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Summary: During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. "What is the rumpus all about

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.

They began eliminating various possibilities.

Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form.

Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room.

"What's the rumpus all about?" He asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity's unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, "Oh, that's easy. It's Grace."

The Buddhist eightfold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, the Muslim code of law, each of these offers a way to earn approval. It is only Christianity that dares to make God's love unconditional.

Aware of our inbuilt resistance to grace, Jesus talked about it often.

He described a world immersed with God's grace: where the Sun shines on people good and bad.

Jesus saw grace everywhere.

Yet he never analyzed or defined grace.

Instead, he communicated grace through stories and through parables.

We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loophole that disqualifies us from God's love.

Each has at its core an ending too good to be true or so good that it must be true.

How different are these stories from our own childhood notions about God:

I imagined as a child, God as a distant thundering figure who prefers fear and respect to love.

Jesus tells us instead of a father publicly humiliating himself by rushing out to embrace us even after we have squandered half of the family fortune.

There is no solemn lecture from the Father, "I hope you've learned your lesson!"

Instead, Jesus tells of the father's exhilaration "this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" and then he adds the buoyant phrase, "they began to make merry."

And we as Anglicans have that making merry part down pat. Praise God. We truly know how to celebrate. We have a solid ten out of ten in celebrating and, in making merry.

What blocks forgiveness is not God's reticence "while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him." God's arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away.

The story of the prodigal son appears in three stories by Jesus-the lost sheep-the lost coin-the lost son-all of which seemed to make the same point.

Each underscores the loser's sense of loss, tells of the thrill of rediscovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.

Jesus says in effect, "do you want to know what it feels like to be God?

When one of those human beings pays attention to me, it feels like I just reclaimed my most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost."

Can you even imagine, can you begin to imagine what it must feel like for a parent to receive a phone call from the FBI reporting your daughter who was absconded six months ago has been located at last, alive?

Or for a wife to receive a visit from the Army with a spokesman apologizing about the mix-up; her husband had not been aboard the wrecked helicopter after all.

These images give a mere glimpse of what it must feel like for the maker of the universe to get another member of his family back.

In Jesus words, "all the angels in heaven above rejoice when there's a soul saved" Luke 15:20

"God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, not because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him.

No, God rejoices because one of his children; one who was lost has been found.

Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven.

Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be.

Many of the Psalms express the same sentiment, imploring God to help avenge some wrong.

"Lord, if you can't make me thin, then make my friends look fat, humorous Erma Bombeck once prayed. (Pause)

What could be more human?

Instead, in a stunning reversal, Jesus instructed us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

At the center of the Lord's Prayer, which Jesus taught us, lurks the unnatural act of forgiveness, of grace.

Forgive us our trespasses as-(Pause)

No word in English carries a greater possibility of terror than this little word "as". What makes the "as" so terrifying?

The fact that Jesus plainly links our forgiveness by the father with our forgivingness of fellow human beings.

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