First Congregational Church
January 5, 2020
Second Sunday after Christmas
John 1:1-18, Ephesians 1:3-14
“Grace In Place of Grace”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So one day, a police officer pulls Ole over for speeding, and naturally the officer asks for his ID. Ole said he didn’t have one - that it had been suspended when he got his 5th erratic driving offense. When the officer asked for the proof of ownership, Ole said that it wasn’t his car, because the vehicle was stolen. Then he said, “Come to think of it, I think I saw the owner's card in the glove box when I was putting my gun in there.” The officer was, naturally, getting a little excited. “There's a gun in the glove box?” Ole said, “Yes sir. That's where I put it after I shot and killed the woman who owns this car and stuffed her in the trunk.” “There's a BODY in the TRUNK?!?!?” Backing up, the officer told Ole to stay right where he was.
The officer called for backup, and the Captain soon approached the car. When the officer asked for Ole’s license, he politely handed over the valid card. When asked about the ownership of the car, Ole said that it was his, issuing the certificate card. The captain asked Ole to slowly open the glove box, so he could see the gun, but, of course, there was nothing in the glove box. And, we all know that there was no body in the trunk.
The captain voiced his confusion over the lack of license, the stolen vehicle, the gun, and the body in the trunk. To which Ole replied, “Yeah, and I’ll bet the other officer told you I was speeding, too!
I got to thinking the other day. I know. Starting off the new year with a bang! Being a little loosey-goosey with the particular official start date, I figure that there have been some 7,928 Sunday morning sermons delivered from this pulpit - or space. There have probably been more overall, if you include Sunday evening services, Ash Wednesday services, Maundy Thursday services and the like. That’s a lot of sermons.
Then I picked the year 64 AD, because I’m figuring that was a fair bit of time after Jesus’ death for the development of early churches. Considering there have probably been millions of churches of all varieties since that time, the number of sermons delivered are probably as vast as the stars in the sky. But, just for one little narrowing of the topic, there have been 102,059 weeks since January 1 of 64 AD. Not only is that a lot of sermons, for what would be one, ongoing church, but one can begin to understand just how it is true that no matter how clever or talented the preacher, there are just a certain number of topics that can be the point of a sermon. Or as the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes put it, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
And yet, we sit on the edge of a new year, some of us having been going to church since Noah was a small boy, and our soul is crying out for something - a something we might not even know we are needing. And so we show up once again, to see what God might have for us on this particular day, at this particular time in your own life as well as in the life of this church family, our nation and the world.
So we come first to the book of John, most likely the last written of the Gospels, international in its scope, beginning with a macroscopic view, microscoping in to a third of John focusing on just 24 hours of Jesus’ life, heavily sprinkled with the word, “believe.” If I were queen of the Bible arrangers, this would be the book to begin the New Testament, rather than Matthew. But, perhaps I’ll have my shot in eternity.
The second passage for this morning comes from the book of Ephesians, probably written by the great Paul as a circular letter, intended to be read in several churches in the area of Ephesus in ancient Greece and the far western coast of modern Turkey, home to several differing religions and ways of life - even back then. As a fledgling religion, Christians struggled with each other in the rigidity or laxity of God’s rules, and so Paul wrote a letter telling them to knock it off and start acting like grown-up followers of Christ.
John 1:1-18 New International Version (NIV)
The Word Became Flesh
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Ephesians 1:3-14 New International Version (NIV)
Praise for Spiritual Blessings in Christ
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Thank you, Beth/Mike. With all the sermons you may - or may not - have heard before in your life, you have to admit that there is a lot in these verses for thinking on. In fact, if ever a person should find themselves bored, sitting at a stoplight, waiting for a cashier, practically any one of these verses could give you enough content to do some real pondering.
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” Go chew on that one for a spell, because the phrase “was coming” wasn’t meaning just then, but continuing since then. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Let that one twirl in your brain for a bit. “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” I love that one, mainly because it sort of popped off the page at me this week, and so I throw it out to you, that maybe it might pop off your ears and your brain for whatever you may need of it this week.
Grace in place of grace already given. In terms of all things God, it probably mostly means that the Law - the Old Testament - all the rules that were intended to help us show God our love for God - which was not all about nefarious and odious rules of suppression - but ways to begin the expression of our gratitude to God if we had no other ideas of how to do that - how that ‘law’ was replaced by a greater gift of grace - the New Testament and the “law” of love made more understandable and relative to us human beings.
But then I wondered, how else is that “fullness” we have all received - grace in place of grace already given? So I have these two cats, Bella and Gracie. Everyday they get fresh water, and every day a little bit is gone out of their bowl. In the winter, I catch the shower water that otherwise goes down the drain, waiting for it to be warm enough to use. I don’t use the bucket of collected water every day, but when I do, it’s for the humidifier. On the days or times that it’s not used, the full bucket sits on the bathroom floor, minding it’s own business.
Even though the cats both have the “grace” of fresh water every day, this greater “grace” of the water in the bucket is so much more wonderful - for lack of a better term. Both Bella and Gracie have discovered the joy of drinking out of that big bucket, probably because it doesn’t cramp their whiskers like maybe the bowl does.
But then there’s the added bonus for Bella - being able to dip her paw into the bucket and then lick the water off her paw. Actually, it’s not really her paw, but her entire arm - up to her elbow. She doesn’t make a mess of splashing the water all over like some cats might be apt to do. And I don’t know if it’s the novelty that it’s not available in the summer or just what all else, but there is a certain amount of ‘grace in place of grace already given’ in that scenario. At least in the world of felines. And it’s good that they are drinking more water than otherwise, too.
Going back to the Ephesians passage, what spiritual blessing have you been given that is for the praise of God’s glory - that is over and above what might be usual in another person’s life? I can hear eyes rolling or the groans in some of your heads, that this is a question for everyone else, but me - meaning you. I understand how easy it is to think that God has given other people a particular gift, or that particular talent, but me, not so much.
Except that’s not the way it is. If you had no particular grace upon grace, then why would God have thought about you before you were born - back when time began? Some folks might be tempted to think that others have been “graced” with an extra portion of compassion or the great super power of joy. While some folks have rather apparent ‘graces,’ others of us have quieter ones, or ‘graces’ that seem less consequential, like being able to catch the eye of a person who needed to be seen that day. Or maybe you are a huge influence in a person’s life, and without you, that person would be much the poorer in soul. Or using someone’s name who hasn’t heard it spoken in a few days or even weeks. It is easy to think that what we do is not a big thing, except that it is a big thing, because it is given to us by the One who was, is and always shall be the Word, through whom all things were made to the praise of God’s glory.
It seems like the beginning of the year is a good time to be reminded of those things that we know - of God’s Creation, Redemption and Salvation, of Christ’s Love, Hope and Peace, and of the Spirit’s Indwelling, Inspiration and Empowerment. While not new news, it is even so, Good News, that we need to hear every so often. So shall we pray into that reminder?
God of Light and Love, thank you for your love, the love that is often times so far beyond our comprehension and sometimes inability to fully incorporate in our daily lives. In this new year and the weeks ahead, continue to remind us as you give us moments of using our grace upon grace in loving those you have given us. Help us to realize our lives as one foot on earth and one foot in eternity and how that not only changes us, but can change how we interact with our families and friends and even strangers. Empower us to be the praise to your name that you have seen in us from so very long ago. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.