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Sermon for 14 May 2017



Acts 7:55-end, John 14:1-14

This is the third and final sermon in our short series on grace.

And by grace I am talking about the defining characteristic of Christianity - the free gift of God’s forgiveness, freedom and a new start, without us having to do anything except say ‘yes please.’ 

And in the first sermon, two weeks ago, I talked about the economy of Grace and the economy of anxiety.  Economy being the Greek word for ‘household management’ … and I suggested that while grace is God’s ‘management plan’, so often our culture sucks us into the economy of anxiety. I suggested that the first step in unhooking its hold on us, is simply to notice what’s going on. 

And last week I talked about three things that can help us live in the economy of grace: noticing where we put our attention; being present to the presence of God and learning new habits.

I’ve tried to be very practical in the last couple of weeks - with some things that we can do to help step away from the economy of anxiety, so that the economy of grace can become our every day experience. And today I want to tie things up by asking - what does a grace filled life look like? What does it look like to live wholeheartedly in the economy of grace?

And the good news is, we know the answer. And it takes us right back to where our faith begins. To Jesus.

A grace filled life looks like Jesus. One of the first things we hear about Jesus, in John’s gospel, are these words - ‘and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’. And then, when Jesus first starts teaching, Luke notes in his gospel that the people who heard him ‘wondered at the graceful words that came out of his mouth.’ And the consequence? John’s gospel again, "We have received of his fullness; grace upon grace

Jesus is graceful. Full of grace.

So if we want to know what everyday grace looks like, we look at him.

And the thing that lies at the heart of grace-filled Jesus, is his trust. What marks out Jesus from every other person ever to have lived, is that he trusts his father in every moment, in every word and action and with every decision. There is never an occasion when he is not entirely and totally willing to give every ounce of his trust to his Father.  Jesus, it is clear, has complete faith in His Father.

You know what it’s like when you see someone doing something they are really, really good at; a craftsman, or a painter or a musician perhaps. They are at home in their work, and the tools or instruments they are using are like an extension of their own body. Nothing is forced or pushed, everything flows. I once saw someone blowing glass. It is a beautiful thing to watch. The molten glass needs to be worked quickly and smoothly, using a mixture of tools and the glass-blowers own breath. Any pause and the work is lost; any sudden movements and the glass will be flawed. So everything has to be done gently and confidently, with steady calm and a free flow of movements.

Jesus is like that with his Father. He is completely at home with the tools of forgiveness, mercy, love, truth. He is so trusting of his Father, that his words and actions come naturally. They flow from the father, through him, in an unbroken, confident, generous stream. Nothing is forced, everything is natural.

You might have come across the Message translation of the bible, which tries to use very contemporary language. One passage you might know, when Jesus says ‘come to me all you who are heavy laden’ is translated like this 

 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I love that phrase - the unforced rhythms of grace. Jesus lives by the unforced rhythm of grace because he trusts that His Father has it all in hand, because he trusts that His Father is alongside him, because he knows that there is enough of everything that is needed. Grace flows from him, because he trusts the Father.

How much effort do we spend on worry and anxiety that life isn’t alright. That things are going to go wrong - really wrong - some time soon. How much time do we spend worrying that there won’t be enough, or that we’re not good enough, or that someone else is better than us, or that they’re getting more than us. 

And in the gospel for today, Jesus, who trusted his Father in everything he did, says to us ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ And then he says ‘Believe in God, believe also in me.’ and the word believe is just as easily translated ‘Trust’. Trust in God, trust in me.

And then he says that there is lots of room in his Father’s house. As if he is saying, be at home with us. Move in, unpack your bags here. Make yourselves at home.

And then, a little bit later, he says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’.

And it all adds up to a pretty clear message. Jesus says - If you want to know what a grace filled life looks like, look at me. If you want to live like that yourself, live like me. 

How does Jesus live? With complete trust in his Father. How can we do the same? By trusting him, as he trusts his Father. 

Tom Wright, previously Bishop of Durham, and a leading new testament scholar, writes this 

If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what grief is, look at Jesus. And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but you’re actually part of the drama which has him as the central character.

That’s our task - to keep on looking at Jesus and learning from Jesus, and acting like Jesus as we find our lives more and more tangled up in his way of doing things, and our actions increasingly being filled with the same unforced rhythms of grace that he knew. Until we find that our life isn’t a constant dialogue with anxiety or worry, but a constant dialogue with Jesus.

How do we do that? Three things, none of them new. None of them a surprise. These are the ancient disciplines of the church, which come from Scripture and are as true now as they were when the first Christians were figuring out how to live like Jesus all those years ago.

First, pray. Jesus Christ is alive, we say frequently during these weeks after Easter. Not, Jesus Christ was alive - Jesus is alive. He is available, present and involved. So spend time in his presence. Speak to him and listen to him. Give time to prayer every day - not as the last thing if you’ve got time, but as the first thing, around which everything else fits. 

And of course, prayer is something we have to learn, so read about prayer, pray with others who are confident, pick up ideas from the masters of prayer. But don’t think you need to be an expert - God forbid that we ever think that. Prayer is just being in touch with God, so find a time and pray. And then, pray again. Be present to Jesus’ presence.

Secondly, read the bible. It is the first and most important way for us to get to know Jesus. Read the gospels, which give us his words and actions, 4 whole books all about him. Read a gospel from start to finish. Read it as if you’ve never heard any of it before. Read it in a different translation. Imagine you’re in the stories. Picture it as it might have been. And then talk to people about what you’ve read - if you’re not already in a small group, we can help you find one, because one of the most important things about small groups is the opportunity they give to explore the bible together. And read about the bible. Learn from those who have spent their lives studying and understanding it. Anything to help you meet Jesus in Scripture.

Jesus, says John’s gospel, is ‘the Word of God’ - and the bible are the words about the Word of God. It’s where you can meet him and get to know him best.

And finally, spend time with others who are learning from Jesus. And that means, be part of this - of the church community. Don’t be part of it because coming to church is what matters. Be part of it because this is the community of people who are learning Jesus’ unforced rhythms of grace. In worship, in bread and wine, in fellowship, in mission. And don’t just come to church to sit and learn, get involved - try stuff out, take a risk and say yes to doing something. Join the choir or band; serve in the welcome team or as a sidesperson, help teach the children about Jesus in Sunday Club. It doesn’t matter what it is - but be part of it. That way it becomes what it is meant to be - a community; your community, and then as you get to know people, and as we worship alongside each other, we find our lives and Jesus’ life are more entangled, and the unforced rhythms of grace can get to work.

Pray, explore Scripture and be part of the church community. These have been the ways Christians have learnt to trust Jesus over the centuries. And though the world has turned and changed, these have stayed the same.

Prayer, Scripture, Church. 

All of them focussed on Jesus. Jesus, in whom the fullness of God is to be found. Through whom the grace of God flows. From whom we receive God’s fulness, grace upon grace, grace upon grace.

May grace come to you, and may you dwell in the economy of grace more and more each day.



Going deeper

  1. The sermon suggests that the key to understanding and being open to God’s grace is to get to know Jesus. What has helped you get to know Jesus in the past? What could help you get to know him more deeply now? 
  2. Read the quote from Tom Wright. What would it mean for you to be ‘not just a spectator, but a part of the drama which has him as the central character.’?
  3. Share with each other your current experience of prayer. How do you pray? When do you pray? What are the joys and struggles of prayer for you?
  4. The sermon suggests that belonging to and joining in with the church community is a key way to get to know Jesus. Where are you currently gaining life from being involved with the church community? Where are you finding it difficult? What could you do differently?
  5. Come to the word ‘grace’. How has the sermon series changed your thinking, praying and experience of God’s grace? What do you need to do next to let God’s grace fill you more fully?

Posted: 14-05-2017 at 16:04
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