"God's Love and Grace Are Free but Never Cheap! - Pentecost 13A
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
September 3, 2017 at 10:15 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 16:21-28
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost 13A; September 3, 2017

Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

 

God’s Love and Grace Are Free but Never Cheap!

 

            You know, after looking over the printed sermon title for this Sunday, I realized that it sounded like a bad term paper. “The Anti-Economy of Love and Grace”? Really? It would be hard to find a better title to make you fall asleep! And that would be too bad! Because these are exciting scriptures. After eleven chapters of hammering home God’s sovereignty, mercy, grace, and love to the Roman church, Paul finally is able to offer moral exhortation. Only after God’s grace is expounded upon can a charge to live a Christian life be taken seriously. And in Matthew, we come back to Caesarea Philippi with the disciples, after Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah. Except – Jesus goes off the typical Messiah script immediately, and the most notorious misunderstanding of the New Testament happens.

 

            So, no bad dissertation title today. Instead, think on this: God’s love and grace are free…but they are never cheap! God’s love for you can never be increased or decreased one bit. There is nothing you can possibly do or not do that will make God love you any more…or any less. And God is a God who has given us all gift after gift after gift, grace after grace after grace, most of which completely slip our notice, like our heartbeats or our breathing. As Luther writes in the Small Catechism, in his explanation of the First Article of the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

What is this?

I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties.

In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property – along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true. [1]

 

            Now, this isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing doctrine of God’s grace, especially when it comes to the problem of evil. Luther, in this little paragraph, isn’t interested in explaining why bad things happen to good people. What Luther is doing is trying to get us to be grateful for everything God has done for us – even before we get to the greatest gift of all – our redemption through Christ. That’s what the extensive list of gifts does. It helps us to be mindful that without any thought or action on our part, God provides. God’s free grace always precedes anything we do.

 

            But the gifts of God’s grace, especially the gift of our redemption, don’t come cheap. They aren’t cheap primarily because they cost God everything. God dies to reconcile us to God, not because God’s wrath needs to be appeased, and not because God is a giant debt collector in the sky. God dies to reconcile us to God because human beings refused to have it any other way.

 

            Let me explain. Over time, human beings have wanted one main thing from their would-be messiahs, kings, and lords. They want someone who will come and fix all their problems for them, without inconveniencing them in the slightest. We often want a Superman-like figure to swoop out of the sky, so to speak, and rescue us from the latest burning building. And after our messiah fixes everything for us, we want to be left alone again to our own devices. We don’t want to amend our lives. We don’t want to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We want to be left alone and affirmed for the ways we are already living – until we need to be rescued again! Then we want Superman to come back again.

 

            But that can’t reconcile us to God. That can’t make us a new creation. That can only continue a cycle of sin, disaster, and rescue that we see in the Old Testament, perhaps most clearly in the book of Judges. Jesus knows this. This is why Jesus knows what’s going to happen to him in Jerusalem. He’s not going to play by the typical messiah script. He’s not going to be a conquering king. He’s not interested in making the nation great again. His proclamation of the coming kingdom of heaven is going to fall on the deaf ears of the religious leaders because it does not involve swinging a sword or some other terrific display of power. And when our messiahs don’t do what we want them to do, there is only banishment, humiliation, and crucifixion at the end of the road.

 

            But here’s the crazy thing about the Jesus story. God turns the sinful intentions of human beings into reconciliation for all people. God takes the death of Jesus and turns it into the means by which we are saved. When we are baptized, we are baptized into the death of Christ, in order that we may rise again as a new creation – not just at the end of time, but every single day, as Luther also says in the Small Catechism. What human beings intend for evil, God uses for good.

 

            So that’s why grace is so costly. It is infinitely costly to God. And it is also incredibly costly to us, because once we have received the grace which makes us a new creation, it does something to us. It works on us. It changes us. By the grace of God, every day is another step in becoming the new creation that God intended us to be all along. Every single day is another step in becoming more human than we were yesterday. Every single day is about becoming the person God already declared us to be in baptism: beloved, forgiven, child of God.

 

            But we can’t pretend that living into that kind of grace is easy. That kind of radical change never is. And we need help in envisioning what a grace-driven life looks like. Enter Jesus’ command to take up our cross and follow – in other words, to put our sinful self to death every day and rise again in trust. Enter Paul’s instructions to “let love be genuine…bless those who persecute you,” and so on. These are not “new” laws that apply after grace. These are word pictures which help us to envision how a Christ-follower lives. That’s what the Gospels are. That’s what Paul’s letters are. They help us form an idea – not of what our response ought to be to God’s grace, but what it can be. What we are free to do and to be in response to God’s forgiveness in Christ.

 

            The Christian life is not easy. And it sure isn’t cheap. But when we follow Jesus, carrying our own cross on which our sinful self is crucified, we follow him to true life.

 

            Let us pray.  God, help us to never take grace as cheaply granted. Instead, help us to live out grace as disciples of Jesus. Amen. 

 

© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism with Evanglical Lutheran Worship Texts, (Augburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 2008), p. 27