Rev. Phillip Blackburn
November 10, 2019
Grace. The word we give to the manifestation of God’s love, as Christians, is grace.
It is our oxygen. It is that thing which illumines our path. When we awoke in the middle of the night as children, terrified by a dream and our mother rushed into our room, placing her hand tenderly on our back and telling us it would all be alright, and then gently whispered, shhh into our ears as sleep returned for us; that’s grace. When someone in this world has seen the worst of us and loves us still; that’s grace. Those days when we catch the sun just as it’s setting and light plays off the tops of green trees, and a cool breeze rustles through their branches, and we take a deep breath and look around and realize that this world is so much more than we deserve; that’s grace.
Grace is everywhere and yet it is nowhere. For as much as we seek it; yearn for it; call to it; grace is elusive. It is so hard to find. And when it brushes against our lives we often fail to appreciate its touch. And that is the trouble with grace; it is not natural to us. Grace is not our native state. The world in which we live, for all its beauty and its moments of grace, is not gracious. The world takes a toll on us. The world is the evening news. It is the cruel slap of someone we loved. The world says, “get as much as you can before the other guy.” The world is the funnel cloud forming over the school, the rubble of a bombed out hospital. The world is the slave master. The world is hard.
The word we give to the broken things in the world, as Christians, is sin.
Sin abounds in this world and in our lives. It beckons us, tempts us, shapes us, and lies to us. It is not grace, and to our eyes it seems so much more powerful. And on those hard days, those really hard days, we ask if there is any grace in the world, for it all seems awash in brokenness. And we wonder, “how do we get from here to there?
How do we change all this?
Where is God? Has God abandoned us?
Will we dwell in sin forever?”
This experience is not foreign to God. It is not something God doesn’t understand or just understands in the abstract. God didn’t read a book about human suffering. He didn’t watch a documentary about the power of evil in the world. He didn’t hear it second hand. God does not look at all this, scratch his chin, and say “well that looks sad.” God knew that the best way to reach us, the best way to really say, “I get it,” was to live like this, to fully inhabit this world. And so he did. And he felt sin. Really felt it.
The word we give to God’s participation in our plight, as Christians, is crucifixion.
The death of Jesus is God’s first word to us about this problem we have, about the troubles we face. And having experienced our troubles, many of our own making, God says one thing to sin. God says “NO!” God says it because God knows we can’t say it. God knows saying no to sin is not one of our strengths, so God says it for us. God experiences it all; the pain, the humiliation, the absence of hope, the suffering, everything that sin can throw at a person, God experiences it all and says, “NO!”
The word we give God’s “NO!”, as Christians, is resurrection.
The hard thing about preaching grace and sin is that we have heard all this before, to the point of it becoming cliché. All of us have heard this before. We’ve seen the Easter lilies; we’ve colored the pictures of the empty tomb. We’ve sung the hallelujahs. If we have heard it so many times though, why can’t we get ourselves from sin to grace? Why do things seem so difficult? The question of the thoughtful Christian becomes, “How do we get there from here?”
How do we get from the evening news, the cruel slap, the greed, the funnel cloud, the rubble; how do we get from all of that, all of that sin, to the place where the resurrection becomes alive in our lives?
How do we get there?
What can we possibly do?
It is as if God in all his glory is standing on one side of a chasm that is deep and wide, while we are left on the other. It is as if we can see in our minds the promises of God but as much as we flail about we cannot find them in this world. And then, when sin closes in around us once more, when we feel the grips of its power, we shout out and we ask, “where are you God? Have you left me here?”
If only there were some way across that chasm. If only we had some way to free ourselves from the sin of this world and spend our lives in God’s glory. Do you not wish that the path of grace were illuminated for you? Don’t you wish that you could see it? Don’t you wish God had bought a bunch of those little lights with the solar panels on top and placed them upon that path, so we could find it?
Sin is so strong and powerful; we pray for a way to battle it. We need some sign that we’ve not been left behind by God but can instead leave sin behind us. What we most want, what I think we desperately want, is to know that sin can’t really do anything to us. We want something that sets us free, some sign, some bridge to help us get across the chasm; get from this world of sin to the majesty and power of God’s grace, and then to live in that place.
We want God to have given us that; to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We want our mothers hand our back once more, want her words in our ears, want that gentle shhh, promising the stillness of blissful rest. That is what we want, we want that bridge, that path, that peace…And we have it.
The word we give to the bridge from sin to grace, as Christians, is baptism.
Baptism doesn’t carry grace. It isn’t grace, but it is the sign of God’s commitment to not leave us behind, to offer us a new way to live. Our baptism makes God’s word of “NO!” to death and sin a truth in our lives. And it opens the door for us to live into God’s grace.
In those waters, each of us who are baptized are pulled across the chasm between the sin and suffering of this world and the grace of the next. Each of us are set free from slavery to sin. In our baptism, each of us, all of us, every single one of us, died, like Jesus, to sin, and will rise, like Jesus, by the power of God’s grace. Amen.