Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016)

ACTS 13:44-52

M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     We all like the idea of grace until we actually see it put into action.  Then we are bothered, or even outraged, that God would be so kind and accepting to some people.
     That is what happened at the synagogue where Paul and Barnabas went to preach.  It was common practice for St. Paul to go to the synagogue when he first entered a new town.  He went to see the people who were regular church-goers and who heard Moses and the Prophets read sabbath after sabbath.  Paul and Barnabas eagerly proclaimed to these Jewish worshipers that all of the promises and prophecies they had heard week after week had been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the atoning sacrifice which was foreshadowed by every Old Testament sacrifice.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
    At first, the Jews in at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch rejoiced in this message.  God had been faithful to his word.  God had sent his Messiah.  God was pleased to save his people!  Therefore, these Jews asked Paul and Barnabas to come back and tell them more the following sabbath.
     Word about this message got around town, so that on the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. (Acts 13:44)  That's when things turned bad.  When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. (Acts 13:45)  The Jews sneered at the Gentiles who had shown up at their synagogue, wondering, “What are they doing here?!  We are the chosen ones of God.  We are the regular church-goers.  We have worked harder and behaved better.  What makes them think that God has good things for them?”  These Jews despised the idea that the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world actually came for the world.  They were so outraged by God's outrageous grace that they rejected God's word, contradicted God's message, and drove God's messengers out of town.  God's grace is meant for all, but they did not believe it.  They were convinced that they had earned God's favor and that salvation was their exclusive right.  They loved God's grace until they saw it in action.
     We are tempted by the same self-centeredness today.  We are the regular church-goers.  We hear God's word and strive to order our lives according to it.  We believe that we have behaved better than others, and that may even be true.  It is not hard to find people who, by their sins, have made a royal mess of their lives.  People are abusive and obnoxious.  They are proud and boastful.  They are deceptive and hypocritical.  They are perverted and obscene.  They destroy lives with slander, lies, or schemes—either someone else's life or their own.  In other words, they are sinners and they prove it in magnificent fashion.
     If our church began to fill up with such people, how many of us would wonder, “What are they doing here?!”  Would our actions suggest to them, “You are as welcome here is a virus”?  If you have such thoughts, repent.  For you have betrayed yourself—that you think God's favor is yours because you have behaved better and that God's salvation is yours because you've done something to earn it.  If that is the case, you reject God's grace.  You prefer to be judged by merits.  Be warned.  If you want God to give you what you have earned, he will—condemnation for sinful arrogance.  Repent.
     But God's grace is meant for all.  To the Jews at the synagogue who despised the Gospel, Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you.  Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)  These Jews had refused to stand before God as sinners.  Ironically, they had judged themselves unworthy of eternal life because they though they alone were worthy of it.
     God's grace is meant for all, and it is needed by all.  We all stand before God as sinners.  We are not here because we are better or brighter.  We are beggars.  When you came into God's house this morning, you did not bring anything that God needs or that makes God better off.  We all come to God with nothing.  We acknowledge our sinfulness and confess our many sins against God and against our fellowman—even that we look with scorn on others who are foreign or unfamiliar or messed up.  If you recognize that you are a sinner: Good news!  Jesus Christ has come into the world for sinners.  He has nothing for those who are good enough in their own eyes.  But for sinners, Jesus Christ is gracious.  For beggars, Jesus Christ pours out his gifts.
     God's grace is meant for all.  Grace means that Jesus gives us what we do not deserve.  We do not deserve to have our sins forgiven.  He who is guilty should be judged and sentenced accordingly.  But Jesus has taken our sins from us.  He paid the debt he did not owe so that he could redeem us.  That cost Jesus his life at the cross.  The gift to us is full pardon for all wrongdoing.  We do not deserve God's favor.  Rebels deserve execution, not favor.  But Jesus Christ was crucified for us.  He was put to death under God's wrath.  We, in turn, credited for Jesus' obedience, have God's favor.  The gift to us is a place in God's kingdom now and forever.  We do not deserve everlasting glory.  We have earned hell.  But Jesus endured the shame of crucifixion and the curse of God for us.  The gift he gives us in exchange is a resurrection to glory everlasting.  This is God's grace.  He credits us for work that we did not do.  He takes the divine wrath that he did not deserve.  He does all of this for us—not because we have come to church or given large offerings or behaved better in public or done anything that gained God's attention.  Rather, it is all grace, and it is all done because God is gracious.
     God's grace is meant for all.  That does not mean that God allows people to go on living in sinful rebellion and accepts people who are impenitent.  Those who persist in sins do not believe God when he establishes right and wrong.  Those who are impenitent refuse to be sinners before.  Jesus has nothing for them.  But for all who are sinners, Jesus is gracious.  For all who are grieved by sins or ashamed. Jesus forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  He does not excuse them; he forgives them.  He does not put sinners on probation; he grants full pardon.  And though the consequences of a messed up life might still be messy, Jesus cleanses the sinner and dresses him up in his own righteousness.  That's what his grace does, and his grace is meant for all.
     If it frightens you that people may come to us who have royally messed up their lives, or if it concerns you that people who have been snatched from Satan's grasp may still have quite a few heathen moments, fear not.  It is true: It may be hard to love the unlovable, and it may get messy welcoming the messed up.  But in loving the sinner, we follow Jesus who said: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  And how has Jesus loved you?  Even though you are far from perfect, Jesus still loves you.  Even though we don't deserve good things from God, he gives them all the same.  That is grace.  We rejoice that God has been gracious to us, and we pray that God's grace may be revealed to all and work in all.  By God's grace, those who are messed up are cleansed.  By God's grace, those who are unlovable are loved.  By God's grace, Christ's love converts sinners not only to saintly status, but also to godly living.  After all, that's what God's love has worked in you, hasn't it?  God's grace is meant for all; for God wants all to be saved.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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