(An abridged version of a sermon I originally delivered at First Baptist Church in Marblehead, MA just before it changed its name.)
“Grace and peace to you, from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!”Apostle Paul
I’ve been thinking about grace and peace.
Our church has decided to change it’s name. One of the words in the new name will be “grace”. So, I’ve been thinking about “grace”.
At the same time, I’ve recently founded a marriage and family organisation whose name contains the word “peace”. So, I’ve also been thinking about ”peace”.
Grace and peace. These are nice words! For me, they bring to mind positive images. They stir within me warm, comforting feelings.
When we apply these words to people, they turn into adjectives like gracious, full-of-grace, peaceful or peace-loving.
“Full-of-grace” brings to mind someone who is accepting and affirming; someone who isn’t surprised by stumbles or mistakes. Someone who is quick to forgive.
“Peaceful” brings to mind someone who is at peace or peace-loving. It’s a demeanor that emanates from below the surface, yet springs forth in qualities of patience and contentment. Maybe you know somebody like that — someone who is at peace or a peacemaker.
At peace, grace-filled people are like velcro. We want to attach ourselves to them. When we move closer, we benefit from their graciousness and their peaceful bearing. We want them in our lives, and we yearn to be like them.
Yet, when we detach (imagine me ripping apart a piece of velcro), something changes and life doesn’t seem as complete or as full.
So, where do we get some of this grace and peace?
I don’t see a lot of it in the counseling office. Husbands and wives often arrive stressed-out and battle-weary. Of course, we don’t expect to find grace and peace in the counseling office, at least at first.
Do we find grace and peace at the stadium or ballpark? What if you’re a referee or umpire, and you make a bad call? Or a coach who makes one bad move at a critical point in a game? Any grace and peace there? How many fans are standing up and shouting, “Maybe we’re being too judgemental here!”?
Are grace and peace readily evident in our community? What if you’re a public figure, and you make a poor choice? We’re all capable of that. What do the townsfolk want? Are they satisfied with an apology? Some evidence of genuine remorse? Or do they want blood?
One author writes: “There are always a few who prefer stoning to forgiving, who will vote for judgment rather than mercy.” Today, I fear the few have become the many.
Our culture knows nothing about grace, and has no idea how to attain peace. So there might be an opportunity here.
Years ago, Don Henley recorded these lyrics within a brilliant piece, “Heart of the Matter”:
These times are so uncertain. There’s a yearning undefined. People filled with rage. We all need a little tenderness; How can love survive in such a graceless age?”Don Henley
Well, believer or non-believer, Henley’s right. We are living in a graceless, embattled world. Certainly a graceless and embattled country. In too many cases, in graceless and embattled homes.
I see it on the faces of people at the grocery store. I see it on the street. Some days I see it in the mirror.
So, where is this grace and peace?
Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15, beginning at verse 9.
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.1 Corinthians 15:9-11
Well, now we know that the source of grace and peace is the source of everything that is, was and will be — Creator God. Twice in verse ten, Paul refers to the grace of God. It belongs to him. It’s his to give.
And if you jump to the first chapter of any one of Paul’s 13 letters, you’ll read, usually by verse two, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace and peace were important to Paul.
So, everything the great Hebrew scholar and Pharisee wrote to early believers began with his desire for them to have grace and peace.
I speculate that if Paul was alive today, and if he was planning to visit us here, he’d express the same desire for us.
In spite of his aristocratic and academic credentials, Paul considered himself “unworthy” — “undeserving” of God’s favour. Why? Paul recognized that his hostile acts against the church were blatant sins against God.
What history has recorded about Saul of Tarsus is a good reminder that God delights in choosing those most unworthy, and making them the objects of His unconditional acceptance.
God is an extender of grace — an extender of unmerited favour upon the life of a sinner. Even the worst of sinners.
Okay, so we know where grace comes from. But, how do we live it? What do we do with this information?
Recognising how God’s love for his people (demonstrated in history at the cross), I think we have a huge responsibility to reflect God’s double blessing of grace and peace to any new folks who might happen to wander through these old doors. Especially if we put up a new sign!
Okay, so what would that look like — I mean, if grace was not just on the sign … but if we offered more of it here at 17 Pleasant Street?
Let me ask you a question: Have you ever been on the receiving end of grace? Have you ever done something really wrong, but been surprised by grace — treated with favour, instead of the justice you deserved?
Anyone here ever stopped by the police and driven away with just a warning?
Traffic violations are one thing, but how much grace should we actually extend? There’s got to be a limit, right?
If the sign outside the building says “Grace”, what act would someone have to commit in order for this gathering not to extend it? To not fully embrace that person? I would like you to think about that question.
While you’re doing that, I’d like to share a story.
Some of you know I’ve been married before. Less than a handful of you know I was twice divorced prior to my conversion. It’s a bit of a edge joke at our house, but I married in 1974, 1984 and 1994, so Melissa and I will be understandably relieved when this year is over!
When Melissa and I became engaged, we wanted a retired pastor we’d met on a cycling trip to marry us. He wanted to, but his denominational policies wouldn’t allow him to marry someone who’d been divorced more than once.
Running out of ideas, I called a pastor we had heard about, just to see if he might be willing to help us. When I told him about the brokenness in my past, he said something to me that reminded me of the Lord whom I was just beginning to know. I’ll never forget his words. He said: “Robert, I am more concerned about what you do from this point forward, than in anything you may have done in the past.”
I was stunned. I felt loved and relieved and thankful. I felt a bazillion other feelings. This sounded like Jesus. I was totally blindsided by grace.
Grace Community Church is a nice name. But we can only claim this wonderful blessing called “grace”, if each genuine believer here is prepared to extend the grace of God to others, under any or all circumstances.
If “grace” is on the sign, it also needs to be in us.
I have a theory: When followers of Christ extend grace when only justice is deserved, people draw more closely to God, because people get a glimpse into the very heart of God.
So, here’s that question again: What act would someone have to commit in order for you not to embrace the person? To refuse to extend grace?
Let me take it one step further: For what repented sin does the blood of Christ not fully atone? Theft? Divorce? Adultery? Aborting babies? Homosexuality? Substance abuse? Lying? Murder? Any of these that the blood of Christ is not sufficient?
Where do we draw the line on extending grace? What’s our limit? We need to think about that before the sign is installed.
I’ve struggled with this question. Personally, I am not aware of any sin that the Messiah’s blood won’t cover, and that repentance won’t make right.
Changing our name will probably be a good thing. Fresh starts coupled with clear visions from leadership can be invigorating.
But, it won’t be enough if we only change the letters, add a nifty logo, and spread the word far and wide. Let’s live and worship and pray expressing appreciation for a God who reached down to us when each one of us were dead in our sins, and offered us the gift of life.
Let’s be velcro because of God’s double blessing of grace and peace. It’s a good way to be … on the sign, and in us.
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