Today we begin a new series called “God’s Gift and Our Response.” The idea behind this series is that God gives us many good and wonderful gifts that we need. But a gift does not give its intended benefit if the one receiving the gift does not open the gift and use it. You could be given the greatest gift in the world, but if the gift sits in the corner unopened, that gift will have no benefit in your life. So through this series, we want to encourage you to reflect on the many gifts God has given you, and how you respond to those gifts. In today’s sermon we are thinking about God’s gift of mercy and our response of worship and the three points of the sermon are the depth of our trouble, the breadth of God’s mercy and our response of whole person worship.
I. The Depth of our trouble.
First, the depth of our trouble. Let me begin by saying that the depth of our trouble does not depend at all on our perception. A person can be in very grave danger and not even know it. For example, many years ago, before Susan and I were married, I went to a dentist to have my wisdom teeth pulled. After the surgery I had a milkshake, which was a big mistake. As many of you know, when you get your wisdom teeth pulled, an open hole is left in your gum where each tooth used to be. When I sucked on that milkshake through a straw, I created a partial vacuum in my mouth which drew the ingredients of the milkshake into my mouth and right into one of those open holes in my gum. About four days later, on a Sunday evening, I developed a swelling and severe pain on one side of my lower jaw. My Dad drove me 150 kilometres to the hospital in our home town where I was diagnosed with an abscess and admitted. After a few days of IV antibiotics, the swelling went down and I was released. Later, my sister Kathryn who was a brain injury nurse at the time, said that the abscess could have just as easily formed in my brain as in my jaw and caused me to have brain damage. I never knew how much trouble I was in.
As things are with our health, so it is with our destiny. Every human being can be in very grave trouble and not even know it. If the arc of a your life or mine in the here and now is off by even a fraction of one degree, over the course of eternity the difference will become so great that you and I will miss altogether the eternal destiny of peace, healing, joy and life that we and God want for ourselves and the world.
God, you see, is a God of righteousness and justice. God always does the right thing and God is tolerating injustice for a time, but eventually He is going to bring about his perfect justice to all of creation. We read in Romans 2:6 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” Romans 2:6 (a quote from Psalm 62:12 & Proverbs 24:12). There will come a day in the future when God will bring about His perfect justice where evil-doers receive just punishment for their crimes and those who suffer injustice are restored. That is the kind of justice that we long for, isn’t it? Don’t we want people who murder an innocent child or shoot down a passenger airliner with 298 people on board to receive the punishment they deserve? Of course we do!
But now you and I have are in trouble. Because if God’s justice is going to be perfect, then it is also going to apply to everyone, including you and me. We read in Romans 2:1, You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now you might be saying to yourself, “The things that I have done are not as bad was what others have done. I have not murdered a small child, I haven’t shot down a passenger jet full of innocent people, I haven’t forced innocent people out of their homes, I haven’t engaged in violence to the degree of what is happening in the Middle East.” When it comes to ourselves, we don’t want God’s perfect justice. We want God to grade on the curve when it comes to judging us.
What we forget is that we were made for eternity. Now let’s think about something for a moment. What do you get if you take the relatively small amount of evil in us and extend it out over the infinite time and space of eternity? You get infinite evil. And infinite evil spread over eternity would be … hell. There is no room for any evil in God’s eternal kingdom. And what Romans 2:1 is telling us is that the same evil that is in a person who commits a gross injustice, like murder, is in us when we commit a minor injustice, like sharing a juicy piece of news about someone behind their back. It is only a difference of degree. Whenever we judge someone else, we condemn ourselves, because we do the same things. On our own, every human being is in deep trouble whether they realize it or not.
II. The Breadth of God’s Mercy
But the Good News is that the breadth of God’s mercy overwhelms the total sum of all evil in the world over all of time. God’s righteousness demands that our lives be made right so that we can live in relationship with Him, both now and forever. God’s justice demands that someone suffer the punishment for all the sins of the whole world. God knows that we cannot make our make our own lives right. That would take infinite goodness, something we do not have. God knows that we human beings cannot pay for all the sins of the whole world. That would take infinite suffering, something that we cannot do.
God not only knows our shortcomings and frailties, He also loves us with pure, choosing, infinite love. And so, because He loves us, God chose to have mercy on us and complete the task of bringing righteousness and justice to this world Himself. God the Son entered this world, wrapped Himself in human flesh and lived a perfect human life. The goodness of the life of Jesus has infinite value because Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Then Jesus willingly went to the cross, where Jesus suffered for all the sins of the whole world. Yes, Jesus suffered the horrible pain of crucifixion. But Jesus also suffered something else that no one other person who was crucified ever suffered. All the sins that ever have been and ever will be committed were placed upon Jesus and He suffered the punishment in full for them all. For the person who pressed the button to shoot down flight MH 17, Jesus paid for all of their sins. For the person who murdered, Nathan O’Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathy Liknes, Jesus paid for all of their sins. For the Islamic State jihadists who told the Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul that they must convert to Islam, leave or die, Jesus paid for all of their sins. For every time that you or I fail to keep our word to someone else, or hurt a friend because of our own selfishness and pride, or entertain a hateful thought about someone else, Jesus paid for all of our sins. The Bible tells us, 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
In Christ, there is now no more judgment for you. All of your sins have been judged at the cross. In Christ, the arc of your life has been made right and you will end up in the new heaven and earth, where every wrong will be made right, every loss will be restored, every wound will be healed and you will live with Jesus forever.
So what does it mean to be “in Christ.” Well, imagine that there is a terrible rainstorm happening and you encounter Jesus holding an umbrella and He invites you to join Him under His umbrella. The storm may be raging all around you, but under Jesus’ umbrella, you are safe and dry. Jesus invites you to trust Him and to bring your whole life under the umbrella of His mercy and leadership. Under Jesus’ umbrella, you are right with God. Under Jesus’ umbrella, there is no condemnation for you (cf. Romans 8:1). The breadth of God’s mercy is infinitely greater than the depth of your trouble. The question for you is, “will you open the gift of God’s mercy and bring your entire life under the umbrella of Jesus’ leadership?”
If you do, then everything is different for you now. You may not feel any different, but now, because of Jesus, your status has been totally transformed. You were an enemy of God, but now, with Jesus, you are a friend of God. You were estranged from God, but now, with Jesus, you are reconciled with God. You were hopeless and lost, but now, with Jesus, you are hope-filled and safe.
III. Whole person worship
God has been merciful to you and me. And the natural response to God’s gift of mercy is worship. When Paul wrote to the Jesus followers in Rome, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1a), he is urging them to respond to God’s mercy with worship that encompasses all of their lives. Offering the body means offering the whole person, (body, mind, soul and spirit) in all aspects of life (like work, school, home and recreation) all the time (7 days a week, 24 hours a day). This is your and my reasonable response of worship, that is, it makes sense that we would worship with our whole person all the time given the infinite extent of God’s mercy and grace. But it is also reasonable worship because whole person worship is what we need to nourish our bodies and souls.
When we offer our bodies in worship, we become a living sacrifice. We are not dead like all the Old Testament sacrifices. We are alive in a double sense because we are alive physically and we have the new life that Jesus gives to us. Our worship is a sacrifice, but not in the sense of paying for sin. Jesus has already paid for all the sins of the whole world. Our worship is a sacrifice in the sense that we are giving ourselves to God. Ours is a sacrifice of praise.
God’s mercy not only saves us. God’s mercy also transforms us. Many of us have an internal tape recorder in our heads that plays back the same messages of inadequacy, failure and shame. Perhaps someone said something to us in a moment when we were very impressionable and we not only took those words into the core of our being, we repeat those words over and over again to ourselves so that those words come to define who we are.
As followers of Jesus, we need to confront the lies rolling around in our heads and replace them with the truth that Jesus says about us. We need to learn to speak the Gospel to ourselves. Let’s try doing that right now. Please say with me the words up on the screen, “I am a precious, beloved, forgiven child of God.”
When our minds are renewed by the Gospel, that is, when our thinking is aligned what Jesus says about us instead of what the world says about us, then we are able to know what God’s will is. And not only will we know what God’s will is, but we will also be able to test it and prove that it is true in our own personal lives. Can you imagine that? Knowing what God’s good, pleasing and perfect will is, and then being able to try it out in your own life and finding that it works in your life just like God said that it would? That’s what God has for each and every one of you, in Christ.
In a few moments, God’s mercy and our whole person worship will meet in the sacred meal of Holy Communion. Jesus tells us that He is present in this meal with His body and his blood given for you—the same body and blood that earned the infinite goodness through his perfect human life lived and the same body and blood that suffered the infinite punishment for all human sin on the cross. In this meal, the risen Jesus is inviting us to come under the umbrella of his leadership and mercy and let him nourish us with his forgiveness and grace so that we may be transformed and renewed in body, mind, soul and spirit and so we may respond in worship to him with our whole person all the time. Amen.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on July 27, 2014.)