Dave Boon and his wife June and a 13-year-old boy, Gary Martinez were headed to a youth group ski trip when they were slammed over a guardrail by tons of snow avalanching down the hillside. It was tossed clear of the avalanche by a tree that the car struck and was left upside-down and pointed back up the hill. Freeing themselves, they were amazed there were no serious injuries.
In reflecting on the accident David said, “The signs say, 'Avalanche Area, No Stopping,' We've driven by their hundreds of times…. We have skied avalanche chutes, worn (emergency) beepers, always carried an avalanche shovel. We've seen avalanches. But in our wildest dreams, we never imagined getting hit in a car by one (O’Driscoll)."
Jesus comes as the unexpected one. His incarnation was debated, prayed for, and sought but as the warrior king who would displace Rome. N.T. Wright wrote,
"Christmas is not about the living God coming to tell us everything's all right. John's gospel isn't about Jesus speaking the truth and everyone saying: "Of course! Why didn't we realize it before?" It is about God shining his clear, bright torch into the darkness of our world, our lives, our hearts, our imaginations—and the darkness not comprehending it. It's about God, God as a little child, speaking words of truth, and nobody knowing what he's talking about (Wright)."
John 1:11 says it best, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” But do we receive Him? Not the Jesus we want Him but as who He is? America’s Four Gods is a 2010 book in which two Baylor professors attempt to define and describe our view of ‘moral authority’. Their novel study method was to extrapolate their answers by “our conception of God to determine whether and how our theological ideas matter for politics and culture (Anderson). Their multiple conception of god flows out of an 85% agreement that God is loving. From this comes a concept of god that is authoritative, benevolent, critical, or distant. None of them reflect the “only begotten son” of the gospels.
From the gospel, recall Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth in which his neighbors say “isn’t this Joseph’s boy” Lu 4:22. Jonah expected God’s to be gracious. That’s why he ran the opposite way the first time God called him. Look at the beginning of chapter 4,
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord … “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? …for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” 4:1-2.
In Mark 6 Jesus returns to Nazareth and is rejected. Verses 3-4 reads, “And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” The people knew Jesus. Jesus was a known quantity. Everyone knew where Jesus was supposed to do and what He was expected to say. Before we shake our heads at their lack of faith let me ask, how much do we appreciate God’s grace?
Jonah knew God was gracious. Jonah never mentions repentance at all in his message. Yet “the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put-on sackcloth, from the greatest...to the least of them” 3:5. God’s graciousness seems to overflow when people repent.
Let me suggest you sit down this afternoon and read all of Jonah. It is only four chapters but, spoiler alert it is the most unsatisfying ending for a person chosen to preach God’s love. Like a three-year-old, Jonah is left pouting on a hillside because God saved Nineveh.
“Among the attributes of God, though they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliancy than justice (Cervantes).” But do we see that when the people who are saved, preserved, rescued, or made whole people we don’t like? They may well be people we don’t know. People who we are at odds with over politics, morality, or anything else.
What I’ve come across in the lives of many people, including myself, is an attitude that says, “God will forgive me since I asked. I know God wants me to change and I’d like to…but not really.” Repentance and Grace go together.
"When grace introduces us to repentance, the two of us become best friends. When anything else introduces us to repentance, it feels like the warden has come to lock us up. But when grace gets involved, the truths of repentance reveal a fabulous world of life-freeing beauty (Thrall, McNicol and Lynch 155)."
What I find even more bothersome is how easy it becomes to separate my faith from any lasting change in my life.
The Letter of James is not written to pagans but to followers of Christ. Yet in 4:2-3, He writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” We have either heard or heard of preachers who will teach, that if we ask for it in the name of Jesus. For some people it seems that “in the name of Christ, Amen” is a spell to be cast that obligates God to be our puppet. Rick gave me a great mug that says, “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context”. That is so true.
When was the last time you asked for God’s grace? Before I started this sermon, I’d have been hard-pressed to answer that myself. We expect God’s grace. We rely on God’s grace. We assume God’s grace. But have we ever sought His grace or asked for His grace, or waited upon His grace?
One reason for my hesitancy to use God’s grace is that I’ll be expected to show grace to other people who I don’t really like. “But I say to you. You shall love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you so you may be children of your Father who is in heaven” Mt 5:44-45. A preacher friend had an image of a cross on his checks, yes that dates us. He had the bank remove them and he explained to me, “If I want to be butt to someone, I don’t want them to know I’m a Christian.”
I pray that God’s grace will surprise us in unexpected ways. I pray we might become appreciative of God’s loving-kindness that is ever-present through the Holy Spirit. I ask that we may not shy from seeking God’s grace daily. Let us pray.
Anderson, Matthew Lee. "America's Four Gods: What We Say about God--And What that Says about Us." ChristianityToday.com. 2010. Web. 23 Jan. 2021.
"Miguel De Cervantes Quotes." Quotes.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 22 Jan. 2021.
O'Driscoll, Patrick. "Avalanche Sends Travelers Tumbling". USA Today 2007: 3a. Web. 22 Jan. 2021.
Thrall, Bill, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch. True Faced. Navpress, 2003. Print.
Wright, N.T. "What Is Our World." Christianity Today 2006: Print.