Summary: Of all of the things we have to be thankful for, I hope we are most thankful for grace.
What Are You Thankful For?
November 19, 2006
You have heard me talk before about the rise in spirituality in America. It’s true. We are becoming more and more spiritual while becoming less and less involved with the institutional church. Much of our spirituality is taking us down avenues far removed from traditional Christianity.
For a long time, we have had Shirley MacClaine and her past lives. Madonna, Demi Moore, and others have embraced the Kabbalah. We have Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and others who have turned to Scientology. In January of this year, Britney Spears had her son blessed in a Hindu temple in Malibu, California, which may have been a good thing if he spends a lot of time riding around in his mom’s car.
Eastern religions seem to be the thing nowadays. All around us we see a large segment of the pop culture that has quickly spun off into Hinduism – or at least Hinduism, sort of. One of the best examples we have is the television show “My Name Is Earl.” I will confess to you that I have seen the show exactly twice, and neither time did I watch the whole thing. So if you want to accuse me of talking about something I know nothing about, this would be a good time to do that.
Here’s my understanding of the show. The central character, Earl, bought a lottery ticket worth $100,000; but he lost it when he was hit by a car. In his hospital bed, he decided that it was karma that caused his bad luck. After a few good deeds, he got his ticket back, and that sealed the deal. He began to make a list of all the bad things he had done, so that he could fix them and cross them off the list.
Or as Alicia Keyes sings, “It’s called karma, baby. And it goes around. What goes around comes around. What goes up must come down.”
During the middle of the last century, there was a conference of religious scholars in England. They were discussing many of the great questions of the faith. One of the things that they began to discuss was the uniqueness of Christianity. What, they wanted to know, was unique about Christianity?
One scholar said that the incarnation was unique. That was soon put to rest when it was noted that there were other religions in history which believed that their particular god came to earth in the form of a human being.
Another scholar said that resurrection must be the unique aspect of Christianity but another participant at the conference reminded him that there have been other religions in history which have believed that their particular god-in-human-form was resurrected.
Te discussion continued until C.S. Lewis spoke up. He said that the unique aspect of Christianity was grace, or the idea that God’s love comes to us free if charge with no strings attached. It is only Christianity, Lewis noted, in which God’s love is unconditional. That blows Earl and his karma out of the water.
The Scripture text for today from Hebrews is about grace – unmerited acceptance from God. Grace is what turns karma on its ear.
Let’s go back to the Old Testament for a minute. Throughout the formative years of the Hebrew people, God developed quite a complicated system of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Ritual blood from sacrificed animals flowed freely around the altars of ancient Israel. Once a year, you will remember, they celebrated the Day of Atonement, when a sacrifice would be made by the high priest for the sins of all the people (Leviticus 16).
With the coming of Jesus, God continued to fulfill his promises to forgive sin, but he accomplished it in a much different manner. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says it this way. “Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it. Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in” (10:11-12).
Let me pull a few lessons out of this Scripture text. The first lesson is found in the grace of forgiveness. The sacrifice of Jesus was a sacrifice of grace. Before the coming of Christ, the sacrifices for remission of sins needed to be repeated continually. With the once-and-for-all-sacrifice of Jesus, all of those other sacrifices became unnecessary. The sacrifice of Christ became the final and only necessary sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
The sacrifice of Jesus is final. Even though we will all sin again, the price has already been paid; the sacrifice already has been made. We are fit for heaven and made perfect even before we arrive. All it takes is an honest effort to acknowledge our sins and seek forgiveness. There is no way to earn any more grace than we have already been given. Earl may believe that we can undo the bad in our lives and get some good karma, but we can’t do that. Jesus has already done it. That’s grace.