match books made up with their church name and basic details. The plan was to give them free to the bars and then ask them to, in turn, give them to their customers. Customers would stick them in their pockets and later, pull them out and read the cover. After he handed out several bulk boxes of matches to the bartenders and bar owners, several of his members were aghast to find the name of their church on the match boxes they were given at the bar. Ironically, it was the effectiveness of his marketing scheme that landed him in hot water with several of church members and leaders. They accused him of inciting people to sin by giving them matches.
As I have planned out this message, I have attempted to formulate a soften, and possibly humorous, way to announce the theme – However, I have to just be honest. Today we talk about Sin.
There is a high likely hood that even as I say this word, you are thinking of the sins that you most enjoy judging and condemning in other people, or, you are thinking of the sins that you are most ashamed and humiliated by in your own life.
The apostle Paul makes a very personal revelation as he writes to the churches in Rome:
‘I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’
Apostle Paul (Romans 7:15b)
Philosopher and theologian, Philip L. Quinn, described the manner in which the three major world religions approach the subject of sin:
‘Sin is the concept of a human fault that offends a good God and brings with it human guilt. Sins’ natural home is in the major theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religious traditions share the idea that actual or personal sins are individual actions contrary to the will of God. In the Hebrew Bible, sin is understood within the context of the covenantal relation between Yahweh and his chosen people. To be in covenant with Yahweh is to exist in holiness, and so sin is a deviation from the norms of holiness. In the Christian New Testament, Jesus teaches that human wrongdoing offends the one whom he calls Father. The Qur’an portrays sin as opposition to Allah rooted in human pride.’
Regardless of our definition, sin is, by all counts, a bad thing, and to be considered a sinner or sinful, is an even worse thing
This was the mission of John the Baptizer, to prepare the people for the arrival of the Messiah – by preaching a message of repentance from sin.:
Let’s define Sin.
The prophet Isaiah defined sin this way:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,
God sums this up with the word Iniquity.
So, ‘going astray’ and ‘turning to our own way’ is our iniquity.
‘Straying from God’, ‘turning away from God’, changes what guides our actions, reactions, responses, thoughts, plans, and agendas. So, ‘Our way’ as opposed to ‘God’s Way’ is what points us in the direction of actions that are right or are that are sin.
Next let’s look at the first Sin to better understand,
Eve, perfect until the serpent tricks her into taking the forbidden fruit, OR, Eve, created with the ability to make her own choices, having already placed herself on the trajectory of taking the fruit as she would sit everyday, eating the the identical fruit as she could get from the forbidden tree, however, the more she stares at that same fruit on the forbidden tree, the more she wants the forbidden fruit.
She has had the choice of which way to look, God’s Way or Eve’s Way. One way reminds us of truth, the other takes us to a fantasy deceitful world where anything forbidden will taste better. By looking away from God, Eve has allowed her personal ‘wants’ to take over.
Enter the serpent, his job is pretty easy, he just has to point Eve in the direction of the forbidden fruit, she has already set her mind on it, she has already quit listening for the voice of God in the garden, or even looking his way, so she can have a better and unhindered focus on this fruit that she does not have, she just needs a little nudge, a little encouragement, a little affirmation, that this bad choice is actually the best choice.
The same way that Eve ended up with a forbidden fruit, is the same was that we end up with forbidden fruit. It begins with our turning away from God, going astray, is a sometimes subtle, sometimes blatantly intentional, choice on our part. At some point, it is a choice, that often comes in times of stress, boredom, grief, exhilaration, desperation, insecurity, arrogance, self-entitlement, and any other time we are longing for an escape, or we end up focusing solely on me or my cause.
It is then that the action, or inaction, manifests as sin.
And, as Paul states, once actions of sin, manifest in our life, it festers and soon becomes an automatic response. We become enslaved by it.
Paul explains our sin problem by starting with the law.
As Adam and Eve, due to their turning away from God, were expelled from the garden, they were separated from God. This meant that God was no longer there, walking with them, telling them what would harm them and what was good. This harm would be in regard to their relationship with him, their relationship with each other, as well as their relationship with all of God’s creation. So, now, on their own, by their own choice, they were without God’s instruction; no rules, no laws – the wild west.
This is how life was for humanity for the next 3,000 to 4,000 years. They did not know what was harmful, they did not know their actions that were literally killing them, each other, God’s creation, and especially their relationship with God.
They were the walking dead. Digging themselves into a deeper grave with every action and inaction.
Life was chaos, murder, unfaithfulness, deceit, jealousy, revenge, hopelessness, suspicion, hatred, betrayal, theft, destruction, abuse, threats – all without having been told that these things are harmful and wrong.
In our weekly Bible Project we ask questions, a lot of questions, and then we ask more questions. Then, after we have exhausted asking the questions we begin searching for answers. The process is often chaotic, especially on zoom, and sometimes overwhelming. It is not a process for every personality. Since we began with the book of Genesis in January, we have had one consistent question, that has increasingly become a complaint, and most recently an acknowledgement that the lineage of Jesus includes a very shady group of individuals. That constant, is the horrible actions and relationship of all most everyone we have encountered in Genesis. They are a mess, they are miserable, they are mean and often vengeful, they are manipulative and calculating, they are dismissive and neglectful, they are bad parents, they are bad spouses, they are often, very bad people.
Last Tuesday Mitch Musgrove, in speaking about this issue and the sad state of affairs in the OT, said,
‘[Throughout the Old Testament] God is painting us a picture of life without God.’
So, after three to four thousand years of this misery of existence, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God gave them the ten commandments, the Law. How to live. Much more extensive than just ten bullet points it covered everything.
One rabbinical tradition is that the Law, the details of what is harmful or what was healthy, was offered to all nations – however, with the exception of the Israelites, all other nations said that they didn’t want to know what was wrong and harmful because they wanted to keep doing the things they figured would be wrong. They could already assume the the law was going to forbid adultery, murder, and theft, so they passed. They instinctually kind of already knew the error of their ways, but, without the law, they could claim ignorance.
So, now the Israelites knew what was already killing them.
They were no longer ignorant.
However, now that they knew, this new knowledge, combined with their freedom of choice, put them on a perplexing journey. Their rebellious nature wanted to partake of the forbidden fruit – just life Adam and Eve, and their new affirmation of right and wrong countered their temptation, this put them in a perplexing dilemma.
Theologian C.S. Lewis said,
‘No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.’
So, Paul says the same thing that all of humanity has said for thousands of years and still says today:
‘I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’ (Romans 7:15b)
The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, explained our perplexity this way:
“It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that everyday he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.” (Spurgeon)
A. What is Paul’s manner of dealing with this?
First, he stands on the assurance, that, although we may be weak, God is not:
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’
Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13)
Second, he adopted a life philosophy:
‘beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. …for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.’
Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8-9, 11b)
B. The mistake of religious institutions in regard to sin.
First, we have had the audacity to think that we can stop, control, and eliminate sin. Much of this comes from a misunderstanding of sin and the Law, but it has led to training believers (of all faiths) to be the exact thing we are told not to be – Judgmental and Condemning. Both of which we do not know how to do without also being hateful, arrogant, and condescending. Our approach has turned us into the opposite of Christlike.
Second, we have failed to truly understand that sin is just the tip of the iceberg, that it is actually something much different, often times something that could be better addressed with compassion, mercy, justice, grace, and love – however, our approach has been to rank sins without regard to the fact that all sin is a result of a deeper turning away from God and going astray. We have made those sins that rank highest in our ‘most heinous’ list the ones we focus on – we love the word ‘abomination’. Giving us even more reasons to judge, condemn, hate, chastise, reject, and basically be very unChristlike.
Third, since our sins are less heinous or are more invisible, we have made ‘Being a Christian’ to be an impossible journey, pushing the labeled sinners into the closet. Once again, making us very unChristlike.
Fourth, we have missed the opportunity to go out on the journey that Jesus sent his disciples on. A journey to free the oppressed, to heal the sick, to cure diseases, and, as we are there, to tell that ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is Near.’
C. The Reason for God’s Desire that we Live Right
Jesus said the reason is:
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly
Jesus (John 10:10b)
Sin is the killer of right.
Sin is the killer of mercy.
Sin is the killer of justice.
Sin is the killer of abundance.
God is the perfect father, who desires the best for us. He does not bait us into sin, nor does he reject us because of sin. He does not desire us to carry around death but, instead, to live in freedom. He want us to live in Joy, that is why he has told us the things that will take away that joy.
Paul, as he explained the law, stressed that our obligation to the law in only until death, in the same way that a woman is obligated to her marriage vow until death of the spouse. So, as Christ died for us, we are not guided by the law, we live in the freedom of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
As Christ died, he died our death, therefore we are free. It is our privilege then to live in the freedom that he secured for us all.
The redemptive nature of grace is not just an eternal thing, it is a now thing. God’s desire that that we not live in the flux of a perplexing life met with death at every turn.
Jesus is our resurrection from death. Jesus is our life outside of the tomb.
Jesus said to the woman who had been caught in the act of sin,
‘Go and sin no more.’
Jesus (John 8:11b)
He didn’t say this so that she could be forgiven, or acceptable – he said it because he wanted her to have life and to not have to carry that dead body around anymore.
Jesus says the same to us, in order that we too, can live in, and with, that joy.
In the second half of the 1800s, Presbyterian teacher, author, and musician, Julia H. Johnston, sat down to pen a hymn that would explain the Grace the the Apostle Paul preached to the Churches at Roman, the words became the lyrics for Grace Greater than our Sin:
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There, where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin!
Julia H. Johnston
In proclaiming Christ, John said:
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Grace is a difficult concept to explain no matter who you are speaking with. The apostle Paul found this to be true as he attempted to teach the concept to the churches at Rome.
Paul was writing to churches that consisted mostly of Jewish believers but a growing group of gentiles (non Jewish believers as well. It was a difficult concept – receiving something for nothing. It was especially difficult when the learners are accustom to a religousity that sets up many dos and don’t, as well as many gos and don’t gos. He started was our human condition – using references from the teachings that the Jews would have grown up with:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”
And then Paul expands.
‘Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;
it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law
Romans 3:19-26, 31
Understand? Everything crystal clear?
Don’t worry it it is all still a little fuzzy, or even hugely fuzzy. It was fuzzy to most of those hearing Paul’s words as well.
Paul, recognized the existing fuzziness, so he illustrated by painting a word picture that most, could identify with. Ironically, it is an explanatory picture that is possibly even more understandable, and relatable, today.
Paul took the listeners, and he takes us, back to a common figure – Abraham.
Abraham, given the label ‘Father of Our Faith’ by the three major world religions is a difficult individual. Let’s face it, the man used his wife, twice, as a human shield to protect himself. He gave her away so that his life would be spared. How is there anything redemptive in a person that would disregard his wife in such a calculated manner.
And, to make this matter more NOT understandable, he is rewarded for doing this – receiving riches from a ruler!
I have to be honest, I spent a lot of time this week trying to redeem the man Abraham, to no avail.
It finally occurred to me, the story of Abraham, is not a story of a saint, it is not the story of a near saint, it is a story of a man who needed a lot, I mean a lot, of grace. It is a story that allows us to see the what grace is and what grace does.
The one thing about Abraham, the thing that puts him into this story, is that he is a man who often sincerely said:
‘Here I am.’
(or at least of verbal or action form of ‘okay’)
That is all that grace needs, ‘Here I am,’ and ‘Okay.’ These are two powerful statement. “I Am Here’ the opposite of what Adam and Eve said when they hid from God in the garden; the same as what Isaiah said when God called him to be a prophet. It is a statement of vulnerability. ‘I Am Here’ just ‘Here’ no where great, and ‘I Am Not Perfect’ but ‘I Am Here.’
It is then, that grace, met by his willingness to say ‘okay’, that God moves him from our ‘Here’ through his own resistance to go to God’s ‘Far Away.’
Grace is not necessary to people who are Saints, it is not needed by perfect people, it is of no consequences to those people who are self sufficient, it is wasted on those who can go through life with a single minded focus that never sways away from God.
In reality, the raw reality where we all live, none of those people exist, so grace is always needed, always available, and is always the balm that heals our soul.
So, let’s reintroduce ourselves to Abraham:
He gave his wife away to protect himself…..twice.
He owned people, he had slaves.
He would have definitely have been a target of today’s ‘Me Too’ movement.
He quickly accepted his wife’s hall pass to sleep with another woman.
He sent that ‘other’ woman, and their son, out, surely, to their death.
And, that is just some of what is documented, his first seventy-five years are a mystery.
When his deceased brother’s son needed a new dad, Abraham said, ‘I Am Here’.
When God told him to pack up his family and possessions he said, ‘Okay’.
When God made a ridiculous promise that, in no way, was possible, he said, ‘Okay.’
When he needed to put his own life on the line and risk everything he had to save his nephew, he said, ‘Okay.’
When his son, Isaac said, ‘Dad?’ Abraham said, ‘I Am Here.’
The good does not outweigh the bad by any means. That is why Abraham gives us the perfect understanding of grace, the grace that he needed, the grace that we need.
The promise from God was made to him that he would be the father of many people and many nations even though his wife was barren and considered too old for pregnancy; He was promised to have a land, even though he was a nomad; He was promised to be a blessing to all, even though his own house was dysfunctional.
Like most of us, Abraham had his safety net, his backups in the case God needed help with his plan. He had his long time beloved servant Eliezar – Eliezar could be the heir to Abraham, he could birth many people and ultimately a nation – but God said ‘no’. He still have his loved nephew Lot, but then Lot left, he wasn’t really interested, he had other plans.
It was at this point that Abraham began to be stressed and distressed. His back up plans had been rejected or they had withdrawn from being a option.
In the midst of Abraham’s depression, God showed up. The promise still held, even without Eliezar and Lot. Only this time, God specified that the son would be a biological son of Abraham.
Abraham said ‘Okay’. It was crazy, it was impossible, it wasn’t going to happen, but Abraham said ‘Okay.’
Now notice, Abraham says ‘okay’ but we are still not to a perfect, saintly Abraham. But, even with what takes place next, God still credits Abraham’s heart felt, and sincere, ‘Okay’ as righteous.
Promise is repeated, grace is extended, that is what grace is, it is not about our actions, it a gift that we don’t deserve. God received a sincere heart ‘Okay’ from Abraham, grace was offered, grace was given. Even while Abraham was still painfully imperfect. Grace Goes Before Us
Then, there seemed a loophole had been exposed, it seemed that there was a back up plan that Abraham was unaware of.
The servant of his wife, she could be the biological mother and Abraham could be the biological father! It was genius. And, the best part of this brilliant plan was that it was first suggested by his wife Sarah. How could this fail?!
So he agreed, Sarah agreed, and, of course, the servant Hagar didn’t have to agree. It would work, and it did work, Hagar had a son by Abraham who was named Ishmael.
But that wasn’t God’s plan.
‘Sarah will be the biological mother of the Son that you have been promised,’ God said.
Then Abraham swallowed hard, and Sarah laughed.
Abraham didn’t say much – after all, he did still have a back up – there was his son Ishmael outside playing.
But then, Sarah, probably due to the double rejection by Abraham, not to mention how quickly he had a baby with Hagar, Sarah became jealous. Hagar and their son Ishmael were sent away.
Now, no Son, and no back up plan. No safety net.
But then, as Abraham is without a back up plan, and Sarah apparently is without a viable womb – Sarah birthed a son. To everyone around it was a miracle, a crazy miracle. The kind of miracle you read about in the line to pay for your groceries.
To God – it was his plan. It was the most basic requirement of his promise. A Son.
Abraham and Sarah now have a son. Neither needs a back up plan or a safety net, they are the biological parents of this promised son.
There is one more thing, and this thing is about Abraham. It is a necessity for Abraham.
It was time for Abraham to grow into God’s grace. It was time for him to be a man of Faith and to live a life of faith.
God called on Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac
Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, was fascinated with the story, and person, of Abraham. In 1843, under a pseudonym, Kierkegaard wrote a book titled Fear and Trembling based on Philippians 2:12, ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’. He focused on the inter anxiety, and turmoil, that Abraham must have experienced as he said “okay’ to God’s call to sacrifice the only son he had left and the son that he so deeply loved.
Kierkegaard, in this book which many thought was an autobiographical account of his own faith, developed the concept of ‘Infinite Resignation,’ which, he says, is the final element in the process of ‘working out your salvation.’ It is the giving up your backup, the one thing that you have held back from God, the one thing that you are unable to surrender to God, the one thing that you withhold from God, the one thing with which you are unable to fully trust God.
“I am here.’
a conversation between God and Abraham
God knew it was time for Abraham to move from here to ‘work out his Salvation with fear and trembling.’ He told Abraham that he was to offer his only son, the son that he loved, as a burnt offering, a sacrifice.
We don’t hear Abraham say, ‘okay’, but he did obey. He got up early and headed to the place, with Isaac, that God would show him.
On the way, as they stopped to prepare, Abraham looked, far away to where he was to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. It was far away. Far away from Sarah, far away from home, far away from him. There was no way he was going to get there. However, he still said, ‘Okay.’
‘I Am Here Son.’
‘What will we Sacrifice?’
a conversation between Isaac and Abraham
It was a long journey, far away always is. The two must have talked about everything, everything except the sacrifice. That was a personal journey for Abraham, Sarah nor Eliezar could share it, Isaac definitely couldn’t. It was a lonely journey to ‘far away.’
Abraham was ‘working out his salvation’ as he traveled far away, he separated God’s promise and God’s provision. He asked himself if he trusted God enough, did he have faith enough to trust the promise and surrender the provision?
According to Kierkegaard, ’Infinite Resignation is the last stage before faith, so any who one has not made this movement does not have a full faith, for only in Infinite Resignation does an individual become conscious of his external validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith.’.
Simply put, one must give up all of his, or her, earthly possessions and must also be willing to give up whatever else it is that he, or she, loves more than God.
Abraham received God’s grace when he said ‘I am here,’ as well as when he said, ‘Okay,’ to God. He received ‘Grace upon Grace. It was then that he began his journey of faith, a faith that would carry him through life. Grace was given long before he reached the point of surrendering everything.
It was then, at the mental surrender, he was truly a man of faith, it was then that the world could look at him at the Father of Our Faith.
As Abraham was about to plunge the knife into the body of his dear son, an angel cried out, ‘ABRAHAM!’
‘I Am Here’
an urgent conversation between angel and Abraham
Abraham, far away at a place that he never wanted to go to, held the knife steady and said, ‘I Am Here.’
Sure, we know that this was a test from God. Isaac was never going to die. Abraham probably considered the possibility as well, but to even go through the motions, he had to ask the question, ‘Is this for real?’ He had to make the decision the sacrifice would be offered.
In offering his son, Abraham made the sacrifice. He was now living by faith in God.
The comparison with God’s giving of His son are there, the painful resignation to surrender that which is most valuable is obvious.
We, however, have much to surrender. All of us, if we have said “I Am Here’ and ‘Okay’ are on a far away journey. We are called to a sacrifice, God is showing us the way. Not only those things that we hold dear, but also those we hold dear. We have been asked to isolate at home and, when we are out, to wear a mask for the health of others. It was just a preparatory sacrifice as God, now asks us to sacrifice our long held prejudices and judgements. Our own way of looking at others, especially those who are different from us and that we do not understand. We are being called to take the initiative, to not only understand, but to love beyond words. To become uncomfortable with the status quo of our faith in this current reality, to become unsettled with the contradictions seen in our faith and in the reality of the world – to see the disconnect between the life of Christ then and the life of believers now.
This turmoil that we are in, in a world that cannot control the disease and the disgruntled protests in the street – It is All Part of God Moving Us Far Away – to a place of Sacrifice.
It all seems very far away. But God’s grace took him there. This was not something great historically about Abraham, we see little else about him after this story. But, the life he now lived was fully, and completely lived in faith.
This far away faith journey was for him, it is what Christ meant when he said ‘I came so that you may have life, and have it abundantly!’
God is calling us, are we ready to say, ‘Here I Am’?
The gospel passage read today is the most passionate telling of a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus Christ. For in this short passage, using these few words, we see the motivation that propels Christ for the remainder of the gospel of as told by the disciple Matthew.
Jesus, after the beatitudes, and after being amongst the people, sharing in their pains and hardships, witnessed the oppression they were under, he had seen and addressed their sickness and disease, he had seen that which he could not ignore. The pain of the human condition.
It is surely not an overstatement to say that this had been an overwhelming and exhausting journey that had now been experienced by God in the flesh
As Jesus retreats to the circle of his disciples, he expresses his summation of the the human experience.
‘The people are harassed, they are hopeless,’ he proclaims.
Other translations use words such as distressed and dispirited, fainting and scattered (ceased to be a people), carrying problems so great that they do not know what to do, confused and aimless.
These two verbs, harassed and hopeless, come from the root words skulló (skool’-lo) and rhiptó (hrip’-to), in their raw form mean to flay and cast aside. Cast aside we can understand but the word ‘flay’ may be unknown to you – it basically means ‘ to skin’ so in a verb form would be ‘skinned’. Think flaying a fish.
While Jesus probably did not mean that flaying was literally taking place, the people would have understood as it had been known to be a practice of torture of living humans as well as a show of disrespect to dead humans. This practice has been identified as existing as early as 800 years prior to Jesus birth.
The use of theses words, and of combining them together create a very potent and powerful image that represent, by Jesus, the pain and agony he had seen and experienced in his time with the people.
Jesus was devastated and pushed to action.
Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the bible, The Message, describes the countenance of Jesus as ‘his heart was broken.’
It is significant that Matthew would document that Jesus uses these two images combined to present a visual the disciples would understand as he, of all the disciples understood the oppression of the Jews as he had been an employee of the Roman government. He knew how they used fear to control and manipulate the people.
It is out of this event, that God led Jesus to a mission of doing and not just a mission of telling. It is at the point that the ministry becomes as much about now as it does about our life after this earth. His message is not just doubt God’s act of love and sacrifice being the way to heaven but even more desperately about the way being an avenue to hope, peace, and love now, on earth. It was the whole of his proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, and for his prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.’
The impression of the human experience, the pain and agony in the lives of God’s people can only be described as pivotal. This revelation, while intellectually not new, but from the perspective of the flesh was seismic. God the father had used this moment to shape the ministry of Christ and to mold his passion.
He was there for the people. Any sacrifice he would make would be for the people. His life was now being given to the people.
Jesus, now moved the disciples from mere learners to active doers. For the only time in gospel of Matthew the status of the disciples is changed to apostles, they were now living out what they had seen Jesus do and teach. Jesus was sending them to do what he did when he encountered the misery of the human experience.
Jesus sent them out because it was a need that could not be ignored.
Jesus sent the disciples, now apostles with a specific call, used very specific words and a very specific order. He used the root word ‘Go’ but in a form that meant ‘As you have gone, also, tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’
You see the ‘Go’ to tell was not their mission, it was a ‘Go to Heal’, and while you are ‘Going and Healing’ , tell them about the Kingdom. This is significant because it shows us the passion of Jesus for our ‘now’ as much as for our ‘later.’
They had seen Jesus at life, a life of caring, a life of compassion, a life of hope, a life providing peace, a live of love. When he was in front of the crowds and when he was just with them.
Jesus told them, on their ‘Go’ if they were welcomed in, if they were permitted to do the work of Jesus they were then to bring a ‘peace’ to the house.
They were called to ‘GO’ and to ‘BE’ the ‘IMPRINT’ of Jesus.
This is our multi-dimensional God, the one who cares for us now, and forever.
Modern Evangelicalism has made the call of Jesus a one dimension calling. It is a ‘Say’ calling, tell about Jesus win converts for eternity. It is easy and quick.
Jesus statement of the lack of laborers has been used to propagate this one dimensional calling of Jesus. Other aspects, aspects such as care, compassion, mercy, peace, and even love have all taken a back seat to the ‘tell’ the ‘say’.
This is the call, to be ‘Doers’ because God is a compassionate and loving God, we know this because Jesus, the election, exact imprint of God, was a compassionate and loving human being.
The ‘Say’ the telling that the ‘Kingdom is Near’ becomes a natural privilege as the compassion and love have already been communicated by our lives. The communicated message then, just ties up the loose ends.
This is an act of living out the great commandments:
Love Others as Yourself.
Jesus directed his now apostles to go the the lost Jews. He gave a strict instruction to not go to the Samaritan or the Gentiles. This was not a slight on either of these groups, they will have their moment with the compassion of God. Now, however, is the time of need for the Jews.
This time is not just because of the pain of their lives, it is even more needed because their division keeps them from being unified, from the greater power that comes with community.
Much like now they are also divided. Like now they have slapped labels on each other. Labels like liberal and conservative, progressive and fundamental, traditional and contemporary, boring and exciting, among just to name a few. Just like today, these labels kept them from helping and encouraging each other in their times of need. They kept them from strengthening each other in their times of misery.
Jesus send the apostles to unify them. Much like he proclaims his goal of unity in his prayer just before he was arrested.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
They couldn’t help each other because they did not consider themselves brother and sisters with each other. They had failed to remember the common element of their faith was to look for the promised Messiah and therefore they had missed Jesus.
Their politics, their chosen religious leaders, their own agendas had all kept them from seeing and addressing the pain of all their other same faith neighbors. They could not see beyond the roadblocks of themselves.
Let explain it through a real life, this week, story.
IllustrativeStory of justifying actions of cop and responding with accusation against the cope. This is the problem – instead of us taking a knee to understand the pain expressed about this incident, we have ran to our own corners to defend our politics and stance. It is not about Mr. Floyd, it is not about this police officer, it is about centuries of a people in pain that we have refused to make the sacrifice of our own roadblocks in order to cure and heal.
We are in a time where the entire world is sharing in a suffering that we do not have the power to overcome. I am sure that Covid is not a judgement of God but that God is going us the opportunity to be apostles of God’s compassion, his mercy, and his love. In the midst of this shared struggle we are divided with many even dismissing the reality of the deaths and the pain.
Add to this more of the same racist tragedies have taken place with African Americans suffering unneeded loss and pain. Our politics and out complacency ha has kept us from responding since the founding of our nation. This, along with Native American, and many other people groups have been oppressed and persecuted. The church outside of these communities have said little. We have gone to our sides, we have said ‘NO’ to Jesus shock at the suffering and pain.
We have refused to consider the pain of the past of the African Americans forced to come to America resulting in a passing down pain and misery generation to generation. We seldom accept the responsibility for the brutal treatment of the Native American, who also cannot help but down their pain. When children began arriving at our borders unaccompanied by their parents we immediately complained about parents who would send their children on such treacherous journeys alone without any consideration of how bad their lives must be to permit their loved ones to go. We continue to listen to false religious prophets who lead us from compassion and concern and toward hatred and dismissal of the very pain that led Jesus to transform his disciples into apostles.
Our call is not to speak but to ‘BE”. Our call is too be appalled at the human persecution of any group of people to such an extent that we cannot help but be appalled and outraged. Our call if to “BE” the compassion and mercy of Jesus revealing his love, peace, and hope to those who are oppressed and mistreated. Our call is to live our life out loud, it is time that we take an honest look and say “this is not right!’. Our call is to live the life Jesus sent his apostles to live. A life where our mission is to heal the hurting, to rescue the harassed and mistreated, to show mercy and compassion, to love and bring peace. It is to let the imprint of Jesus be unavoidably seen in our actions, our heart, and then, our words.