Amazing Grace -Trinity 3
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 Luke 7: 36-8:3
I’m sure many of you have seen the film or the show Les Miserables and remember the character of Valjean. Convicted as a criminal simply for stealing bread he spends time in prison becoming ever more hardened and dejected, and when he is finally released, struggles to find work because of his reputation; he travels for many days until surprisingly a bishop offers him food and shelter.
He says to him
“You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house, it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering, you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome… What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me, I knew it… your name is brother.”
That night however Valjean makes off with the family silver, and is brought back to the Bishops house by the police.
He is greeted not by recrimination and accusations of ingratitude, but by the bishop exclaiming that the silver he had was not stolen but a gift, and further more being delighted that he had returned as he wanted to give him some candlesticks to add to that gift,
This double act of unwarranted love transforms Valjean, who goes on to show grace & love to others, including the policeman Javert who cannot get over the fact that Valjean “got away” with his theft.
Throughout scripture we see two ways of relating to God and allowing God to relate to us.
Grace and Justice.
In our Old Testament reading we understand a little of the workings of God’s justice – and it can sound hard and harsh to our ears –David has been challenged by the prophet Nathan about his behaviour in sending Uriah off to war to be killed and taking his wife.
He is told “ now the sword shall never depart from your house for you have despised me”
But David recognises his sin, ( and we know how deeply his remorse and anquish went from many of his Psalms, especially 51) and Nathan tells him that the Lord has “ put away your sin and you shall not die” but his child will..
The law demands a life for the life that David ended, and it is his baby who pays that price – although David is forgiven, there is still justice to be done.
Sin has a consequence, it is serious and we see this vividly illustrated here –
This is the working of justice, the law based way of relating to God, a way that always leads to our condemnation, because none of us ever make the mark.
Maybe we don’t do as David did, but we know ourselves in our hearts where we do go wrong.
God in the old Testament often seems to us like Javert the police inspector in Le Mis –continually pursuing us to make us make good the wrong we have done.
In our Gospel reading Jesus is having dinner with Simon the Pharisee: When an unknown woman bursts in and starts to wash Jesus’s feet with her tears, and anoint him with expensive perfume oil he is outraged!
Perhaps he knows her or know of her reputation, but whatever the situation he certainly doesn’t think Jesus should be condoning this sort of behaviour – or letting a woman like this touch him –bear in mind to let *any* woman touch a man in public was pretty outrageous anyway.
Jesus challenges him with the story about the two debtors, who were both let off their debts –which was more grateful? Of course the one who had the larger debt cancelled.
Jesus then goes to show Simon that this woman’s extravagant & outrageous actions, the showing of love and hospitality far outclassed anything that Simon had done for Jesus, even that which might have been expected of him as a host.
This woman, whoever she was, had experienced forgiveness, she had experienced welcome and inclusion and her gut reaction was to love and to show that love , because despite all her background and her offence and her unworthiness, she knew that in Jesus she was accepted and loved.
Jesus affirms this too “ your sin is forgiven, your faith has saved you”
This is grace –this is the unmerited and surprising way in which God relates to us in Jesus
Grace is unmerited and unbounded, it is inclusive and surprising
Grace requires an acknowledgement of our sin of course it does – but even as we do, we turn to find acceptence and love, and our faith saves us.
In Jesus we find acceptance for each of us, whatever our past or our future.
The woman in this story pours out her love to Jesus, in the same moment that she is forgiven,
Like her our response to grace and to our forgiveness is to be love.
In Les Mis, Valjean experiences the transformative power of grace, his response too was then to love and to live this life worth of the grace that had been bestowed on him.
We do not love in order than we might be forgiven, to try & make it better;
We love because we HAVE been forgiven, because the only possible response to Gods incredible amazing grace is to love, to love him, to love ourselves and to love those around us.
How many of us really feel that way though,
How easy is it to feel that we are still living in the law ?
To feel that God is a judgemental judge, be in a place where we know technically in our heads that we are forgiven,
but our hearts don’t sing with that song that KNOWs that we are –
Where we look for the stuff going wrong in our lives and say to ourselves
“ well I’m sure I deserve it really, “… this is because I did…”
because we have not grasped the wonder & the awesomeness of Grace
Grace does not turn us into perfect Christians
It doesn’t make everything go right, we still fail, we still fall, we get disillusioned and broken, and we make wrong choices,
But because of Grace this is not the end, our faith, our acceptance of this grace means we are in a right place with God, and he will help us,
Grace does not mean we can go off and wilfully do our own thing either, grace demands a response – a willingness to live the life we have been called to, and to experience this transformative power.
Transformation is not instant, it is not even fast in most cases, but by grace it is possible and so we welcome it, in our own lives and in the lives of others.
God’s grace is inclusive and surprising, we cannot limit it, and neither does God, we don’t earn it, we don’t own it, we just are able to live in it because Jesus offers it, offered it fr
Each and every person we meet can begin to know the transformative power of grace, step by step , even the ones we think are beyond it, or the people about whom we cry inside like Simon the Pharisee “ they’ve got away with…X”
Grace is for everyone, and that includes you, and me, and all of us, turning that faltering step towards God, like the prodigal son, and being overwhelmed by his welcome, his forgiveness and his transforming love.
I’d like to finish with a short passage from Brendan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel –
Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last “trick,” whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the deathbed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust, and raped the earth. “But how?” we ask. Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” There they are. There we are—the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith. My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.
Manning, Brennan (2008-08-19). The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out