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Summary: We find in God'[s grace a better way... a way better way than the works way.

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Before The Voice and blind auditions… contestants came out onto the stage to perform before contest judges. They could see the contestants’ oddness’, quirkiness, race, gender, appearance… they could see if you were skinny or fat, beautiful, cute, plain or just plain ugly and it is assumed that all those factors likely influenced the way the judges hear the contestant. Case in point: Remember when Susan Boyle walked onto the stage of Britain’s Got Talent in 2009? Frumpy. Middle-aged. One of the judges even mocked her purely based on her appearance.

Can you imagine coming before the "Got Talent" judging panel… Unattractive? Bad hair? Warts? Three legs? Creepy? Looking every bit a lost soul? And as for talent, absolutely zip? And none of that matters to the judge? It would not make for a very good America’s Got Talent competition but it’s the way God sees us… none of that matters and it is a better way.

Title: A Way Better Way

Text: Romans 4:1-5 and 13-17

Thesis: We find in God’s grace a better way… a way better than that works way.

The Season of Lent is a fitting time for us to reflect on our relationship to God. Our innate sinfulness is a given but non-the-less we are hopeful that we may experience the forgiving grace of God so that we may be in “right standing” with God. The issue today is determining just what it is that we are relying on to make that “right-standing” possible.

Introduction

Downton Abbey is an award-winning TV drama that chronicles the experiences of the Crawleys, an aristocratic family living in England. In the series placed in the early 1900s, WWI had begun and in one scene Lady Mary, Matthew Crawley’s love interest, is kneeling beside her bed with a photo of Matthew lying on the bed before her. Suddenly Lady Mary’s sister Edith enters the room unexpectedly. Lady Mary quickly pushes Matthew’s picture under the bedding and stands to her feet.

All very prim and in her most proper English accent Mary asks Edith, “What do you want?” Edith answered, “I think I left my book in here.” Mary retrieves Edith’s book and asks, “Is that all?” “You were praying.” Edith remarks. “Don’t be ridiculous.”Mary replies, rolling her eyes.

“You were praying!” Edith says with shock and disbelief. “What were you praying for?” Edith inquires. Mary says, “Please go. I’m tired.” Edith exits the room and Lady Mary resumes her position of prayer.

“Dear Lord,” Mary prays, “I don’t pretend to have much credit with you. I’m not even sure you’re there.” “But if you are there, and if I’ve ever done anything good,” (the scene shifts to the battle field where Matthew is in the thick of battle) “I beg you to keep him safe.”

I am not sharing this scene to make little of Lady Mary’s Masterpiece Theater prayer. I suspect many such prayers have been prayed for loved ones in wartime. I would put her prayer in the category of that one prayed in Mark 9 where a man asks of Jesus, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” To which Jesus replied, “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” The man immediately cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

“Dear Lord,” Mary prays, “I don’t pretend to have much credit with you. I’m not even sure you’re there.” “But if you are there, and if I’ve ever done anything good, I beg you to keep him safe.”

The reason I shared Mary’s prayer is because her prayer reveals a commonly held misunderstanding of God and God’s grace.

Two Principles of grace from Romans 3:27-28 that lay the foundation for understanding our text today:

1. We cannot do anything to earn God’s grace, Romans 3:27

2. We receive God’s grace through faith, Romans 3:28

Our text begins by simply saying “the good works way” is not the best way.

I. Good Works Won’t Cut It

If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Romans 4:2-3 (1-5)

We are not unlike Lady Mary Crawley who hoped that she had enough good to free up God’s good-will.

Bernard Ebbers stood before the judge and asked for mercy. Bernard Ebbers was the former CEO of WorldCom and had been indicted for orchestrating an $11 billion accounting fraud that had shut the telecommunications firm down in 2002. His company’s collapse was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history and was devastating to thousands of people… yet he asked for mercy.

Speaking in behalf of his client, his defense attorney cited 169 letters from Ebbers’ supporters, he detailed Mr. Ebbers’ heart condition and numerous, often anonymous, charitable gifts. In his closing statement he said, “If you live 60-some odd years and if you have an unblemished record, if you have endless numbers of people who attest to your goodness, doesn’t that count, particularly on this day?”

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