Saturday, January 26, 2019

Offensive Grace Year C, Epiphany 3, Luke 4.14-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"”
But the most amazing thing about grace is how offensive it actually is.
It was quite the homecoming.
Jesus had become a star.  Everyone was talking about him.  His words were remarkable.
And then, upon returning home to Nazareth, his neighbors, his family, those who knew him from the time of his youth, eagerly awaited to hear what he had to say.
Gracious words.
And yet it is always a two edged sword.
For every gracious word, there is a word of judgment.
There is no forgiveness apart from an acknowledgment of sin.
Grace is offensive.
And if grace doesn’t offend you, you probably don’t understand grace.
Next week's Gospel is a continuation of this week’s lesson and what we will find out is that one moment everyone in Jesus hometown spoke well of him and were amazed at the graciousness of his words – and then in the next moment they were ready to throw him off a cliff and kill him.
Grace does that.
Grace is good news, except it is also bad news.
When I declare to you that your sins are forgiven I’m making two powerful statements.
First, that you have sinned.  That’s a word of judgment, the bad news.
And secondly, that you have been forgiven, the good news.
But even in the grace of forgiveness, the offense remains.
Grace is offensive to those who have been wronged.
Grace is offensive to those who desire justice, and promote righteousness and the rule of law.
To illustrate this point, imagine if we had a president who decided to embrace the words of  Emma Lazareth’s Poem that is on the Statue of Liberty.
You know it.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Imagine if the Statue of Liberty was turned to face Latin America.
Imagine if that president offered citizenship to all who had come here illegally, forgiving their crime, granting them amnesty.
Imagine if that president welcomed those who continue to come, either out of economic necessity or fleeing persecution.
Good news to the poor.
Release to the captives.
Sight to the blind.
And freedom to the oppressed.
Gracious acts offered by a president to the thousands and thousands of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, legal and illegal, those who are here already, and those yet to come.
How would our nation respond to such gracious acts of a president?
Likely, the response would be the same as the response of the people in Nazareth to Jesus.
At first we’d be amazed at the graciousness.
And then we’d attempt to throw him or her over a cliff.
We’d want to throw him or her over a cliff, because we, like so many others, love justice and righteousness, and are offended by grace.
Granting amnesty is offensive to many in our land.

This is the thing though.  This is precisely the kind of grace Jesus came proclaiming.
Good news to the poor, is bad news for the rich.
Release to the captives, doesn’t sit well with the captors.
Freedom for the oppressed, means defeating the oppressors.
Grace is bad news for all who love justice and righteousness.
Because justice and righteousness demand that people get what they deserve, according to their merit.
But grace is the unmerited favor of God.  Unmerited.
Grace is grace precisely because it is not deserved.  Because there is nothing we can do to earn it.
And so if you love justice and righteousness, you will be offended by grace.
In the example of immigration, people who love law and order despise the possibility that we might offer amnesty to the illegals, and do so graciously.  They despise it.  Grace is that offensive.
Our human tendency is to be offended by grace shown to others.
It also resists grace shown to us.
And this is what I meant earlier when I said that “There is no forgiveness apart from an acknowledgment of sin.”
Imagine if I got up before you and declared to you that you are forgiven, specifically for your racist attitudes.
Or imagine if I forgave you for your idolatrous love of money and the security it offers.
The list could go on and on.
But the chances are you would bristle at the thought of being labeled a racist, even though I would contend that all of us are at least a little bit racist. 
Likewise with the love of money.  None of us likes to admit that money is as important to us as it is.  But the truth is we live in a materialistic society.  We just do.
But if I say that you are forgiven for these “sins” I am also saying that you have committed these sins.
And often we simply do not want to admit our own sinfulness, and so we can’t accept the grace of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus said:  "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Good news for the poor.
Release to the captives.
Sight to the blind.
Freedom for the oppressed.
Grace upon grace, regardless who it offends.
"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
God has chosen the Way of Grace.
God didn’t put it up for a vote.
And God could care less that it is offensive to us.

Do we want to follow this Jesus?
This Jesus who stood up before his friends and relatives in Nazareth and declared a Day Full of Grace, the year of the Lord’s favor, unmerited as it is?
Consider this.
Many people maintain that ours is a Christian country, and indeed, throughout the years the majority of our citizens have professed their faith in Christ Jesus.
Having said that though, remember that ours is actually NOT a Christian Nation, but rather a nation that guarantees the freedom of religion.  You can be whatever you choose to be.
Yet many of us continue to identify ourselves as a Christian nation.
What does that mean?
For many Christians, when they say ‘Christian Nation’ what they mean, what they desire, is that the nation be one where justice and righteousness prevail.  They lift up the Ten Commandments.
And yet the message of Jesus is not that we must become righteous and do justice, by our own efforts and actions.
Jesus proclaims the reign of grace.
If we truly want to be a Christian Nation it is grace, not a demand for righteousness, that must abound.
Likewise for us as individuals.
To follow Jesus does not mean that we judge our neighbor in righteousness, but rather that we love our neighbor as Christ has first loved us, which means, graciously.
Under the realm of grace, all are welcome, all are forgiven, and none are excluded.
Offensive as that is, that is the way of Jesus.
Which, by the way, is why they killed him.
I once heard it said that “All are welcome in the Church, but if any would desire to become leaders in the church, they must first conform their lives to a biblical lifestyle.”
Of course when a leader in the Church says that there is usually a bit of self-righteousness associated with it.
But this is the thing.
To follow Jesus is to live under his grace, and it is to recognize that all of us are dependent on the forgiveness that he grants.
None of us are righteous on our own.
Were it not for the Lord’s favor, we would all stand condemned.
I’m not a pastor because I am righteous of my own accord.
I’m a pastor because I have experienced God’s forgiveness, and can bear witness to that.
As Christians all of us are called “to bring good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And we proclaim this word of grace boldly, because we have first experienced such grace in our own lives.

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