Gen 17:4-9 "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. (5) No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (6) I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. (7) And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (8) And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God." (9) And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.
LaGuardia, was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII. He was a bit flamboyant and because of the little things, was loved by New Yorkers. One of the stories that characterized him, is of a bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.
Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail." But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now pay; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
The gift LaGuardia gave wasn’t justice – that would have been $10 or 10 days.
The gift LaGuardia gave wasn’t mercy – that would have been paying the fine for her.
The gift LaGuardia gave was grace – it covered the first two and then offered above and beyond – grace.
What gift has meant the most to you in your life? Let me help by giving you some categories. Lets call one category Expected gifts – those gifts that go with birthdays and Christmas. Then there are Unexpected Gifts. There are gifts like the ’75 Mustang II that mom and dad bought for me even though they said they wouldn’t buy me a car after I turned 16. They surprise us and delight us. And then there is Grace.
Last week, we talked about one of three pieces that help us become people of the Mission. Like relational gifts, they aren’t really so tangible or practical as say a building or equipment or even a website. We began by addressing how important it was to pursue wisdom. But the second piece isn’t what we pursue but we receive. And what we are recipents of it is something humanity has never quite come to grips with – grace.
Grace doesn’t have to pursued. It isn’t hidden under a rock. Some things, maybe the hardest things, are the things we receive which we don’t earn, don’t deserve and don’t ask for.
God’s covenant with Abraham wasn’t something he deserved nor did he ask for it. The great covenant of God with humanity in Abraham carries a weight on God greater than anything. God promises to do it all and all that is asked of us is that: “you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring”
But God knew that we couldn’t even do that and he was right. The entire Old Testament carries the story of grace. Some look at it and pass judgement on God or judge God’s behaviors. God certainly allows the consequences of disobedience to run the course but God never broke his covenant. God never stopped being faithful, not to Abraham, not to the Jews and not to those who were even farther disconnected.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. (2Co 8:9)” For all our mistakes, Jesus gave his life for us all. God is a JUST God and must pass judgement. But God is also merciful and so will offer mercy. But God’s nature is to go beyond and offer more – to spoil those he loves with grace.
Grace is God’s story. It is in the incredible nature of God to do more than be just – to do more than be merciful – but to offer grace in its fullest. God’s grace goes before us – in Jesus Christ, grace was given before you or I was ever born – to wipe the slate clean. Grace represents that God never gives up on us, but God was, is and will always be in our corner – yes – even when we don’t want him there or when we don’t know he is there.
And so, grace too, is one of the pieces of us becoming people of the mission. For those who have received grace, it becomes part of our nature to offer it. The covenant God made is directly tied to mission. When Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, looked for the right words to share with people the mission, he said, “…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God. (1 Peter 2:9a)”
To give grace, it is obvious, we have to have received it. Hard to believe that receiving a gift could be the hardest thing we ever do – to receive new life in Jesus Christ – to believe Jesus is God’s Son and trust in Him with your life. Yet, to be the chosen people, to belong to God, we then have to offer grace to others. Not Justice. Not Mercy. But go beyond. Jesus said we should be a servant. One of my good friends who is a pastor, was telling me this week, they have forbidden certain words in their church, one of them is the word Volunteer. He said they have Servants. I like that because servants go beyond – they are on call for their master and leader. A good servant is prepared to offer grace, to go beyond.
Just as God’s grace goes before, to be a church who helps people, connect, follow and become disciples one loving act at a time – it means we too go before. God didn’t and doesn’t wait to offer grace, he gives it and as his people, we are called to offer it as well. Sure, it can be done here at Crossroads in being a servant in the Children’s ministry, with Scouts, as a greeter or with set-up and take down. But it is more what we offer to others, at Youth Detention Center, or in giving shoes or helping at Murphy-Harpst Children’s home. Maybe the most significant, is to invite someone to experience the news for themselves. Take an invitation card (or 2) and share with them what you’ve found at Crossroads - Grace.
Click here for the podcast of the sermon.