“Worthy of God’s Grace?” (Is that Even the Right Question???)

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S (Scripture): Acts 12:44 On the next Sabbath, almost everyone in the city [of Antioch] gathered to hear the Lord’s word. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were overcome with jealousy. They argued against what Paul was saying by slandering him. 46 Speaking courageously, Paul and Barnabas said, “We had to speak God’s word to you first. Since you reject it and show that you are unworthy to receive eternal life, we will turn to the Gentiles. 47 This is what the Lord commanded us:

I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.”

O (Observation): Paul faces the Jews who doubt that Jesus is connected to God’s plan. They doubt that their rituals and customs should be overturned, because they cannot go along with this message that in Jesus all sins may be forgiven for those who believe. It just cannot be that simple! They have time-tested customs and Scripture to support their view.

So, Paul reminds them that Isaiah once told God’s people that they would be blinded by their own lack of acceptance for bringing Gentiles along. Thus, Israel would be a light for the Gentiles. If Jews didn’t accept God’s grace, perhaps the Gentiles would!

A (Application): God ALWAYS has in mind a welcome for people of the whole earth! Yet we continually find ways to push others out. We find ways to keep others from taking our God, as if there wasn’t enough room at the table for all of us.

Or maybe we have an idea of who God should accept, who God should (or shouldn’t) associate with. And when you see a situation going against your ideas…you get frustrated, or angry.

God doesn’t get even with you and I when we get angry at God’s grace for others. God simply points to you and I and says, “I’ve shown much grace to those folks. They may not deserve it, but I give it. Would you like to know my grace? Take up your cross and follow me. I’ll help you through it.”

May we be open to the Spirit’s movement in our lives and accept it as God’s grace for us all.

P (Prayer): Lord, soften our hearts for your will to be done in and through us this day. Amen.

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Justice and Restoration

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 42:1 But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit upon him;
he will bring justice to the nations.

3 He won’t break a bruised reed;
he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
but he will surely bring justice.

6 I, the Lord, have called you for a good reason.
I will grasp your hand and guard you, and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,
7 to open blind eyes, to lead the prisoners from prison, and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon.
8 I am the Lord; that is my name;
I don’t hand out my glory to others or my praise to idols.
9 The things announced in the past—look—they’ve already happened, but I’m declaring new things.  Before they even appear, I tell you about them.

O (Observation):  As God’s people of Israel stand almost totally decimated, a word of hope comes from God.   God declares that people can recount history’s, but only God can look forward in time to tell us what may happen.  

God declares that His servant will one day come to bring justice throughout the earth.  The servant will not fight for justice…but would live out justice, and in a new way.   The Servant will bring justice by restoring folks into community: the blind will see, the prisoners and those sitting in dungeons will be freed. 

These indeed are words of good news when you are sitting in a dungeon or cannot see, and are thus separated from one’s loved ones and friends.   

God is the one who will do justice through God’s own servant.  God will rely on no one and no other thing.   

A (Application):  In the battles that rage in our nation’s government, in the discomfort around the dinner table, God provides a ray of hope: Jesus Christ.   

Jesus wishes neither to conquer anyone nor command our words and actions.   Jesus – God’s servant described in Isaiah? – is the new thing that God has done in the history of the world.  Jesus, the Suffering Servant, has entered our governmental proceedings and sits with us at the dinner table.  

Do we let Jesus speak in these places?   Is Jesus’ version of justice allowed to be heard?

How will we live as people of hope?  How will we be living out Jesus’ justice?  Will we use our hands and voices in God’s name?   

How will we bring about restoration in the name of God?  I think of an old picture, tattered, beat up, maybe even torn…and some skilled person can reassemble the pieces and bring forth what was originally intended for the picture.    This is what justice means: being restored to our original intention, as God sees us.  

Let us remember this as we speak and act in the name of Jesus in our day.  And let us remember that OUR version of justice should always give deference to Jesus’ version: restoring outsiders to the community.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, restoration comes through you and you alone; help us to be your hand and feet and voice  Amen.   

Who’s in? Who’s out?

  S (Scripture): Matthew 15:21
After going out from there, Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that area came and cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is horribly demon-possessed!” 23 But he did not answer her a word. Then his disciples came and begged him, “Send her away, because she keeps on crying out after us.” 24 So he answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and bowed down before him and said, “Lord, help me!” 26 “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” he said. 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied,38 “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

O (Observation):  What a strange situation.  This scene almost depicts Jesus as cruel, even calling this poor woman a dog!  Why would Jesus do such a thing?  

My focus, though, is not so much on the words, but the actions.  This woman (a non-Jew) was called to believe in Jesus and what he stands for – God on earth.  Because of her faith, Jesus heals her daughter.  She recognizes that her background does not make her worthy.   But rather her faith in Jesus is what makes her worthy. 

A (Application):  What’s in the past can have a way of holding us back from what’s ahead.  Failure can make us think we are not worthy of a future victory.   We begin to tell ourselves a story that isn’t true.  

Faith is not about coming from the right family, the right background, or the right “people.”

Faith is about trusting that God will guide your future, regardless of your past.    

I don’t relate to the Canaanite woman, because I’ve been a part of the church my whole life. If anything, the story offends someone like me. I can start to feel like I deserve to be in the church and to receive Jesus’ blessing, but she doesn’t.

So because of this story, I am challenged to understand that Jesus expands the boundaries beyond those that I have established.  Mercy runs far and wide to bring in those who believe.  

Who have you written off?   What miracles of inclusion have you witnessed?   What has been the outcome?

P (Prayer):  God of all, you open our hearts and minds to your gracious will.  Give us faith to instill that good will towards those we meet today.  Amen.