The Case for Grace: Getting What We Don't Deserve - Romans 6:20-23
One of the Christmas traditions of the last several years in our family is that Santa brings movies to our family. Rather than buy movies as they are released through the year and watch them at that point, they are saved for Christmas morning (though Santa may acquire them at any point during the year—especially if there is a good sale price). One of the movies that Santa dropped off at our house this year was Arthur Christmas. Arthur Christmas is the story of the sons of Santa and the decision of who will be the next Santa Claus. The underlying story is the importance of one child. There is one scene at the beginning of the movie…and despite the revelation of how Santa is able to cover all the homes around the world in one night, one part of this scene really caught my attention, especially in light of the sermon series we are starting today.
We encounter a moment of grace in the scene. We watch the elves scampering around helping Santa by placing presents and filling stockings. How do they determine how much to put in the stocking? They scan the kids. The first kid we see scanned comes out at 73% good…and believe me, that is pretty good for a child to have had almost three-fourths of their behavior over the past year considered good. The elf flips a switch and it fills the stocking 73% up with candy. Towards the end of the clip, we see another child scanned. The scanner reveals that there is more bad than good in that child…56% bad. Aha! We think, we will watch that dispenser fill the child’s stocking up with coal or switches. Then to our amazement, shock, or possibly outrage, we watch as the elf turns the scanner on himself, receives a rating of 83% good, and uses that result to fill the kid’s stocking. Wait, we think, that’s not fair. Not only did he deserve a lump of coal and received candy instead, he ended up with more than the kid who was 73% good. It’s not fair. Everybody should get exactly what they deserve—candy or coal.
At least that is how we tend to think, or at least what we think we would like to see happen. We want to see the good guys rewarded and the bad guys punished. That's what justice is all about, isn't it? We feel like there has been a miscarriage of justice if a guilty person is not punished when they have done wrong or if an innocent person is punished or otherwise experiences hardship when they haven't done anything wrong.
How many of us are bothered when those kinds of things happen? How many of us here think that folks ought to just get what they deserve? How many of us here think we would like to make sure that, reward or punishment, we want to get exactly what we deserve? What if I took out the punishment and simply asked how many of us would like to make sure we received whatever reward we are due? Do we really want to make sure we get what we deserve? Do we, really?
In our reading this morning, Paul tells us, "the wages of sin is death...." Sinners deserve death...that is justice, they do wrong, they get what they deserve, and that is the loss of their life. We don't have a problem with that do we? After all, that guy sitting on death row for murdering his ex-wife and her new family deserves to die, he is definitely a sinner, he should die. Then there is that child molester, after what he did too all those kids, scaring their lives forever...he deserves to die too, doesn't he? What about the woman who poisoned her husband and left him in a permanent coma or the nurse who stole from her elderly patients while ignore their needs and withholding their meds or the drug dealer selling to children or the drunk driver who hit and killed a college student or the homosexual or the CEO who cashed in his stocks and left the country before the company tanked leaving his employees with no jobs and no retirement funds. All those folks are definitely sinners and surely deserve death as punishment for their sin, no question, right?
They should get what they deserve. Death. We're not like them...God's gotta reward us for not being like them...We want what we deserve. Guess what, my friends, I don't think we really do, because we are sinners just like all the others. Paul says, "For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...." (Romans 3:23) We are all sinners and we all deserve death. If we try to claim differently, God's Word stops us cold. The first letter of John, chapter one, verse eight reminds us, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us...." My friends, we are all sinners, we have all sinned...
We may not have committed murder, stolen, molested children, drove drunk, or engaged in illicit sexual activities. However, if we have wished someone dead or torn down someone's reputation, if we have cheated on our taxes or kept extra change from the cashier, if we have ignored a child in need, if we have looked at that woman or man across the room and even never even spoken to them thought about how good it would be to sleep with them, if we have told a lie, if we have helped someone out because then they would owe us a favor, and the list could go on and on, but if we are guilty of anything like these, then, my brothers and sisters, we are just as guilty of sin as any of those we first named.
We don't really want what we deserve, because we all deserve to die, for we are all sinners, and death has been the result of sin since The Fall in the Garden of Eden all those eons ago: "And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of God and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die..." (Genesis 2) and then, after they had eaten of the one tree they were told not to eat, in their punishment, which is our punishment, we read, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3)
"That's kind of depressing, Preacher. What a way to start of a new year, make us all feel like dirt." Well, if that's where we were left, then I would say you were right, because all of us deserving death makes a stocking full of coal look good. Yet, that is not where we are left.
Right after saying, "the wages of sin is death," Paul says, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus or Lord."
Right after saying, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Paul continues, "they are now justified by His grace as a gift..."
Right after saying that if we say we are not sinners we are lying to ourselves, John tells us, "If we comes or sins, he who is faithful and just, will forgive us or sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Even back to the beginning, right after pronouncing the sentence of death to Adam and Eve and removing them from the Garden of Eden, God makes clothes for them to cover their shame.
The good news for us, my friends, is that not only do we have a just God and our sin requires that there must be punishment, that just God is also a God of mercy and in His mercy, He provides an way out from that punishment...that way out is called grace. Today, as we realize we don't get what we deserve and instead receive mercy, we begin our series, making a case for grace and we will continue to examine the free gift of grace that God offers us over the next several weeks.
Today, though, we simply acknowledge that we are sinners in need of the grace of God and know that God in His love and mercy, though scanning us and finding us naughty, has not left us with a stocking of coal, but instead of candy, has left us with this Meal in which He puts His grace into us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!