The “DeeGees”: Display Grace

Good morning and Welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here on staff.  It’s an exciting day for us today – because today we’re holding an open house between 1 and 3pm and we’d invite you to come up and take a walk through of the church building.  

Our builder has created a path for us to walk through – we will not be able to go everywhere – but it will give us a chance to see the building- and as well, we’d invite you – if you’d like – to sign the beams on the wall, or write a verse or blessing for the future generations of Journey, and we’d also like to encourage you to come prepared to write the initials or some people you are praying will come to think highly enough of Jesus to trust Him with their lives.

How neat to think that maybe your friend will be sitting in Journey worshipping alongside you and you’d be able to say – I wrote your initials in that wall – I’ve been praying that you would place your faith in Jesus for quite some time.

All of that is an invitation – no problem if you’d prefer just to walk through and see the progress…  They will have the heaters running for us inside the building so it will be chilly but not frigid in there.

Prayer Time:  Praying through the Dee Gees – these are good things to pray into our kids – and today let’s use them as our guide for our prayer time together.  

Declare the Good News – Take a moment to pray for those people in your life who have yet to begin their faith Journey with the Lord.  

Father we thank you for bringing us to a place in our life where we get to hear the good news.  

Display Grace-  Ask the Father to search your heart for any attitudes you’ve been displaying that aren’t graceful – anything the Spirit of God is bringing to your attention?  Anyone that the Lord is asking you to forgive?

Do Good:  Ask the Lord what plans he has to work with and through you for you this week to bring some light into this world.  Jesus said that we will become the kinds of people that others will see our good works and glorify God as a result.  

Depend on God:  Bring your needs before the Lord.  Is anyone sick?  Pray for them.  

Sermon:

This week I was walking through the kitchen one afternoon after work and I saw a strange sight.  Two rock hard, fossilized pieces of toast in the toaster.  I wonder where they came from?  Oh year – about 12 hours ago I was in the kitchen and I was like, I gotta get me some toast!  

Some time ago I was driving to a specific location – a place I had been to a hundred times – and when I got to Cornhusker I was going to make a right hand turn…  and then I drove right by it and like a half mile later I’m like – I wonder where I’m going?  Ever happen to you?  Ever happen to you with 60 kids on your school bus?  Where we going mister?  Scheels?  I dunno. 

I’m sure you have moments you forget stuff too – and it’s funny – right?  It’s funny until it becomes concerning.

Today we are in our third week of a series that is intended to help us remember what is important to us as a church.  Next Sunday we will be celebrating our 13th birthday as a church.  We began Journey January 18th 2009 at Thomas Elementary school.

Churches, like people, have a bad habit of forgetting things, the older they get.    

And so from time to time it’s important we stop and think back and remember who we are – and what God has called us to do – and who God has called us to become.  Which is why we spending these four weeks reviewing our mission and vision as a church.

Because 13 years ago God said, I want a church like Journey in this town. But Why?  There’s plenty of great churches in Gretna?  I’ll tell you why – we have a role to play – we have a niche to fill. 

 

See – here’s the reality – every church in this town has the same mission.  It’s a missions handed to us by Jesus himself.  We find it in the first book of the New Testament – the book of Matthew – and we find it at the end of the book – in chapter 28.  There Jesus tells us our mission.  He tells his followers,  19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

So the mission of Journey Church is the same as every church – it’s to help people become followers – or apprentices – of Jesus.  

Now our vision is a little different maybe than other churches in the area.  We have a vision to be a church for people who don’t usually like church.  To be the place for people who are starting or re-starting their faith journey.   

We called our church Journey Church because we really do believe that faith is a journey, and we want to respect people who are at the beginning of their journey – so no matter where you are on your own Journey with Jesus – we’re glad you are here.  And we promise that you will be treated respectfully.  

And that includes those of you who might be unsure that God really exists. It might be weird for you to hear this inside a church but we understand there are plenty of reasons to question whether God exists – there’s plenty of reasons to not believe in God.  

And if that’s where you are – then that’s where you are – and we’re glad you are here.  And to be clear –  We will try our best to help you see that there is a God and that he is way better than you think he is – way more joyous, way more loving – and he has done everything in his power to create a way to do life with you – like two friends walking through life together – the “With God” life is wildly available to anyone who wants it.

Unfortunately, instead of the “With God” life, many people have only experiences the soul crushing joylessness of the “With Religion” life.   We started Journey with the idea of being the kind of church for people who hate that kind of lifeless religiosity.

Now – When Jody and I told our neighbors and friends that we were moving to Gretna to start a church – our neighbors in Omaha had the same question – they all asked – what kind of church are you going to start?  And we would tell them – we’re going to start a church for people who don’t like church.  

“I’ll come to that church!”  They’d reply – and we’d say – well tell us what that kind of church looks like that you would attend.  And some would say things like – we want to go to a church that actually helps people.  Others would say – we want to go to a church that uses money wisely and doesn’t spend it all on themselves –  but every single person that we spoke to mentioned in one form or other – what we are talking about today.

Every single person expressed in their own words – they wanted to go to a church that displayed Grace.  Not just talked about Grace, but displayed it.  That loved people where they were, and didn’t make people feel like they had to act like they were perfect to be a part of it.  They wanted a place where they could be authentic and loved and yes challenged toward a changed life, but always in a loving manner.

They were looking for a church that displayed grace.  

What is Grace?  Can you define it?  How would you define it?  Do you have a working definition of Grace?  I want to tell you something – Grace is one of those things that is very difficult to define.  

Author Philip Yancey tells a story about returning a rental car to Hertz, but when he walked in he realized that he was 30 minutes late returning the vehicle – and he knew the contract he signed stated the rental was good for one 24 hour period.

So he walked in and opened his wallet and said, I’m late returning this car – what do I owe you for it?  He was fully expecting them to charge him for another complete days rental.  

Instead the worker said, you don’t us anything.  We gave you a one hour grace period.  “Really?” he said, “What is Grace anyway?”  And she said, “I guess grace means not making you pay for it.”  

That’s not a bad working definition of grace, really. Grace means not making someone pay.  That’s a good place to begin to understand what we mean when we say, we display grace.

Did you know that there is not any place in the Bible that defines grace? There is no place where it says, “Grace is…”  Well I take that back.  There is one place where the words “Grace is… “appear together. – 2 Corinthians 12:9  Jesus tells the Apostle Paul, “My grace is…  all you need.” 

That’s the closest we get from a firm definition.  What is Grace?  Grace is all we need.  It’s sufficient.  It’s enough.

Even Jesus never defined the word – as a matter of fact, in the gospel books – Matthew Mark, Luke and John – Jesus never uttered the word Grace in any of his teachings or his sermons.  And yet – he is the greatest teacher of Grace the world has ever seen.

That’s because there’s more than one way to teach about a subject.  Sometimes you define a word – but sometimes you come across something that is too magnificent to be parsed.  Sometimes you come across a concept that is best understood when illustrated.  

Which is why I think Jesus so often helped us understand Grace through stories.  To help us understand the concept of Grace, Jesus told stories.    Jesus told stories of grace.  

There are two stories of Grace that Jesus tells that best illustrate the theological beauty of – not making a guy pay for it – of grace.

The first story is told by Jesus in Luke chapter 15.  It’s the story of a man who had two sons.  The older son was a really good boy.  Obedient and hardworking and never got into trouble.  The other son was a meathead.  He’s a rebel.  

One day meathead walks up to his father and says, Dad, I’ve been thinking lately that this whole working on the farm thing is for the birds.  I don’t want to be here anymore.  So I was thinking – let me be honest father – someday when you die, I’m planning to sell off my inheritance and get out of this place. 

Hey dad, you know, I’ve been thinking.  How do you feel about just giving me my inheritance now.  Let’s pretend you’re dead.  Give me my portion and let me get out of here and live my life.

The father was crushed, but he does something that seems unthinkable.  He obliges.  He sells a portion of his land and cattle and gives that money to his son.

Meathead takes off for the city and buys himself some new clothes and a nice place to live and then He hits the clubs he’s living large…  until one day he wakes up to discover – he’s used up all of his inheritance.  He’s broke!  And he needs to find a job!  But there are no jobs to be found.  

He eventually lands a job feeding pigs.  And this son soon found himself daydreaming about eating the food the pigs were eating,  that is when he came to his senses.  He thought to himself, my father is a good man – perhaps he will hire me as a servant on his farm…  Saddened, humiliated, the son decides – I’m going home.  

Now – catch this – this is what Grace looks like…    Because this story isn’t about the son – it’s about the father.   And as the son crests the hill toward his home, the father sees him coming.  The father takes off running down the driveway toward his son.  The father is sprinting down the driveway to get to his lost son.

When father and son meet, the father embraces the son. Hugs and kisses him.  

He calls to one of the servants and says, bring my son some clean clothes.  Get these filthy rags off of him.  And then prepare a feast.  Tonight we are throwing a party.  For this son of mine was once dead, but now he is alive.

Wait, where’s the tsk tsking?  Where’s the Stern lecture?  Where’s the I told you so?  Nowhere to be found.  Because the father displayed Grace.  And Grace means – not making him pay for it.  

Which seems unfair, right?  Really, actually is unfair, I suppose.  The unfairness of Grace is too much for some people to get over. Don’t miss this part of the story either…

Because Jesus continues the story – there is still the other son – the good boy who never left the farm – who did everything right.  Good-boy followed all the rules.  He never disobeyed.  He was compliant and righteous in all his actions.  And yet – on the inside there was something else going on.  Inside – he lacked grace – and instead – seethed with anger at his father for not making the rebellious son pay for it.  

See – the older brother was what Jesus would later call a white washed tomb – he was doing good – but on the inside – he was rotting away with anger and bitterness.  He lacked love and lacked grace.  

And when the father throws a party for the younger son the older brother refuses to go in.  And there is a powerful tension between the grace of the father and the ungrace of the older brother.  

But both sons are guilty of wrong.  The younger brother is unrighteous.  The older brother is self righteous.  The only truly righteous one is the Father, who is willing to embrace both sons in spite of their sins.  Both sons are sinners. Both insult the father.  Both are invited into the presence of the Father.  Only one enters in…  and it’s not the one you thought it would be.  

Grace and ungrace.  Listen – who is it in our culture who often plays the role of  the older, self righteous brother?  I’ll tell you – it’s people with too much religion.  

Not too much Jesus – you will never get too much Jesus – and the more Jesus you get the more grace you will display – the more religion you get the more likely you will be to become self-righteous.  The more likely you will be to condemn others instead of loving them.  

People with too much religion  become ungraceful.  But people who are living the “With God” life come to understand that it’s not US versus THEM.  (Whoever “they” are at the moment) – It’s not us versus them – it’s us loving them – it’s us serving them – respecting –  Praying for them. 

And helping them to understand that Our God is a grace-filled God.  He doesn’t want to make anyone pay.  He desires that NONE would perish but all would come to faith.  

Grace means not making them pay for it.

Let me share a second story of Grace –it’s my favorite parable that Jesus tells- in the book of Matthew 20.  It deals with a man who owns a farm.  And it’s harvest time.  And so the farmer heads into town to hire some day laborers to harvest the fields.  

And he heads to the town center where everyone who was looking for work would congregate – and the farmer picks and chooses his workers for the day.  If you were the farmer – what kind of people are you looking for?  People that look the most able – the strongest – the healthiest – the ones who appear to be the hardest workers.  Those are the people this farmer is looking for and after choosing the best he can find, He settles on a wage and sends them to his field.

But as the day goes on, the farmer recognizes that there is more work than workers.  And so he heads back to the town center to hire some more people.  And the second time around most of the best and brightest have been hired by other farmers – but there are still people looking for work and so he chooses a bunch more and back to the field they go…

I don’t know if maybe a storm was coming or what – but the farmer is concerned.  He wants his harvest in that day, but the workers he hired aren’t going to get it all done – so back the farmer goes – a third time at noon, a fourth time at 3pm and finally a fifth time, at 5pm.

Let me tell you something.  That last crew – the group he hires at 5pm.  That crew was the final guys left.  They would be the last kids picked on the dodgeball team.  They are not the best and brightest.  

But at the end of the day, to the shock and anger of the first ones hired, these dismal sad sacks get paid the same amount as if they have worked all day long.  

Grace seems unfair to the people used to being the first ones picked.  And the first hired – in spite of the fact they were paid exactly what they were promised – complain loudly about the generosity and kindness of the Farmer.

It’s interesting that both of these stories carry both an invitation and a warning.  It’s an invitation to drink deeply from the beautiful fountain of God’s Grace – it’s an invitation to come to place your faith in Jesus – to become saved by grace through faith in Jesus.  Through faith, by grace, God isn’t going to make us pay for our sins. 

But there is also a warning.  And a warning – specifically to the religious – don’t get sucked into ungrace.  

In the stories we heard this morning – the Father and the Farmer are both symbol’s of God our Father.  And in these stories we have characters – the rebellious son and the last one’s picked – who are on the receiving end of grace – it is only received – never earned.   

But both of these stories also have characters who struggle with Grace.  Characters of Ungrace.

It’s as if Jesus places both of these characters – grace and ungrace – in front of us and is asking us – which character are you going to be?  Are you grace, or are you ungrace?

People need to decide which they will be.  You need to decide which you will be.  Grace or ungrace?  Are you going to make them pay?  Or are you going to display grace?   As you go, so goes Journey Church.  

Let’s never forget that we were the ones that God displayed Grace toward.  The entire world is runs on the pattern – break the rules – make them pay.  But God inserts a strikingly different pattern.  On the cross Jesus took the anger -and we get love; Jesus took the punishment and we get forgiveness.

Imagine being a church for the mess-ups; the failures; the prodigals and the last picked. Imagine being a church for the formerly proud, the reformed older brother.  

Let’s be a church filled with people who display grace.  Will you lead the way?