The Life Raft of Grace Everyone’s in

A sermon based on Acts 2:14, 36-41
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on April 30, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott

A man died and went to heaven and Peter met him at the pearly gates. Peter explained “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me why you should get in and I give you a certain number of points for each item. When you reach 100 points, you’re in.”
“Okay,” the man said, and then after pondering a moment, he proudly went on, “Well, I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated.” “Why, that’s wonderful,” Peter said, “that’s worth three points!”

“Three points?” The man was more than a little disappointed. He thought awhile and said, “Well, um, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with tithes and service and kindness to the pastor.” “Awesome! that’s certainly worth a point.” said Peter.

“One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.” “Fantastic” Peter pointed out, “that’s good for two more points.”

“TWO POINTS?!! YIKES! At this rate the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God!” Peter smiled, “That’s more like it. Grace is the answer worth 100 points for everyone. Come on in!”

In today’s lesson, if we listen carefully, Peter in this Pentecost story tells a similar thing to the gathered, not at the pearly gates, but on earth

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” [,Peter says, ]“so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

God calls all of humankind to him (or her). And as we heard the promise of the gift is for all, even “ALL who are far away.” Indeed Peter preached from Joel just prior TO the words in our lesson pointing out that “ALL” meant, well . . . all– everyone young, old, men, women, sons, daughters, slaves and free. Listen to this snippet from verses 17-18:

“God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

The Spirit is poured upon ALL flesh. Honest! Everyone is loved by God. And everyone gets the grace of God.

I’ve pointed out before how grace is so amazing that in the Bible it saves everyone. In a recent Adult Forum there was a little discussion around this topic, and what seemed like some surprise. Many of us have been told we have to do something to merit grace. But see if God’s love really truly has no strings attached, then neither can God’s grace. Indeed Grace literally means “Unmerited favor.” It’s a gift. No work, no doctrine, no prayer, no incantation, no exact belief in our heart is required. We just get Grace. Period. I know that may sound heretical to some, but it’s quite Biblical.

Many assert that God’s grace has strings attached. Such theological claims tend to be boiled down to something like “God loves us, but we have to do something or believe something – that they claim God requires– otherwise we are going to hell when we die.” That logically would mean that both God’s love and grace have condirtions attached–because under that line of thinking they – God’s love and grace– are conditioned on some act, some meritorious “works,” we have to do. In other words, strings are attached to them. I’ve pointed before that the “God loves us” part of that theology –and the Bible– makes all the rest of “God loves you but you are going to hell theology” incomprehensible. Why? Because the Bible teaches over and over that God’s love is steadfast and endures forever. (E.g., Ps 136). It’s there all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. Any teaching, doctrinal or scriptural interpretation to the contrary flies in the face of that reality.

The Apostle Paul in the earliest writings in the New Testament shuts the door on any notions that we can be separated from God’s love when he writes in Romans 8 (38-39) this beautiful phrase

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As a part of that awesome never ever ending love, God gives everyone Grace.

Grace is defined in my Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms as “God’s goodness toward humanity as expressed in the unmerited, undeserved favor given supremely in Jesus Christ to bring salvation, forgiveness and new life.”

It’s long been a Christian belief, a tenet, that grace means Jesus saves not because we do anything – like accept Jesus into our hearts– but because of what Jesus did for us, for everyone just as we are, ready or not. No work is required by scripture, what the New Testament often refers to as the law. Indeed that’s what the Apostle Paul believed and preached. Paul famously writes in Galatians (2:15-16) that “ a person is justified not by works of the law . . . no one will be justified by works of the law.”

In other words we do not have to follow scriptural rules and do good deeds to get grace. Grace is already ours. Right now. No matter what. Sin or no sin we –everyone– has God’s grace.

In Romans 5 Paul writes more elaborately on grace and I think Eugene Patterson’s The Message captures it nicely by putting Paul’s ideas into these words:

we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!

The Apostle Paul.

Jesus is sacrificed by Rome in a terrible and bloody death, but Christians understand – in one way or another– that God did not let that sacrifice be for naught. As the passage I just read from The Message puts it so refreshingly, everyone at their worst was “put on friendly terms with God.”

Jesus himself claimed the same sort of thing when he pointed out that God “makes [the] sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) . And Peter made this clear in Acts 10 (29) when he said “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” See we are all already saved. Everyone is. No one is profane or unclean in God’s sight . . . as a matter of Grace.

Grace is free for everyone. No one has to do anything for it. Whatever it is people and entities imagine our sinful nature might have caused in terms of rejection by God (non-love or non-grace from God) under the earliest Christian theology that’s been invalidated, ended eternally–forever.

A metaphoric image I like to use is that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection did not toss a life raft into the rough sea of existence that we have to reach out and work in anyway to climb into. What Jesus’ life, death and resurrection actually did was put everyone in the life raft. Theologically, no one is at odds with God in any way.

Listen again to The Message passage:

“[T]here is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life!

When the apostles are asked in our lesson this morning “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter tells them “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The point, as Peter emphatically notes is, to “Save []ourselves from this corrupt generation.” It is not save ourselves from a vengeful god or eternal punishment. It is about salvation on earth from lesser ways of living. It’s about expanding and deepening our lives and those around us by means of Jesus’ resurrection life! A life that goes on calling us to a better way of being NOW on EARTH with EVERYONE in the life raft Jesus is understood to provide ALL of humanity

“The Jesus event” saves us from whatever humankind theologically imagined our sinful nature caused in terms of rejection, non-love or non-grace from God.

The point of repenting (which means turning toward God) and being baptized is not to alter fate after life, but to alter fate, life, on the life raft (earth) that all of humanity is on. Basically its about our response to grace being that we ACT grace-full – generating salvation in our lives and the lives of others. It’s about bringing heaven ways to the life raft earth, making life on earth a better place . . . for everyone.

Jesus’ Way while he was alive was about saving the world and self from the lesser way of being on earth. Jesus’ Way post Easter while he lives on eternally is about the same thing.It’s about bringing heaven to earth – salvation– for the living. Once Jesus was killed that Way did not end. God, on Easter, rose it up again. His first followers’ experienced Jesus after his death and they kept his Way going. The Pentecost Spirit is sent to keep it going on in and through us.

Sticking with the life raft idea, it’s not about getting in the raft to be saved, we are in the raft. It’s about being saved from a worse way of being in the raft together. To put it in the positive, it is about well being on the life raft of life that God graces all of us with. That’s why Peter can be heard in Romans 5 exclaiming “just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life!”

Jesus Way is about having the best life individually and collectively. It’s about expanding and deepening our lives and those around us by means of Jesus’ resurrection life – a life that goes on calling us to a better way of being NOW on EARTH with EVERYONE!

God has blessed us, favored us, graced us with life and a means of salvation from our living together poorly by instead living together grace-fully on Jesus’ love soaked Way. That’s God’s grace– a Grace for everyone all the time. 2.

AMEN.

ENDNOTES:
1. Modified version of a joke I found at https://www.cleanjoke.com/humor/Grace-Of-God.html
2. Laughlin, Richard, Remedial Christianity, this book influenced a lot of my ideas on grace, especially at pages 171-200.

COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED