The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 2, 2022
Before he was ever a preacher, Stuart Briscoe was a banker. The first bank in which he worked still recorded customers’ assets and debts on hand-written ledgers. One day, Stuart mused about his spiritual and ethical ledger with God.
He imagined God adding up the sum total of his indebtedness and noting it was so large that Stuart could never balance his books. Then he imagined God taking a pen and transferring his total indebtedness to the account of Jesus, writing over it, “Transferred from the account of Stuart Briscoe”. God’s next action astounded Stuart even more. God added up His Son’s riches, and wrote in big, bold letters: “Transferred to the account of Stuart Briscoe.”
That is grace: When we are bankrupt, God makes us wealthy. Jesus’ riches become ours; and we gain a deep, enduring relationship with God the Father and, as a result, a life of love, joy, peace, inner strength, nobility, humility and eternity.
“In Christ”, today’s scripture says, we become “blessed…with every spiritual blessing”. Thanks to God’s unmerited, gratuitously great generosity, we become blessed beyond our deserving, expecting or measuring.
What’s more, it is grace itself, this scripture says, that brings us into this grace. We don’t put ourselves into this position of spiritual wealth; but God “chose” it for us and “destined” us for it. On what basis did God do so? Not on our ethical and spiritual assets, but on God’s unwarranted kindness! He “redeemed” us, this scripture says, “according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us”.
Though redeemed people vigorously pursue holiness and diligently work to pass on God’s grace to others, they do that out of the awed awareness that they themselves have been blessed, as an unearned and un-earnable grace, beyond all reason or cause.
They have come to see God, not just as the Supreme Ruler of the World, but as their personal loving Father. If they viewed God only as the Ruler who forgave them after they’d broken the rules, they’d appreciate God as much as they would a traffic cop who, after catching them speeding, let them go without a ticket. They’d have deep gratitude for God, but they wouldn’t have for God a passionate and abiding love. If, however, they view God as the loving Father they always wanted but never had – as the Father who gives to His children, not in proportion to how well they behave, but in proportion to how wildly He loves them – they don’t just appreciate God; they adore Him. They can’t get over how God, entirely of His own doing, struck up an irrevocable relationship with them, one characterized by His unconditional and thus unlimited resolve to bless them in every way.
This means God can’t do too much for us, for He’s blessed to bless us beyond any justification we provide.
In his blog, a man John Zahl tells of a friend who lives out God’s extravagant grace. Joel owns a high-end clothing store. One Christmas he gave Jeff a generous gift card for his store. When Jeff came to use it, Joel walked around with him as he made his selections. Jeff picked up a sports coat, a dress shirt, and a pair of shoes. As he did, he slyly glanced at each price tag. For he wanted to overshoot the gift card limit in order to surreptitiously thank Joel by paying something and giving his store a little income.
When they got to the register, Joel rang up the purchases, and Jeff pulled out his wallet to cover the shortage. But Joel waved him off, pointed to the register’s read-out, and said, “You’ve only spent a bit more than half your credit.” Jeff doubted it, until he realized Joel had charged him half price on each item.
Jeff was touched, but still wanted to show gratitude by overspending the card and contributing to the store’s bottom line. So, a week later, Jeff returned with his wife; and, after the two of them had shopped, they dumped two huge armloads of clothes at the register. Joel came over to run up the tally. He stunned Jeff by announcing, “Your bill comes to exactly zero.” Jeff protested, “That can’t be right! We spent well above what was left on our card.” Joel replied with a smile, “It’s a magic card, Jeff. No matter how much you draw from it, there’s always more for you.”
Jeff stared at Joel, and finally saw into his friend’s heart. Though it was beyond belief, there was no limit to Joel’s generosity to him. Jeff had underestimated the value of the Christmas gift that had been his friend’s pleasure to bestow on him out of sheer grace.
May we never underestimate the value of the Christmas gift it had been God’s pleasure to bestow on us out of sheer grace, but ever let it bless us beyond reason, and move us to bless others beyond reason, out of love and gratitude for God’s “glorious grace”!