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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Do Not Receive the Grace of God in Vain - June 21, 2015 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

A few weeks ago we celebrated Mother’s day. Today, in order not to show favoritism, we celebrate Father’s day. One of my favorite sayings about fathers is this: “anyone can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a daddy.” It is true, “anyone can be a father,” especially in our world today, “but it takes a special person to be a daddy.” We hear a lot of talk about fathers, and even mothers, spending quality time with their children. I think we should encourage, not just the spending of quality time but, the spending of quantity time with children. I have never heard a child or an adult say, I wish my father would not have spent so much time with me. Or, I wish my father would have been gone away at work more often and for longer hours. As it is, as we have heard over the past two weeks, our time on this earth is fast and fleeting. Our time on this earth is a mere handbreadth as the Psalmist reminds us. Now is the time to be a good daddy because as Paul reminds us in our text for today, we will not live forever on this earth.
 
Most of us remember the second commandment, that we are not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain. We understand this commandment to mean that we are not to misuse God’s name because His name is holy. We are not to curse or falsely swear by His name. We are not to lie or deceive others by the way we use His name. We are not to seek palm readers, fortune tellers, nor refer to horoscopes and the like. Instead, we are to rightly use God’s name, calling on Him, especially using His name in times of trouble, we are to praise Him, pray to Him and give thanks to Him. In these ways, we do not take the name of the Lord our God in vain. In our text for this morning Paul urges us not to receive God’s grace in vain. May the Holy Spirit guide us as we understand what Paul means so that we do not receive the grace of God in vain, but for our eternal well being.
 
Our text begins with Paul reminding us of the gifts of God. Paul says, “1Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,” (v. 1-3). Paul begins by reminding us that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to give us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. The way he says this is that “working together with him,” that is with the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, Paul appeals to us to not receive these gifts of the grace of God in vain.
 
How does one receive the grace of God in vain? One receives God’s grace in vain when a person makes a practice of referring to the Redeemer, but himself trusts in his own merits. And, unfortunately, this happens to us, even to us Christians, many times in our lives. We have a tendency to talk a good talk. We talk about how we believe in Jesus. We talk about how we believe the Lord will take care of us. And then we practice something different. We fret and worry. We get overly concerned about our own situations in life. We worry about monies. We worry about problems. We worry about temptation and sin. We worry and worry and worry. What we are doing is trusting in ourselves instead of trusting in God. We are receiving God’s grace in vain.
 
Paul reminds us that Jesus has taken care of everything. Notice that this is past tense. This is a completed action. We are given to. This is all past, completed action and passive action on our part. We do nothing to earn our salvation. We do nothing to merit our salvation. If anything, we get in the way. We make things worse. We put our faith in ourselves instead of in our Lord.
 
And so, Paul encourages us, in our struggles. He says, “4but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, 7by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (v. 4-10). Paul previously reminded us that in good times, in favorable times we do not have a problem being a Christian. But now he asks, how do we react during times of struggles? How do we handle adversity? Do we handle adversity and struggles with joy or with bitterness? Paul outlines our struggles at times of affliction, hardship, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger and so forth. And lest we think we may be immune to these struggles and afflictions, perhaps we better think again. As Christianity is outlawed in many countries in our world, there may come a day, real soon, when it is outlawed here in our country. Paul suggests, that as Christians, our reaction will be patience, kindness, living lives full of the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, with truthful speech and in the power of God. In other words, Paul suggests that as Christians we will handle struggles with joy and not bitterness.
 
How we handle adversity is important because the world will see how we react and how we handle adversity. Our handling of adversity may be either a great influence on the world, or it may be a stumbling block. Of course, this simply mirrors our Savior’s affect on the world. For some, Jesus is a stumbling block. For others He is the very cornerstone and foundation of faith. For some, to believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life is a stumbling block because they like to believe in tolerance, in a tolerant god and in many ways to some type of eternal enlightenment. Too many in our world do not want an intolerant god, because an intolerant god will not allow for them to do their own thing. And so, what happens is, instead of believing in the One True God, too many people believe in themselves and they become their own idols. Thus, Jesus becomes a stumbling block. For others, especially for those who see that they cannot save themselves, for those that see that there is only one true God, only one true religion of grace, only one way to heaven, Jesus is the cornerstone of faith.
 
And finally, Paul speaks words of encouragement. He says, “11We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” (v. 11-13).  Paul is speaking words of love and concern as he describes himself as his heart is wide open. Paul encourages us to speak to others in the same way. And yes, this does mean we may be putting ourselves into situations where we may be vulnerable. We may get hurt, emotionally, psychologically, mentally. I guess the only words of encouragement I can give is to think about what our Lord has done for us. Our Lord created us. He redeemed us. He continues to love us. And what happens. Time and again we fail. We mess up. We sin and we sin boldly. We hurt Him. Ultimately we hurt Him by nailing Him to a cross. And yet, He still opens Himself wide open for us, He still loves us.
 
When we are hurt, how does that affect our affections? When we get hurt, do we still love others. Here, the only comparison I can make is the comparison of parents or grandparents, and children. We love our children and when our children hurt us, do we get angry and desire to get even, or do we forgive and continue to love?
 
How do we live “wide open” heart lives? We live “wide open” heart lives by inviting others to be a part of our lives, by making our lives inviting lives, by making our church an inviting church. We love “wide open” heart lives by not receiving the grace of God in vain. We bless those who curse us. We love those who hate us. We pray for our enemies. All the things we do not do naturally, but with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we do imperfectly.
 
What does this mean? Because of our nature, our inborn human nature, we do tend to receive God’s grace in vain. Especially when life is going smoothly, when we are not having too difficult of a time in our life, during these times we have a tendency to talk about Jesus, but more often than not, we still put more trust in ourselves. At times we have a difficulty in that we compartmentalize our lives. When we are at church we talk about Jesus and our faith in Him. When we are sick or having a difficult time with life, when we are having struggles, we may pray more during that time of our lives. But when push comes to shove, instead of trusting in God to do the right thing, we rather trust in our own human knowledge and abilities. We trust the doctor and his opinion. We trust our savings and our own financial standing. We trust our own opinions. Yes, we naturally trust more in our own selves rather than trusting in our Lord.
 
And we tend, again, because of our nature, to be stumbling blocks. We tend to refuse the gifts God has to give and instead to rely on ourselves and our own resources. We tend to want to rely on our own good works, thinking that we are not so bad a person, after all we have never actually stolen anything, at least not on purpose. We have never actually killed anyone. We do not think bad thoughts, well at least not too bad of thoughts about others. We do not do the awful things other people do. And what we fail to realize is that until we recognize how sinful we really are, then we cannot begin to fathom how great God’s love and grace really is.
 
We tend, once more, because of our nature, to not live “wide open” heart lives. When we get hurt, we keep to ourselves. We do not want to be open to being hurt again. We tend to be protective of ourselves. We do not reach out to others, again, because we do not want to get hurt.
 
The good news is that Jesus has already done everything for us. He has been tempted for us. He has suffered all the temptations and even greater temptations than we suffer. He has been hurt, humiliated, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, physically hurt more than we might ever imagine. He has taken care of all our sins. He has done everything for us. And more, He continues, through the sending of the Holy Spirit, to do everything for us. He continues to work and move in us to do those things we have not done and those things we cannot, because of our nature, do ourselves. He continues to keep His heart “wide open” for us knowing that we will hurt Him more, time and again.
 
Both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel lesson speak well of our nature as human beings. How often we tend to be like Job and question God, when we have no right to question Him. And how often we tend to be like the disciples, unbelieving and of little faith. And in both instances, God shows Himself to be almighty, all powerful, all everything. And God does not get angry because of our lack of faith. Instead, He continues to open Himself up to us, pouring His grace out on us and giving us all His good gifts and blessings. What a great God we have. What a gift giving God we have. What a grace giving God we have. And as Paul urges us, so I urge you, do not receive the grace of God in vain.
 
God the Holy Spirit works in us to give us faith, to strengthen and keep us in faith, so that we may face the struggles that lie ahead in life, so that we do not harden our hearts, so that we do not become stumbling blocks to others because of our bitter attitude, but that our hearts might be wide open, freely expressing our love for others. And our response is just that, a response, a response of faith which says, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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