January 13, 2013

Sermon, First Sunday after Epiphany

Grace Given Unto Us
Psalm 23, Romans 12:1-5, Luke 2:41-52
First Sunday after Epiphany
January 13, 2013

The Epistle for this First Sunday after Epiphany is the first four verse Romans 12.  In that passage, Paul wrote many astounding words, among them are those found in verse 3, "through the grace given unto me."  I want to talk about grace today.  I often speak of this building as a house of grace.  I mean there is a sense in which this place is different from others.  Here people have sought and found grace for more than a hundred and sixty years.  There is a sense of connection about this place, a sense of being connected with many others, past and present, as we read the same Bible pray the same Prayers, sing the same hymns, and receive the same grace.  We are all one in the grace of God; "one body in Christ, and every one members of one another."  In a sense this building is a symbol of God's grace, and I rejoice that a body of believers worships here, because if this building doesn't house a living, worshiping congregation, it ceases to be a house of grace and becomes a mausoleum.

When I say this is a house of grace I mean something wonderful and mysterious happens when we meet here.  God touches us here.  He makes us to lie down in green pastures and leadeth us beside still waters.  He restores our souls and leads us in the paths of righteousness.  He prepares a table before us and anoints us with oil.  He fills our souls with such abundance we are like cups running over with grace.

There is grace in the things we do here.  God draws us into Himself by them, and God imparts Himself to us in them.  There is grace in the Prayers.  The more we understand the Bible, the more the Prayers express our hearts to God, and the more they lead us into Him.  In the Prayers we lie down in the green pastures of God and drink His still waters.  There is grace in reading, hearing, and preaching the Bible.  Let us call them the ministry of the Word, and let us know that it is different from other readings and hearings.  To read the Bible is to enter the presence of God; to "hear" it is to let God's presence enter us.  To read the Bible is to let God lead us to the green pastures and still waters.  To "hear" it, that is, to receive it into our hearts with faith, is to feed on the green pasture and drink the still waters of God.  The sermon serves the feast God has prepared for us.  It points us to the pastures and waters of God.  The preacher, by God's authority and command, invites us to eat and drink of God's grace.  Thus, the Prayers and the ministry of the Word  are means by which the Living God imparts His grace to us.

I know these are rather vague statements.  They contain much imagery and very little concrete definitions.  But even the Bible uses more imagery than definitions here, and I think it is because these things are too big to be reduced to concrete terms.  Someone said, "in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, everything else is math."  Everything else may be math, but God is not, nor are the workings of His Spirit imparting grace to His people.  He, and His ways, are, in a very real sense, beyond comprehension and unexplainable.  He Himself is a great mystery, not because He hides from us or keeps secrets from us, but because He is beyond our ability to comprehend.  And so, we must be content with the little that we can understand, and be content to know Him as Mystery.  Thanks be to God, we can understand something about Him, and the Bible tells us who He is, and what we owe to Him as our God, and how to find and continue in peace with God through the cross of Christ.  The Bible draws us into Him and imparts Him to us in a spiritual transaction that is as inexplicable and mysterious as God Himself.

There is grace in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  It is truly a Table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies, for we come to it in the midst of a great spiritual war against spiritual wickedness in high places, and against our own weaknesses and temptations.  Even the most valiant soldiers need rest sometimes, and our presence in this house of grace and at this feast of grace is our respite from the battle.  Here, for a while, we are in green pastures and beside still waters.

There is a sense in which the grace given to us in the Sacrament is even more mysterious than that given in the Prayers, worship, and ministry of the Word.  We can understand  that reading and hearing the Bible shapes our thoughts and attitudes, for we see that we are shaped by the music, movies, and books we allow into our lives.  What child has not wanted to be like his cartoon or movie hero?  We can understand how the Prayers can shape our lives.  We see that saying and meaning them with understanding gives form to our faith and our petitions.  But how does eating a communion wafer dipped in wine put God in us and us in God?  No wonder that, after receiving the bread and wine, we thank God for these "holy mysteries."

And yet, there is something we do know about this Sacrament.  We know the bread portrays the body of Christ dying on the cross.  The bread our Lord broke when He instituted this Sacrament was something like a dense, wheat cracker, large enough to be broken into twelve pieces.  "This is My body," He said as He broke it and gave the pieces to the disciples.  "This is My blood,' He said as He poured the wine out of its container and gave it to them.  Thus, the Communion graphically portrays the crucifixion of our Lord.

Eating the bread and drinking the wine are expressions of our faith.  In these acts we state that we believe in Christ in Biblical faith.  We remember Christ's death. We intentionally open ourselves to Him to receive all the benefits of His death. We signify our belief that, somehow God is bringing us more fully into Himself, and imparting Himself more fully to us in this Sacrament.  We are receiving grace.

Grace is in this place, because God is in us and in the things we do in this place.  In them we come to God's throne of grace.  In them God calms our fears and teaches us to trust Him.  In them He heals the wounds caused by sin, and strengthens us in holiness and faith. He imparts His healing presence to us, and He draws us into Himself.

Father of all mercies, whose nature is love and whose throne is grace.  We beseech Thee, and believe that Thou wilt, impart Thy grace unto us, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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