The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love
that are in Christ Jesus. I Timothy 1:14
I’ve often thought I’d like this verse on my tombstone. That’s a decision I haven’t finalized yet, but this verse is such a powerful word of Gospel, of God’s good news in Jesus Christ, that I find it almost irresistible. God doesn’t do things by halves; no, everything is in full measure, or, better yet, overflowing. Especially when it comes to grace, that steadfast love – unfathomable mercy and compassion – which is known most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, through the gift of faith. What a treasure we have, a treasure with power enough to change the world, with power enough to change our lives, and even our life together. God never, ever gives up on us. This is wonderful word to hear after the reading we have from Jeremiah for Sunday, which sounds quite ominous at first.
For my people are foolish, they do not know me;
they are stupid children, they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good…
For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation;
yet I will not make a full end.
The prophet does not have an enviable job. He is called to deliver this message to the people of Judah, who have broken covenant with the LORD, over and over. God is, to say the least, frustrated. It’s possible to read this as the action of a divine monster, who watches us, waiting to pounce and punish. However, in reading the whole of the Scripture through the lens of Cross and Resurrection, I find that this viewpoint becomes virtually impossible.
Even in the words of the Prophet, the Word of the LORD, there is still a promise of hope: I will not make a full end. As the ministry of Jeremiah continues, this word of hope is given over and over again (i.e. Jer. 29:11). Even though the people are suffering what is ultimately the consequence of their own bad choices, their own foolishness and stupidity, in other words, the consequence of their sin, God refuses absolutely to give up on them.
As revolutions and civil wars churn and burn this very day, as people suffer and die, as the earth itself groans from the painful consequences of our greed, yes, our stupidity and foolishness, and the world changes in ever more destructive patterns, all suffer – not so much the punishment of a vengeful God as the inescapable consequences of our sin. Nevertheless the God who is self-defined as Love, will not give up on us. Wow! It’s almost incredible, but that which confirms it forever is the witness and the power of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Overflowing grace indeed! Why, one might even dare to call it amazing grace.
It’s exactly this kind of grace, overflowing, amazing, that is at the heart of the three parables told by Jesus in Luke 15, the first two of which are the Gospel for Sunday. All three stories tell of a love which will not give up, which will not admit defeat, which persists no matter what. There is a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (The ‘Prodigal’ Son); none of the seekers gives up, not the shepherd, not the woman, not the waiting father. All persist, and so all the lost are found, all are safe, and there is great rejoicing. This is the very heart of God revealed in Christ Jesus, grace so abundant, so amazing, so overflowing, that we can’t possibly contain it, no matter how hard we might be tempted to try.
Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. Yes, exactly, you understand. We too are invited and welcomed to his meal. It’s a simple meal, really, just bread and wine by all appearances, but our host is also our food, and in, with, and under his body and blood, we sinners are blessed yet again with his true presence and the grace of our Lord which overflows for us, so that we are forgiven and renewed in the strength of true joy, so that we can then share all of it with others for the healing of creation, the healing of the nations, and for the glory of God.
Thanks be to God!