Summary: A sermon about GRACE.
After reading through the Gospels and studying about the kind of companion Jesus was, and knowing what He taught about love for neighbors Mark Scandrette and his friend Joseph decided to try some experiments in radical openness to people.
Riding the bus home from work one night Joseph met an older man who seemed lonely and in need of a friend.
Soon Joseph and Mark started visiting the man at his home.
He called himself “The Emperor” and lived in a rusty old school bus, parked in a vacant lot.
It smelled like urine and was filled with dirty clothes.
As they were talking, Mark and Joseph mentioned that they were followers of Jesus.
As soon as they said this the Emperor cursed them out and told them to get out of his bus.
Sometime later, Mark and Joseph ran into the Emperor downtown.
He didn’t look good.
They asked him if there was anything they could do for him.
“Well, I’m hungry and I haven’t eaten for days,” he replied.
Along with other friends from their community Mark and Joseph began visiting the Emperor several times a week, bringing groceries, helping to cut his hair or clip his toenails, and cleaning up around his camp.
Gradually, he started to trust their friendship and revealed more about himself.
His real name was Robert.
He was estranged from his family, and had spent years living in mental institutions.
The Emperor’s health started to really deteriorate and by December he was confined to a wheelchair.
To top things off the owner of the property he had his bus on was getting ready to take legal action to have him removed.
Then came the day when he told Mark and Joseph, “I’m going to kill myself on New Year’s Eve.”
“I would be really sad if you chose to kill yourself,” Mark told him.
“Why should you care if I live or die?” the Emperor asked.
“Emperor, you are valuable to God and to the people who love you.
We would miss you too.” was Mark’s answer.
“Nobody ever cared about me,” he replied bitterly.
At Christmas time Mark and Joseph decided to throw a party for the Emperor, including his favorite foods and a birthday cake.
They brought their families along.
Mark writes the following: “There was a full moon on that December evening when I knocked on the door of the emperor’s bus.
He came out wearing an elegant purple bonnet, with freshly painted fingernails.
A thin young woman, who we knew worked as a prostitute, and lived in a trailer on the street nearby, joined us, along with one of her ‘clients.’”
Mark continues: “We ate by candlelight serenaded by music from a transistor radio.
The Emperor declared that the food—a collection of favorite dishes he had requested—was delicious.
After dinner my wife Lisa put candles on a cake.
‘Let’s sing Happy Birthday to someone who hasn’t celebrated their birthday in a while,’ Mark said.
“Who could we sing Happy Birthday to?”
Mark writes: “Just then, beaming, our three-year-old son Noah blurted, ‘It’s Christmas, let’s sing Happy Birthday to Jesus!’”
He had learned the hard way that the name of Jesus was the worst thing he could imagine mentioning in front of the Emperor, and he waited to see how he would react.
Mark writes, “Slowly, with a big toothless grin, he said, ‘Yes, let’s sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.’”
So, Mark continues: “Under a clear and starry night the eight of us sang together—Lisa and me, a streetwalker and her john, an elderly transvestite, and three small blond children with red cheeks.”
As Mark helped the Emperor back into his bus, he turned to him and said, “This was the best night of my life. Thank you!”
Mark, Joseph and their families showed the Emperor grace.
Grace is a gift.
It’s something that is given, even if we don’t deserve it or ask for it.
In the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel we read about how God chose a peasant girl, someone who was on the lowest rung of Jewish society to be the Mother of the Savior of the World.
Mary was humble.
The Bible says that God gives grace to the humble.
Grace is God’s kindness, God’s love, God’s care, God’s work on our behalf, God’s blessings, gifts, goodness, God’s forgiveness, and God’s salvation.
But it’s even more than that—it underserved, a pure gift.
And grace is at the center of what God is doing at Christmas.
The child born to Mary was Grace-Made-Flesh.
His entire life was a message of grace.
He would offer grace to sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.
These people had been taught that they had no place in the synagogue and that God’s judgment and wrath was upon them.