Summary: What does it mean that God is your personal friend? Baptism gives us some clues.
Do you recognize this man? You should. You’ve probably benefitted from his generosity somehow. This is Warren Buffett, one of the world’s leading philanthropists. To date he has given away $28 billion dollars of his own money to support health and education causes around the world. As generous as Mr. Buffett is he’s unable to help everyone in this world in a meaningful way. If you divided his $28-billion-dollar contribution among the 7 billion people alive today, each person would receive…$4. Don’t spend it all in one place.
My intent is not to pan Mr. Buffett’s kindness. He has pledged to give away billions more in the coming years. However, as charitable as Mr. Buffett is, he doesn’t compare to the world’s leading philanthropist: God. And as our sermon text makes clear today, God is your personal friend. How will you benefit from this friendship? Let’s find out.
There aren’t many surprises when you read through the list of charities and causes Mr. Buffett supports. His money goes to fight cancer, end hunger, to provide clean water – projects that just about every other humanitarian supports. That’s what makes God such an unusual philanthropist. He supports causes that others wouldn’t touch. Can you identify the lost cause the Apostle Paul describes here? “At one time ___ too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. ___ lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating… 4 But when the kindness and love [lit. philanthropy] of God [the] Savior appeared, 5 he saved ___” (Titus 3:3-5a).
Who is the lost cause that God supported and saved? We are! Can you imagine the outcry if Mr. Buffett spent his billions to save drug dealers, mass murderers, and pedophiles from prosecution and from serving time in prison for their crimes? No, we don’t think of ourselves as drug dealers, mass murderers, and pedophiles. By nature we don’t think we’re bad at all. But Paul is clear when he said about God and us, “…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5a).
Mercy is what motivated God to help us. Mr. Buffett, on the hand, is motivated to support many of his causes like cancer research because it could one day save his own life. This is something else that makes God an unusual philanthropist: he loved the unlovable and did so even though there was no benefit to him, only a cost - the life of his only Son.
It’s this message that’s so offensive to many though isn’t it? “What do you mean I’m a charity case?” they cry. “I don’t need God’s mercy.” Even we Christians can reflect this thankless attitude. When we come to that part of the sermon (like now) where we speak about sin, we often find ourselves thinking, “Yes, yes, I’m a sinner. I get it. Just hurry up and pronounce my sentence and finish the sermon already. There’s a sale on at Winners. There’s a video game I’ve got on pause at home!” I doubt Warren Buffett would be inclined to continue supporting a charity that blew him off like that when he came for a visit to see how his funds were being used. And the thing is we have often actually abused God’s gracious forgiveness. Like a charity that spends its funds for lavish parties and fast cars for its directors, we have used God’s grace as a license to sin, figuring it’s no big deal because we already have forgiveness. But listen to what Paul said at the end of our text: “This is a trustworthy saying [that Jesus saved us]. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:8a).
Did you hear what Paul said? He said that I am to stress this truth about God’s grace so that you and I will be careful to devote ourselves to doing good. From the moment a Christian gets up in the morning she will say, “How can I make the day go better for everyone I meet? Should I make breakfast for my family? Should I fold the laundry? Should I write an encouragement note for my neighbor who just lost his job?” Perhaps we start the day with that kind of resolve, but by late afternoon we’re tired and grumpy. When we survey the messy bedrooms of our children, we don’t see an opportunity to calmly teach responsibility, we only criticize in a way which causes our children to react poorly. When we’re waiting our turn for the computer, we don’t see this as an opportunity to serve our sibling with cheerful patience, we nitpick and nag. When our parents tell us that no, we may not stay over at that friend’s house, we argue and harangue, desperate to get our way. But do you know what a Christian will want to think of when tempted to retreat into the shell of selfishness like this? Baptism. Listen to what the Apostle Paul had to say about that sacrament. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5b-7).