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Sermon for 30 April 2017


Acts 2:14, 36-41, Luke 24:13-35

CS Lewis, the great writer and broadcaster, was asked to sum up Christianity in a sentence. He responded ‘I can do better than that, I’ll put it in one word: grace’.

Grace is a beautiful word. Grace is radical and life changing. Grace unlocks lives bound by anxiety and shame. Grace offers liberation and a new start. 

And today I want to look at the word grace, and to explain why, for this sermons series, I’ve attached it to the word ‘economy,’ and on the next two Sundays I’m going to look at how we live in God’s economy of grace - hopefully in some really practical ways.

This is grace: A woman who has lived a dodgy life, sleeping around, leaving broken relationships in her wake, meets a man called Jesus by a well. He speaks very honestly to her, but he is generous and kind as he speaks the truth, and she leaves knowing she has changed and that nothing will be the same again.

This is grace: A man who has been cheating and ripping off his customers is invited to a meal by a man called Jesus who, he feels, can see into his heart. As he sits and talks to this man, something deep within is changed, and by the time the meal is over, he’s ready to make good on all the bad stuff he’s done and to give away half his money.

This is grace: A man called Jesus who trusts his Father in heaven entirely, who is pure love and forgiveness in a human body, who has healed the un-healable and touched the untouchable, who is both powerful and gentle, honest and loving, a man people know as the Son of God, is betrayed, tortured and abandoned and is hung up on a cross where he dies, carrying the weight of the world on his pain-wracked, lonely shoulders. 3 days later, his friends - the same ones who had abandoned him - find that he has risen from the dead. 

What does he say when he meets them? What would you say if you met those who had turned their backs and walked away when you needed them most? What would you do if you met those who gave you up to the fury of the Roman torture machine? 

He says things like - ‘Mary. Do not be afraid.’ and ‘Peace be with you.’ and ‘why are you crying?’

That’s grace. Grace is getting back what you don’t deserve. 

Grace is being given the greatest gift of your life without ever having to pay for it, never having earned it and without any possibility of ever doing so. 

Grace is that thing that you most deeply long for, that thing that you daren’t ever think about, actually happening. It’s the voice that says ‘I forgive you’. It’s the door that is opened when every door is closed. It’s the whisper that says ‘you are beautiful and loved’ when you feel worthless and empty. Grace is the hand of God touching that part of your life that is untouchable; it’s the breath of God breathing life into that part of you which is dead; it’s the word of God speaking over you and saying ‘Do not be afraid’.

This is grace. It is ready to change our lives, and it is entirely and totally free.

The word economy isn’t such a lovely word. It’s all about money, interest and inflation rates.. 

Originally though, the word economy simply meant ‘household management’ - it’s how the day to day things of ordinary life are organised and run. And grace is God’s way of doing things. More than just a one-off gift, grace is the way that God organises things, it’s his management style.

The economy of grace is God’s plan for his world. 

Here are three things that characterise this grace-filled economy.

First, it is an economy of abundance - in God’s economy, there is plenty for everyone, with leftovers to spare. We are each created with everything we need to live well - gifts and talents, time to develop and use them, the opportunity to love and be loved. There is always enough of everything. Think of the feeding of the 5,000 in which five loaves and two fish are enough to feed a crowd, with 12 baskets leftover. That’s the economy of grace. Or think of the disciples struggling away on their fishing boat, catching nothing, until Jesus tells them to try the other side. Their nets are now so full that the boat starts to sink. That’s the economy of grace. Or think of that time when you should have felt desperately anxious about something, but you didn’t - instead you felt loved and supported, and you knew that, whatever happened, it would be fine. 

The economy of grace is marked by abundance.

Secondly, it is an economy of trust. It is an amazing thing to notice that God trusts us. He has created this glorious, wonderful Universe, and entrusted it to us to look after on his behalf. 

When I was a child my parents collected toys - the kind of fancy wooden toys that everyone knows are really for adults, not children. They were delicate and beautiful and very clearly out of bounds to small boys. They were Precious Things, so they lived on a high shelf in the Living Room, out of the reach of little fiddly fingers, and they were not to be played with.

That’s not God’s way. In the economy of grace, there is no high shelf and nothing is out of bounds. It is part of God’s plan to give us everything that he has made and to trust us with it. 

Psalm 8 makes it clear - humans are made to be rulers over God’s good creation -the Psalmist writes You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea. And we might update that to add, offices and factories, schools and hospitals, towns and villages, science laboratories and nature reserves. You have given it all over to us, and it is our task to care for it and to rule over it.

And when we get it wrong - which we always do - we are not told that we’ve lost our one chance - we are forgiven, restored and given another go.

The economy of grace is marked by trust.

Thirdly, it is an economy of infinite value.  In God’s plan, each person is of intrinsic and equal value. Those who are really good at what they do are of no greater value than those who struggle. Those who get it right straight away aren’t better than those who mess up every time. The alcoholic and prostitute are loved just as much as the Bishop and Chief Executive. 

Jesus said that His Father knows the number of hairs on our heads. Isaiah tells us that our very names are written on the palms of God’s hands. Psalm 139 makes it clear that God doesn’t make mistakes when he creates us in our Mother’s womb. Our value lies in God’s love for us - and there is no limit to that love. 

The economy of grace is an economy of abundance, of trust and of infinite value.

Do we live in that kind of world? Is that your experience of day to day life?

The fact is we spend most of our time living under a different plan. We might call it the economy of anxiety. 

It’s marked by a fear that there is never enough; not enough time, not enough money, not enough economic growth.

It’s marked by a lack of trust - between individuals, communities and nations. A lack of trust in ourselves or those we need to love us most.

It’s marked by the value of a person being defined by their achievements, their abilities, their possessions or looks, their ‘likes on Facebook’, and their economic output.

And that is a perfect recipe for massive anxiety. There’s not enough of anything, so we had better make sure we get hold of our piece of the pie before it’s all gone. And because it’s hard to trust anyone these days, we live in a culture of suspicion and blame. And if value is defined by our output, then we’d better keep an eye on those around us to make sure they’re not more successful than us, that their kids aren’t doing better than us, that their house isn’t bigger than ours - because if those things were true, if we were dropping behind them, our value might be dropping as well.  

Do you know that world? Do you spend time there, anxious and stressed but not sure what to do?

Over the next two weeks I’ll say more about how we can live wholeheartedly in the economy of grace. And I’m going to suggest that a crucial first step is to begin to notice. Simply to notice. The theological word is ‘discern’ - which means to tell the difference between that which is of God and that which is of the world or the devil. 

And if you want to start getting into this, to start discerning what it feels like when you’re living under grace, and what it feels like when you’re living under anxiety, here’s something for you to do this week.

As you start each day, ask for God to guide you and to open your eyes to what he needs you to see, and try to be open and alert to his prompting through the day. 

And then as the day unfolds, try to notice when you’re anxious. It won’t be easy, because the nature of anxiety is to consume you and to stop you noticing, but try to catch yourself. And when you see it, try to step back from the feeling so you can notice it and name it - ‘You are anxiety. I see you. I feel you’.  And at the end of the day, write down what you’ve noticed; what it felt like when you were anxious - like a bird spotter discovering a new species, name it and describe it.

And notice also what it feels like when you are living under grace. When you are deeply trusting; when you know that everything’s going to be fine - even though the evidence is that it won’t be; those moments when you feel alive and free. I’m not talking about the moments when you were happy, or when you got to put your feet up, grace isn’t a superficial ‘happy’ feeling - living under grace is that deep sense of wellbeing, of peace and of contentedness that comes from being full of trust in God’s abundant provision and in your deep value before Him.

Notice when you feel like that, and again, at the end of the day, write it down.

Try it for a week. 

And if you’d like to, I’d love to get an email from you with what you’re noticing, because it can help to tell someone else. And for anyone open to this, I’d also like to be able to speak to some of the specific experiences you have when I preach next week. So let me know how you get on.

One word, CS Lewis, says captures it all. One word.

The word is grace. 

I pray you will know it in your life today.  Amen


Going deeper

1. The sermon says that ‘Grace is getting back what you don’t deserve’. Share any experiences you have had of this kind of grace.
2. Read Romans 5:7-9. What does that tell you about Jesus and grace?
3. The sermon describes the difference between what it feels like to live under the ‘economy of grace’ and the 'economy of anxiety’. Share with one another your experiences of these two economies
4. What would it be like for you to live in an ‘economy of grace’ marked by abundance, trust and infinite value? How would that help you live in an anxious world with freedom and joy?
5. Read Matthew 6:25-34. Pray together for the grace to live as Jesus calls us to live, without worries and fear

Posted: 30-04-2017 at 17:29
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