Sermon Text: Matthew 14:13-21
Sometimes I think we don't want to believe in grace.
It is easier, more rational, simpler, faster, more efficient to act as though miracles have a more basic explanation. The feeling of lack of control is fun for a minute, for some people, on an amusement park ride, but basically entrusting our life to that feeling is like wearing Keds (flat soled sneakers) as ice skates- no purchase, no control, slow progress. The idea of grace is amazing, but regular dependence on the stuff is a risky business. We've all had enough of a taste of grace to believe it's real, but most of the people I encounter still seem to believe that God's main currency is pain, shame, and punishment.
Recently, a person talked to me about a situation that was grieving them. After spilling out a story of a friend's pain and trauma, the person said, "I believe that God is doing this to bring my friend to her knees. That way she will come back to the Lord. It's the only way." [Insert Pastor Poker Face] Further into the conversation, the person asked, "Do you think God is doing this for the purpose I stated?"
I carefully said, "I believe that understanding is bringing you relief and consolation right now."
I did not say, "No, I do not think that for one second. If those who have seen the Son have seen the Father, does this sound like something Jesus would do? Does that sound like a God who pursues with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives? Does this sound like the God who renews covenants and considers them irrevocable?" (John 1, Psalm 23, Romans 11)
How can we hold the idea of amazing grace in the same hearts that believe in a punishing and vengeful God?
Is God jealous? Sure, God is frustrated by our daily attempts at control, our casual idolatry, and our lack of trust.
Does God correct us? Yes, but we are corrected within the context of being yoked to Jesus, the pain we feel is likely the pull and tension of our attempts to go a way other than that to which the Lord leads.
Does God cause pain and grief and sorrow? This goes hand in hand with the theory of substitutionary atonement: that God was so angry, a sacrifice was required to appease the Divine and Jesus was that sacrifice. If we believe that kind of deity is the ground and source of all that is, we do not fundamentally have a sin problem, we have a god problem.
If grace is true- a continuous and renewing sign of God's character and covenant-keeping- then the pain that exists in the world does not come from God. It comes from the forces that oppose God. It comes from the sin that exists in us and is manifested in our choices, thoughts, and deeds. It comes from the continuous pursuit of control that exists within humanity and the idolatries that grow out of that pursuit.
This week's gospel reading, Matthew's version of the feeding of the multitude, talks about Jesus' compassion. In the wake of learning of his cousin's murder, Jesus continued to heal the people who came to him for healing. He multiplied food so that people who were used to hand-to-mouth living could know the momentary grace of fullness. It seems likely that the people there responded to his miracle by the miracle of sharing what they also had. And the scriptures tell us repeatedly that Jesus is God. When we see the Son, we have seen the Father. The character and actions of the Son reveal the character and nature of the One who sent him. If the unity, but not uniformity of the Trinity holds through that description- then it seems a safe conclusion that Jesus also reveals and speaks to the nature and character of the Holy Spirit.
God, Holy Parent, Holy Child, Holy Spirit, then is a God of abundance, a God who does not discriminate, a God who shows compassion, a God who is not cowed in the face of opposition, a God who heals, nourishes, and satiates (fills to enough!).
Is this, then, a God who seeks to drive us to our knees, to stir us to pain, to arm-twist us into faith?
Does this sound like a God at the ready to shame, blame, and frame us as wrong-doers and horrible people?
In order to live into the discipleship to which we have been called, in order to imitate Jesus in our daily lives, in order to be Christians- little Christs- in the world- we must wholeheartedly believe that grace is true.
Not only that, we must believe that grace is true, but also that it is abundant.
Not only that, we must believe that grace is true, abundant, and bigger than we can fully understand.
Grace welcomes, grace heals, grace feeds... and there are always leftovers.
I'm often told that people (you!) don't really like the idea of salvation being beyond our efforts... as in, there is nothing we can do to earn it. If we struggle with the fact that we do not earn our salvation, that Jesus has done that work for us and for all people, then we are struggling, in fact, with the idea that grace is true.
Just because earning our salvation is off the table doesn't mean there's nothing to do. There's all that grace to respond to. All that grace that is pushing us into the world. All that grace that moves us toward the work of listening, feeding, healing, praying, visiting, clothing, and advocating.
What does it mean to be evangelical. It means to carry good news.
Our good news is the news of Jesus Christ. It is the same good news that was learned, consumed, shared, and carried away from that hill in Palestine in 31 C.E./A.D. Grace is true and there's more than enough to go around.