Graceful Love: Epiphany 7
Christian theology, defines grace as "the love and mercy given to us by God, because God wants us to have it. Not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it" Wikopedia.
It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to people; "generous, free, totally unexpected and undeserved". It does not look at people who are flawed, broken or sinful and say you, do not deserve my love and generosity. Instead, through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son, it takes the form of divine favor, love, forgiveness, and a share in the divine life of God.
Grace is an attribute of God that is mostly revealed in the salvation of sinners. Christian’s believe that the initiative in the relationship of grace between God and an individual is always on the side of God.
So, when Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel gives the command, ‘be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect’, he is saying to us that we are called to be gracious to others just as God the Father is to us.
In the book, Leviticus, the commandments are underlined and sealed by the fact that God is Holy, and so his people are to be Holy as he is.
This stuff is and ought to be incredibly challenging to us!
Our culture is not so good at grace towards those deemed undeserving. Instead it says, they must be forced to live alienated lives which reflect the consequences of their behaviour-justice. Imagine what would happen if God’s attitude was like that towards you and I?
Personally, I think I’d be dead by now- actually, I know I would.
I know I could not live without the grace of God and the grace of those in the community who have forgiven me and revealed to me what the grace of God is truly like.
And to be like God, is hard! Some say that Christianity has been tried, and found wanting, but others say Christianity has never been tried, because people are afraid of how difficult it truly is. Sacrificial love means giving your life for people you don’t necessarily like or want around you. Love is not the same as liking, it is about caring for the good of the other.
It’s easy to give yourself to those who are closest to you. Maybe; not always? Sometimes the very people we fail to love, are the ones closest to us.
These rules- commandments from the Gospel and Leviticus, which have been read today, are not optional philosophies or ideas for us as Christians, they are core to God’s Being and therefore to us, to the tiniest point in the law.
It’s easy to love and care for those whom we believe are deserving of our love and care, and it’s also, on many levels very rewarding, and there’s nothing wrong and a lot good about it. But Jesus is saying that’s not enough! It’s not good enough for us as Christians; we have to go the extra mile, and love the person whom we find difficult to love. This is the kind of love which will go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, care for the good, rather than ignore or speak about maliciously with gossip etc.
So if this is so hard- and it is; what do we do?
First and foremost, we cannot love as God loves if we do not place our trust in Jesus. We can only love as God loves when we truly believe and trust our Saviour has given himself in love for us.
If we try to love the other in our own strength, then it becomes all about me. We are doing it for the reward, to either earn our way into heaven- that can be an expression of our love of God, but it’s not an expression of having accepted the fullness of God’s grace in life. Or we might be doing good stuff to be recognized and valued as a good person or to justify ourselves to others. None of those things are truly grace. Grace is unmerited love, given with- out condition.
So let’s be honest with ourselves, we’re all broken human beings, most of the time our motives are incredibly mixed. There’s often a bit of me and a bit of real grace in what I do, what about you?
The true place to begin is to recognize that we are loved, faults and all by God, and that God’s grace flows over our lives into every nook and cranny, even before we ask. Grace begins with God to his people, and when his people open their hearts and minds to his forgiveness and grace, then the outworking of that should be forgiveness and grace poured out into the world through us- not just to those we judge are deserving, but to everyone. That is how grace works.
The second thing that is required of us, once our lives are steeped in the grace of God, is that our lives also be steeped in the Word of God and prayer, so that with the aid of the Holy Spirit- one of the outworking gifts of God’s grace, we understand and are empowered to live in God’s will, according to how his will and purpose is revealed to us through his grace.
So, what do we do? Do we hold on to grudges, do we remain fixed and hard hearted in our view of the world, and refuse to forgive those who wrong us or seem to be a trial for our lives, because they are so different to us?
That’s not what God wants of us! God, in Leviticus God says we must care for the alien living in our midst, that is; regardless of colour or culture. Yes; it is hard and takes an enormous generosity of spirit, but anything less, falls far short of God’s commandments.
Leviticus: care for the alien in your land. Jesus: love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.
For I am Holy says the Lord; Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect; says Jesus.
It might be hard and costly, but unless we are genuinely trying to love the ones we deem beyond our love, then we are being disobedient to God. We are not being Christian. We are supposed to glow and reveal God’s amazing love to the world through the way we live together, and in our attitudes to those who are different to us, and in the way we respond to those who mistreat us.
Does it mean that if you fail, God won’t keep loving you? No, grace abounds regardless of our failure, and when we stay connected to God, it enables us through forgiveness to look honestly at ourselves and repent- that means turn around and try again. It can be 70X 7 times, that is, infinitely. We may need to keep coming back to God in humility in order to find our forgiveness and healing. This is how we grow in love, and learn increasingly about the grace of God towards us, how much God truly loves us. Unless we are aware and focused on the reality of God’s grace to us, we will never find in our hearts, the fullness of God’s love and grace.
Grace is not earned, it is there for us if we want it. When we receive it, it is life giving to us, in every moment of every day; but unless we look for it and recognize it, we will never know it. If you think you’re good enough or OK the way you are, then look again at God, and the grace extended to you.
Learn to be thankful, learn to be both loved and to be loving as God loves you.
St John tells us that ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only Son into the world so that we should not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life is more than just life beyond death, it is to know the fullness of life which comes through knowing the love of God through Jesus Christ, who gave himself totally for us.
We should be living the grace of God in every moment of our lives, and if not, then we need to be asking God, ‘show me your love and your way of love in this situation’. This is how we fulfil the commandments of God. Amen.
Let us Pray.
Almighty God, who alone can bring order to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity: give your people grace so to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, among the many changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.