Sermon 3-12-2017 ‘The Risk of Grace’

Romans 4:1-16

Luke 10:25-37; The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Cotton Patch Version


What compels us to care?  To ‘do the right thing’?  What is it that calls us out of ourselves and into others’ lives?  Why do we do the things we do?  Why don’t we do the things we don’t?  Caring costs.  It can cost time, energy, money, sometimes our reputation, our standing in the community, our place in our family.  It means discerning how to care, who to care for, what care is needed.  Here’s a story from Luke 10, taken from Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version of the Bible:


One day a teacher of an adult Bible class got up and tested Jesus with this question: “Doctor, what does one do to be saved?” Jesus replied, “What does the Bible say? How do you interpret it?”
The teacher answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your physical strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“That is correct,” answered Jesus. “Make a habit of this and you’ll be saved.” But the Sunday school teacher, trying to save face, asked, “But … uh … but … just who
is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus laid into him and said, “A man was going from Atlanta to Albany and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway. Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down that same highway. When he saw the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by. Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas.
Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat.
 He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, ‘You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here’s the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can’t pay it, I’ll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.’
“Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three-the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man – would you consider to have been your neighbor?”
The teacher of the adult Bible class said, “Why, of course, the nig – I mean, uh … well, uh … the one who treated me kindly.”
Jesus said, “Well, then,
 you get going and start living like that!”

The first thing caring does is to turn us inside out.  It exposes us.  It shows who we truly are – heart, mind, body, soul.  Not caring does the same thing.  The only reason the ‘plain old every-day Samaritan’ became the ‘good Samaritan’ is because he stopped.  If he had not stopped, the story would not have been told.  There wouldn’t have been anything exceptional about the story.  This was and is a common experience in life.  Persons in trouble are often left to fend for themselves.  Priests, Levites, attorneys – like the one who questioned Jesus, have schedules to keep, court appearances to make, sermons to deliver, business deals to complete…  We all have responsibilities to tend to.  We all have prejudices we hold.  We all have personal agendas.

Jesus means for us to be exposed - learning for ourselves the personal cost of caring – the risk of grace.  Jesus intends for us to care in ways that turn ourselves inside out.  Jesus teaches us that this kind of caring will be seen as radical – reaching out to those no one else might want to have anything to do with.  A Samaritan, a black man, turning inside out to show compassion, did just that.

Paul writes: “Do you think for a minute that this blessing [of trusting God fully] is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised? Or do you think it possible that the blessing could be given to those who never even heard of our ways, who were never brought up in the disciplines of God? We all agree, don’t we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit for God?”

God’s blessing, God’s love, God’s compassion fills the life of the guy in the ditch just as much as the guy who walks past him.  There is no mark, seal, skin color, sign of any kind that shows outwardly whether God’s blessing has been given to one person or another.  God’s grace - the exercise of love, kindness, compassion, mercy, favor, and the disposition to benefit and serve God’s children flows over all of humankind.  All means all.

How do we decide who we will care for?  Who’s in and who’s out?  Who matters?  Who deserves our attention?  Will the priest only stop for another priest?  Will the Levite only notice another man from his Levitical brotherhood?  Does it matter that someone is Quaker, Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh?  Does it matter if someone is ‘lost’ or ‘saved’?  Is there a mark, a tattoo, a ‘certain look’ that one has that qualifies them for God’s mercy? For our mercy?  For our care?

Paul, once more: “Now think: Was that declaration [of God’s blessing] made before or after Abraham was marked by the covenant rite of circumcision?  That’s right, before he was marked.  That means that Abraham underwent circumcision as evidence and confirmation of what God had already done, long before to bring him into this acceptable standing with Godself, an act of God Abraham had embraced with his whole life.” 

I think it’s fascinating that circumcision was the mark that God chose to use as the sign of community and then consecration, because no one can see it, except the one who is circumcised. It’s a secret!  No one knows – except the one who is marked.  How do we know that we belong to God, and have received God’s blessing, are set apart to God?

Listen to what Moses told us in Deuteronomy 10:12-22; once he’d read to them the 10 Commandments God had written with his own finger in the second tablets of stone:

“So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. 14Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, 15yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today.  16Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. 17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.20You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. “

How do we know we belong to God?  How do we know that that stranger, that person so different from us, that person who is repellent to us, that person who is so hard for us to be patient with, that person who is so unlike us, is loved by God?  Marked by God? Belongs to God?  More than any outward sign we bear, or any outward sign they carry, we know by the brokenness of our own hearts.  By the love and grace of God that has tendered us.  By entering in to what God is doing – not what we want God to do.  By remembering our own captivity in times and places where we had no control, no sense of self, no choices, no advocate. And if nothing else, to remember then that we are not God.  That God loves others just as much as God loves us, and that God’s mercy extends equally to all.

Can we do that? Can I do that?  Can we ‘sit under our Teacher, the Grace of God’, which will bring our salvation from pride, selfishness, prejudice, ego?  Can we risk turning ourselves inside out, and allow the grace of God to move through us, to expose us, to save us, and then use us to bring God’s promise of blessing to others? Can we care by ‘trusting God to set us right, instead of being right on our own?’