Life Explained: Thoughts On Grace & Mercy

Today’s sermon was fun to think about. And to preach. There were times when I channeled my inner southerner and almost asked to hear an “Amen!”

Sort of.

Audio is here – enjoy!

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Life Explained: Thoughts On Grace & Mercy

In case you did not hear – coming from the church this week – the screaming and shouting, the running around, the enthusiastic reciting of memory bible verses, the boisterous karaoke and the animated countdown for yet another pie in the face for a good cause, I am hear to tell you that this past week was Vacation Bible School at Rehoboth Congregational Church.

I think we are all a little bit tired.

But it was a great week. Kilian, you coordinated an unbelievable event; parents and volunteers, your time and talents fueled the enthusiasm that was needed throughout the week and teen helpers, thank you for your hard work and your consistency.

This year’s theme for Vacation Bible School was S.C.U.B.A. – Super Cool Undersea Bible Adventures. The kids looked at Noah’s Ark and the flood, Jonah and the whale, Jesus’ baptism, Jesus walking on water and Jesus calling his disciples to be fishers of men.

I had the opportunity to spend a little bit of time with the kids each morning before they went off to their classes and then again when they came back to Fellowship Hall to wrap it up for the day. One of the things that we went over their ‘memory verses’, a bible verse that pertained to the day’s lesson that we encouraged them to recite and memorize every day. Each day there was a new memory verse.

On Wednesday morning, I had a really interesting reaction to the memory verse. The kids were getting ready to learn about Jesus’ baptism. Jesus was baptized on the Jordan River by John the Baptist and as Jesus was coming out of the water the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him – like a dove, the Gospel of Mark says. The verse that followed was the kids’ memory verse for the day: “You are my Son, and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”

After we recited the verse a couple of times, I asked the kids what they thought it meant. “Who was speaking?” I asked them. “God!” was the unanimous shout. “Who was God speaking to?” I followed up. “Jesus!” Again – unanimous.

I looked at the kids and I said, “Yes, it was God speaking; and yes, God was speaking to Jesus because Jesus was his son. But do you think that God also says those words to every single one of you because you are all God’s children?”

Silence.

Now let me tell you something, silence was extremely hard to come by this week! But in that moment a connection was made for all of those kids. And their eyes were opened wide and they realized that they, too, were children of God just like Jesus was; that God loves them and that God is pleased with and proud of them.

It is easy to get caught up in ‘our world’. It is easy to get caught up in what is going on here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, in the Rehoboth and the surrounding areas, in the United Church of Christ, in our families, in the United States and in 2011. There are days when we are focused on survival; there are days when we are focused on how we are going to make ends meet today, how we are going to make worship meaningful today, how we are going to help everyone get along in our present community, how we are making sense of our faith right now. Sometimes it is hard not to get sucked into the vacuum of ‘our world’.

But the Christian Faith does not exist in a vacuum!

In this morning’s epistle, Paul told the church in Rome that he himself was an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. You see at the time there was a movement going through the emerging Christian Church called “supersessionism”. Supersessionism was a belief that the new covenant in Christ that was made, the belief that salvation came through Jesus Christ alone, replaced – or superseded – the covenants of the Old Testament, the covenants of Moses and of Abraham. The thinking behind supersessionism was that now that we know the truth, we can throw away all of that Judaic history and move forward with a new Christian beginning.

Paul said no. Paul pushed back against the notion that Christianity had just replaced Judaism and that thousands of years of faith should be erased from our history so that we could just start over at the resurrection. In this letter to the church at Rome, Paul was saying, “Look! I am a follower of Christ, I am preaching the Good News and yet I am still a descendent of Abraham.” Paul was not willing to let go of the truth that we are all – all – connected by God’s grace and God’s mercy.

My college chaplain had a benediction that he used every week in worship that used to give me chills. It said something to the effect of, “May the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth, the God of Martin and Coretta and the God of you and me bless us all as we leave this place.”

Now Rev. Rice’s research was rooted primarily in religion and the Civil Rights Movement, so the reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King had a much deeper meaning in this context. But – how incredible is it to think that the God that told Noah to build an ark and to protect his family, that the God that gave Moses the 10 Commandments, that the God that called the prophets of the Old Testament, that the God that said to Mary, “You will bear my son,” that the God that Jesus cried out to in his last moments on the cross, that the God that every single one of the pastors pictured on that back wall – your pastors here at Rehoboth Congregational Church – prayed to and worshipped every week is the same God that is here with us today. It is the same God whom we worship, who comforts us when we cry, who celebrates with us when we rejoice and who showers us with grace and with mercy.

We are not living in a vacuum. We are part of something much, much greater.

It has been a very difficult summer for a lot of people in our community. When Church School finished up for the year back in June, I looked at our Prayer Shawl supply on the altar and thought that there were plenty to carry us into the fall when we could do another blessing with the children. But last week, I took a count after church and realized that there were only four left on the altar. To me, that is extremely indicative of the pain and the hurting that has gone on both in the lives of members of our community and in the lives of those whom we love and care for. And so I planned to do a blessing this morning – before I even looked at the scriptures for this week. But, oh how well it is all coming together!

These prayer shawls are more than just a token of our prayers given to those in our community and beyond. These prayer shawls are a visible reminder of what Paul is saying in this morning’s scripture. Paul was saying that we cannot just live within a vacuum of the world that we are physically and presently living in. Paul was saying that we are all descendants of Abraham, that we are children of God, baptized by the same waters and affirmed like Jesus was at his baptism when God says, “You are my sons and my daughters, and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”

If we truly, truly want to live out God’s call for us all in the world, we have to – have to – think beyond the world that we exist in right here, right now. We are servants of and for one another, for our brothers and our sisters in past, present and future generations all around the world bound together by God’s grace and God’s mercy.

Rejoice in the good news that we are not alone. But Feel called by the truth that we are not alone. Open yourselves up to something greater. And know that God’s grace and mercy will always, always be with you.

I am going to close by reading this week’s lectionary Psalm. Psalm 67, The Nations Called To Praise God:

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.

God will bless us. All of us. Amen.

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