Preacher: Jim McLean
I think that it is especially appropriate early in Holy Week to discuss what Divine Grace is and its critical meaning for all of us. What is Divine Grace and are we really aware of the magnitude of this gift? I have had the privilege of a once in a lifetime recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which has greatly helped me to more fully understand the meaning of Divine Grace and, as a result, better comprehend one of the Grace prayers in the Hour by Hour prayer book. To pursue this, we need to closely examine in detail the enormity of what Divine Grace is and what this means as to the extent of God’s Love for us.
Divine Grace is the free and unmerited—that is to say, undeserved—gift for all of us from God, which is clearly apparent in our scripture reading tonight from John 12. Common Christian teaching is that God’s grace is unmerited mercy or favor that he gave to people by sending his only son to become a man not only to teach us how we should live in relationship with God, but also to proceed with the supreme sacrifice of rejection, isolation, and death on the cross. This of course was followed by the joy of the resurrection with its message of eternal salvation for people. The magnitude of this gift and the sacrifice that it entailed are far beyond all human understanding.
With my recent opportunity to experience the actual environment where this all occurred “in the real” with our recent pilgrimage, I came away with a much more profound sense of the enormity of both the gift of Divine Grace and Christ’s sacrifice of death to plant the seed to produce a “plentiful harvest” of new lives mentioned in the scripture tonight. We had the opportunity to retrace the Palm Sunday walk that Jesus took to Jerusalem from Beth-Phage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives through the Garden of Gethsemane, followed by a visit to the site of Caiaphas’s Palace where Jesus was taken by the Jewish authorities and where, as he predicted, Peter denied knowing him. Here he was held overnight alone and rejected in isolation to await the final judgment. We then walked the fourteen stations of the cross to Golgotha in the old city of Jerusalem the next day.
This entire experience for me of being in this same environs recently where this all occurred so many years ago coupled with meditation at the time about its spiritual meaning was overwhelming and has left a huge impact on me as I now recognize the immense gift that all of this represents.
Divine Grace is the ultimate kindness from God that we don’t deserve. As is stated in Psalm 8, “What is man that you should be mindful of him? The son of man that you should seek him out? You have made him but little lower than the angels: you adorn him with glory and honor; you give him mastery over the works of our hands: and put all things under his feet.” This has, of course, also been combined with the incredible gift of free will for all of us to allow full freedom to make individual decisions as to the paths of our lives. There is nothing we have done, nor can ever do, to earn such a favor. It is a gift from God. Grace is divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration (rebirth) or sanctification; a virtue coming from God; a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine favor. God’s Grace has given us the desire and the power to do his will. With this favor of God’s Love towards us, the divine influence gives us the opportunity to make us pure and morally strong. In the New testament, the word grace is the Greek word “charis” which means graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act especially the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection on the human spirit.
In Israel today, the contrasts are very stark between the beautiful serene and calm of the Sea of Galilee where many of his teachings were given, including the beatitudes from his sermon on the mount, compared with the chaotic, confusing, uncomfortable, anxious, and tense city of Jerusalem, likely very similar to the way it was during the time of Jesus. In this environment, Jesus proceeded to comply with his father’s plan of teaching us how we should live followed by the ultimate sacrifice with the extreme human pain of rejection, isolation, and loneliness followed by the crucifixion itself. The magnitude of his sacrifice is overwhelming to us as humans and must be fully understood to really feel the magnitude of his love for us.
The gift of his teachings combined with supreme sacrifice with his death on the cross became very vivid to me with the opportunity to visualize and experience the actual environment where this all occurred. This left quite an impact on me as I meditated on his teachings, his ultimate sacrifice and the powerful human emotions that he must have had when he was suffering through all of this. For me, understanding the extreme emotional and physical pain that he endured prior to his death, gives me a profound sense of the extent of God’s Love for all of us.
It is extremely humbling to fully understand the magnitude of this unmerited gift from God’s Grace for all humanity. God became man in his only son Jesus Christ and fulfilled his time on earth with his messages of Grace for all of us. His teachings are therefore undeserved gifts from God to us and are clear insights if not instructions as to how we should live and behave in order to become one with our creator and live responsive to his love for us. The messages therefore are gifts or keys to our being and life to be one with God, to be representative of him and do his works on a daily basis. These insights, directives, or wisdom granted from God as to how to live in God’s light are truly gifts if we pay attention and follow his guidance. The miracles performed by Jesus help us understand who he really was as God becoming man to directly be with us and teaching us.
Present day life in Israel continues to convey the stark contrast between the peace and the serene tranquility of the Sea of Galilee with the chaotic environment of Jerusalem with the attempt to meld vastly different cultures and traditions likely not to dissimilar to the way it was during the time of Jesus. The present political tension between the citizens of the Israeli state and the neighboring Palestinians living in the West Bank remains a very chaotic atmosphere between neighbors with the lack of acceptance of each others cultures and traditions, and the lack of acceptance of individual differences and the over all absence of trust resulting in the inability to live in peace as neighbors.
Even having said that, God’s Grace remains today in Israel without question consistent with the “changelessness” of his love and caring with the obvious joy one sees and feels in individual’s daily lives on both sides of the divide in addition to very warm relationships obvious among friends and family along with their warm reception and kindness to strangers.
Returning to our scripture from John, this unmerited gift or favor of Christ’s Grace is a universal gift to all humanity not just directed to one group of people as clearly stated with his invitation to the Greeks to join him and share the “light” before his death and resurrection and to become his disciples. In addition, He relates the purpose of his life on earth as a “kernel of wheat which must fall and die and thus be planted so as to fulfill his mission, as with his single death will result in a plentiful harvest of new lives to follow him and participate in God’s Love.” “If you love your life down here, you will lose it. If you despise your life down here, you will exchange it for eternal glory.” This passage is to remind us that our priorities in this life are not about the Kingdom of me or you but about the kingdom of God. It is a directive to us in this earthly life to be drawn to a life of prayer and discipline of looking beyond the self to God.
Jesus then brings honor and glory to God proceeding to the final judgment. He then is lifted up on the cross as Satan is cast out so we all can become bearers of the “light” or disciples of his to spread his teachings. Christ invites all of us to be come “bearers of light” after his death and resurrection to share in the Love of God.
The special Grace for me in Hour by Hour that now has special meaning is; “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.” Amen