(Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 51:1-10, 1 Timothy 1:12-17)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/82EZf1H3E5c)
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In honor of our new men’s group kicking off this last week, I want to begin with a story about two pastors who were on their way to Atlanta, Ga. for a large Christian men’s gathering. One of them had never been in the south before. After staying in a motel overnight, they stopped at a nearby restaurant for breakfast. When their meal was delivered, the pastor who had never been south before saw this white, mushy looking stuff on his plate. When the waitress came by again he asked her what it was. “Grits,” she replied. “Ma’am, I didn’t order it and I’m not paying for it,” exclaimed the pastor. “Sir, down here you don’t order it and you don’t pay for it, you just get it.”
Now how often does that ever happen?! How often do we receive anything that we neither asked for nor paid for?! Sure, unexpected gifts were common in childhood but then we grew up. Each of us inevitably learned such ‘wonderful’ expressions like, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch lunch.” The older we got, the more we realized that pretty much everything came with a price. Nothing is free in life, everything has a cost. Want good health? Then eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. Want good grades? Then study hard and learn the material. Want good friends? Then become a loving, giving person. Want a good job or career? Then work hard and be trustworthy. Want a good marriage? Well, I’m still figuring the cost for that one! Want good children? Again, stumbling my way through that cost!! But I think you get the point. There is truth to those expressions we learn at an early age. Pretty much anything good in this life seems to come with a cost. Unless, of course, you live in the south…
But southern grits aside, there is something else that has always been given unexpectedly and free of charge—the grace of God. God, in his boundless mercy and compassion, has always been eager to bestow grace upon us. God loves us! God only wants the best for us! And because of this, God is more than willing to forgive us for all the mistakes we make in our lives. God is more than willing to forgive us for all the sins we commit, for the all the evil we unleash in the world, because He loves us and wants only the best for us. We are his beloved children! God lifts us up when we have fallen. God gives us second and third and fourth and endless chances to live our lives in a way that brings glory to him. God wants us to live gloriously! God created us to live gloriously! And God’s love for us is so deep, so lasting, and so profound that we can’t even begin to understand it. But be assured that God is committed to us. Not only committed, but invested in us. God is committed and invested in his relationship with us.
This is no more apparent than in our passage from Exodus. Recall how Moses led the slaves of Israel out of bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. He led them through the parted waters of the Red Sea and brought them to Mount Sinai where he was able to meet with God. While he was up on the mountain top receiving the ten commandments, the freed slaves became unruly and doubtful. They created false gods and behaved inappropriately. God was greatly displeased with his people, so much so that He threatened to destroy them and start anew with a different people. But as we heard in our passage, Moses was able to convince God to spare the people and show them his unending grace and mercy. And how did Moses persuade God? By reminding God of his commitment to and investment in the people. “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” God’s grace was shown yet again. Not only had He brought the people out of their bondage to slavery but continued to show mercy on them even as they behaved blasphemously. Thus is the depth and breadth of God’s grace for his beloved children. It is one thing to save a loved one from disaster, it is a whole different thing to continue to save a loved one from disaster when they fail to appreciate and respect the one who saved them in the first place! God loved his people so much that He was willing to forgive them for their persistently sinful ways. And God loves US with such longstanding and forgivable love! God’s grace is unlike any other grace! God loves us so richly, so mercilessly, so everlastingly that He gives grace upon grace.
The parable of the lost sheep in our gospel passage further illustrates God’s grace. We, like the Pharisees, often believe we know who deserves God’s grace and who doesn’t. We believe the one who gives the most, the one who prays the most, or the one who loves the most deserves God’s grace more than others. We believe they’ve paid the greater cost in earning God’s grace. But these beliefs couldn’t be further from the truth about God’s grace. No, God’s grace is for both those who do nothing and those who do many things. And like those good old southern grits, there is no cost to God’s grace. We can’t pay for God’s grace. It is freely given by our loving God. We can’t work our way into God’s good graces. God gives to both the deserving and the undeserving alike. For us who have learned at an early age that there ‘ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,’ this is radically good news. Indeed, there IS a free lunch with God!
So as we continue along our journey through Pentecost, let us rejoice in the good gift of God’s grace. God forgives the wayward and searches for the lost among us to share his unexpected, free grace. God loves all of us, both sinner and non-sinner alike. God wants to be in relationship with all of us. Let us appreciate God’s grace for the gift that it is. Let us be grateful that God’s grace isn’t just a grace for the few but rather a…grace for all.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.