“The God Who” Series
January 30-31, 2021
“The God Whose Name is Grace”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you know what grace is? What words would you use to describe it? I know what grace is. I have been its recipient over and over again in my life. Let me tell you a story about it.
It was in the summer of 2018 BC (Before COVID) and my kids, their spouses and my grandchildren all came to Colorado for a family celebration and then a family reunion. There were 18 of us needing a place for 3 days of peace and quiet together.
When I asked Stephen and Susan Winkler if their “cabin” in Southpark was available they said it was. A number of you in this congregation have been there. You know how wonderful it is. This place took well over a decade of work by hundreds of people who came from all over the country to make it such a wonderful retreat. Work weekends, work weeks, summer trips that included lots of blood, sweat and tears, all had to happen to make this place. The Winkler’s, and some of you, and lots of others, did all the work to make that place beautiful and special.
Do you know what it cost me to stay there? Nothing. Not one dime. When I asked Stephen and Susan what the charge would be, they said something like, “Just make sure you leave the place clean, pick up your beer cans, take the trash with you and wash the towels and dish cloths and get them back to us.”
Do you know what that gift was? Grace. I didn’t do anything to make that cabin a reality. I didn’t work in the summer or winter. I didn’t have to dig in dirt or climb a rafter, I didn’t put stain on the outside or paint the inside. But they did, and you did, and others did, and I got to have the greatest joy in my life there in Southpark – three days of chaos with my kids and 10 grandchildren.
That’s grace. Grace is unmerited favor. It is kindness and generosity that we don’t deserve. I have been the recipient of grace and mercy from others all of my life. I receive it every day. I hope that you do too. I hope you can tell me a story that brings you to tears about another that gave you a gift and it cost you nothing.
Grace is amazing. Today my sermon is about grace. It is about a God whose name is grace. God is the giver of grace and, boy, do we ever need it. Do we ever need Him. We need Jesus and we need Him to take care of the things that we can’t take care of by ourselves.
William Barclay, in his own paraphrase, gives us Ephesians 2: 1-3 to tell us what a Christless life looks like, “When you were dead in your sins and trespasses, those sins and trespasses in which you once walked, living life in the way this present age lives it, living life as the ruler of the power of the air dictates it, that spirit who now operates in the children of disobedience – and once all we too lived the same kind of life as these children of disobedience do, a life in which we were at the mercy of the desires of our lower nature, a life in which we followed the wishes of our lower nature and of our own designs, a life in which, as far as human nature goes, we deserved nothing but the wrath of God, as the others do.”
That picture of human life is not very flattering. We are controlled by the devil, the deceiver. The evil one who wants to lead us comes only to steal, kill and destroy. By ourselves we would let our lower nature take over and lead us in the ways it wants to go. This is the picture of life without Jesus – conflicted in soul, no peace, no rest – dead. The worst part of us shows up – again and again. It might be blatant sins that everyone can see, but so often it is the hidden sins – the attitude that is poisonous, the greed that secretly takes over life. In the letter to Timothy, Paul says, “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.” (I Timothy 5:24)
Sin has all of us by the throat. What do we do? We’re in a pretty dark place. We don’t have an answer, but I bet God does. Afterall, we have a God whose name is grace. In Ephesians 2 this word is given, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath, but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Verses 3b-5)
Did you deserve forgiveness? Did you deserve that God would give you peace? Did you deserve heaven instead of hell? No. You didn’t work for it. You haven’t earned it. It was just given to you. Just like me receiving the gift of someone else’s work and enjoying a time in the mountains, so we receive what we don’t deserve at someone else’s expense.
Grace is free. Forgiveness is free. Eternal life is free. But it wasn’t cheap – it was amazingly costly. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you by your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (I Peter 1:18-20)
I once had a member whose name was Grace Spence. Good lady. Nice family. Long time members of my church. Grace had one request for her funeral, she said, “Under no circumstances are they to play or sing, ‘Amazing Grace’ when I’m buried.” Now, for many of us that is the song that will be played or sung when we are pushing up daisies. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the song, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
It is in Ephesians 2 that we run into one of the clearest words that we have about eternal salvation not by our doing but solely by the work of Jesus upon the cross when He received our sins and when He rose again from the grave. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Grace is quite amazing, isn’t it? If you’re going to boast, boast that Jesus died for you and took you from being dead in sin to alive in Him. Psalm 86 describes the God whose name is grace, “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Verse 15)
If you did the homework that I assigned to you last week to read and study Ephesians 2:1-10, then you saw the progression from dead to alive to living in this text.
- Verse 1, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
- Verse 9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…”
- Verse 10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Dead. Alive. Living. And all this is by God’s grace in Jesus. The word for grace is the Greek word “charis”, it is the word that forms our word charity. We have been recipients of charity and grace from God and we are givers of that same charity and grace to others. It starts from God, it comes to us and it flows to others. Last week I quoted John 15, the vine and the branches chapter, that same word applies today, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches, if a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Do you know what grace is? Have you ever been the recipient of grace from another? If you know that you were once lost but now have been found, then you know grace. If you have peace and joy and an unbending strength in your soul, then you know grace. If, when someone asks you, “How are you?”, and without any hesitation you answer, “I’m better than I deserve”, then you know grace. If you know Jesus then you know the God whose name is grace.
We were dead and hopeless. But then someone who cared for us went out of His way with generosity and kindness and at the cost of His life made us alive and living. That’s grace. That’s Jesus. Amen!!