Summary: God’s grace is difficult to understand because it runs contrary to human nature.
Grace We Don’t Understand: The Strangeness of Grace
Wildwind Community Church
As you know we are moving into Easter. I wanted to “bring things down” a little bit – get away from that heavy prayer stuff (as good and important as it is) and get into something that will probably relate to a bigger group of people and help us deal with some big issues in our lives as we move into Easter. I’m going to talk to you today, next week, and Easter Sunday about God’s grace.
Grace – it’s a great word, isn’t it? It just sounds good. It’s one of those words that kind of sounds like what it defines. Philip Yancey has captured this better than I ever could in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Yancey writes:
“…grace is the one grand theological word that has not spoiled. …Every English language usage I can find retains some of the glory of the original. Even now, despite our secular drift, taproots still stretch toward grace. Listen to how we use the word.
Many people say grace before meals, acknowledging daily bread as a gift from God. We are grateful for someone’s kindness, gratified by good news, congratulated when successful, gracious in hosting friends. When a person’s service pleases us, we leave a gratuity. In each of these uses I hear a pang of childlike delight in the undeserved.
A composer of music may add grace notes to the score. Though not essential to the melody – they are gratuitous – these notes add a flourish whose presence would be missed.
In England some uses hint loudly at the word’s theological source. British subjects address royalty as ‘Your grace.’ Students at Oxford and Cambridge may ‘receive a grace,’ exempting them from certain academic requirements. Parliament declares an ‘act of grace’ to pardon a criminal.
New York publishers suggest the theological meaning with their policy of gracing. If I sign up for twelve issues of a magazine, I may receive a few extra copies even after my subscription has expired. These are ‘grace issues’ sent free of charge (or gratis) to tempt me to resubscribe.
Credit card companies, rental agencies, and mortgage companies likewise extend to customers an undeserved grace period.
I also learn about a word from its opposite. Newspapers speak of communism’s fall from grace, a word similarly applied to Jimmy Swaggart, Richard Nixon, and O.J. Simpson. We insult a person by pointing out the dearth of grace: ‘You ingrate!’ we say, or worse, ‘You’re a disgrace.’ A truly despicable person has ‘no saving grace’ about him. My favorite use of the word grace occurs in the mellifluous phrase persona non grata: a person who offends the US government by some act of treachery is officially proclaimed a persona non grata – a ‘person without grace.’’’
At the end of George Bernanos 1937 book Diary of a Country Priest, the main character, on his deathbed, utters the words, “Grace is everywhere.” And so I believe it is. Yet as many words as spring from it, and as often as we sing about it in church, grace itself is a mystery. We are strangers to it. Today I want us to look at what I call “strange grace.”
My favorite definition of the word grace is “unmerited favor.” When we receive grace, whether from God or from other human beings, we receive favor from them that we do not deserve. Our Easter Sunday message on grace is going to look at just how much we do not deserve God’s grace by focusing on the sacrifice of Jesus – because the suffering of Jesus proves that we do not deserve God’s grace.
Let me open the Bible to you to show you God’s grace this morning, to show you that God desires, and is able, to grant you his favor even though you don’t deserve it. In Romans Paul writes about each of us in our natural state, before our hearts are awakened to our sin and our need for God.
Romans 1:28-32 (NIV)
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,
30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;
31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Now the same author, Paul, writes these words just a few chapters later: