Sunday, 25 February 2007

The River of Grace

Lent 1 year C 07 Sermon The river of grace
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Romans 10:8b-13
Message Translation

Here’s a challenge that comes straight from our readings today? When was the last time you prostrated yourself before God? Anybody?

Here’s another one?
When all the hard work has been done who gets the goodies?

Did you notice those two challenges… in our reading today from Deuteronomy?

‘Take the first fruits of all your hard work and place it in the Presence of God and prostrate yourselves...then rejoice and share it with those among you who have no income as well as all the strangers who have come to live among you.’

Remember those who came before you… and the hardship and pain they endured… to get you where you are today… remember when they were strangers in a strange land and when you celebrate your first fruits always make a place for strangers to enjoy it.

Wow! Isn’t that amazing remembering the blood sweat tears and pain of our past is our motivation for a generous spirit in the present…just in case we are tempted to keep all the goodies for ourselves.

And here beneath these mountains and beside our beautiful lake here in this church among the people of God of the Upper Clutha…just like the ancient Hebrew people… we can’t afford the luxury of forgetting the past… and those who came before us…. whether they are our ancestors Abraham and Sarah…or a wandering Aramean…or those upon whom our little church is built…

Without our memories of them we become simplistic unsympathetic and impatient to find a quick fix for the churches’ problems and for the problems of the world. We forget their pain and hard work even their bondage as slaves and we want fast… painless solutions to every problem we face.

Without our memories of the past we risk becoming distant… disconnected…and even dismissive to those around us particularly strangers and newcomers.

You might say the long line that stretches between us and the wandering Aramean is like a river of grace…it’s the river of God’s covenant that flows even here. A river of grace…flowing from the first called by God, those who left their land for another…the pioneers and builders…those responsible for the very first…first fruits.

When we look around us we see that a great many have gone before us into that great cloud of witnesses…those like Dr Elmslie who gave us his land for the manse and the hall.
And those like Bruce Guthrie [of Guthrie Bowron fame] who worked so hard to build this beautiful new church and donated our lovely piano.

Some who live but labour out of site like Catherine Little who ministered here for 20 years still teaching over there in the hall every week with the children at Rainbow Club.

Yes, many are gone…but the exciting thing is there are still those among us here today… who prayed and worshipped with the pioneers…those among us who were among the builders and harvesters of our first fruits.

And I believe with all my heart that just like the ancient Hebrew community in our reading today…its no coincidence that there are those among us today who are the latecomers…the foreigners and aliens and strangers.

Just for fun let’s see what that river of grace looks like in this place…You’ll have to talk to each other to do this but I want you to line up from right down there where Stan is to right up here from those of you who have been involved with this parish the longest to those who have only come today. And I’m going to do it too.

You see…Right down there at that end are the builders…those who endured hardship and sacrifice to give us the opportunity to worship here today.

And we remember and respect them just as the Hebrew people remembered their ancestor Joseph… the wandering Aramean. We remember them as we recall that we are the ones who now taste the abundance brought about by their blood their sweat and their tears.

And the pioneers are called by God to remember that their ancestors were once strangers in a strange land. Especially when we are reluctant to share what we’ve worked so hard for – we are called to remember that.

And there are a great many other benefits to being part of such a great river of grace. To learn to speak the language of grace we need to be around those who speak it and know its story…if we stay with it…being Jesus disciple becomes a life long skill.

We begin with little knowledge and a great many misconceptions, but week after week as we worship together… week by week as we are encouraged to hear and to read the story of Jesus and the people of the old and new covenant…week by week as we hold one another accountable to practise what it means to be Jesus followers…we expand the flow of the river of grace.

Lest we forget…the priestly writers of Deuteronomy ask us to ‘remember the river of grace…to remember that first fruits belong rightly to God …and that God’s providence belongs… not just to us… but to all those with us… who have little or who are strangers and aliens and foreigners and newcomers.

In these forty days before Easter we enter the season of Lent…its a season of self-examination confession and change.

During this time we take time to prostrate ourselves before God in silence. We fast from our busy-ness… and consumption…as we prepare for the great feast of the resurrection…a feast to which all creation are invited

Before we celebrate the great feast of life whether we are pioneers or strangers… we are called to look honestly at who we are and where we’ve come from…lest we come unprepared to the feast of the resurrection…lest we forget that the grace we share is undeserved and unearned. That we are saved by grace through faith…through a relationship with the one who offers it freely.

Just as we heard Paul say in our letter to the Romans today ‘The word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest.
And Paul tells us...It's the word of faith that welcomes God... to go to work and set things right for us and in us.

That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God, and trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation.
With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud:
"God has set everything right between him and me!"

"No one... who trusts God like this—body mind and spirit—will ever regret it." no matter what a person's background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone in this great river of faith and grace.