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The Bubble of Grace

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Sermon Notes, Proper 17, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. A new phrase has worked its way into our language. "In the bubble," is used to describe professional hockey and basketball teams who collect at a neutral site to protect themselves against coronavirus attack and complete their season ending playoffs. The bubble is an intricate assembly of physical restrictions and personal commitments meant to protect players and their sport. Everyone in the bubble is there by choice and pledges to remain in the bubble for as long as their competition continues because their livelihoods and maybe even their lives depend on it. We encounter another kind of bubble in the Collect for today, the bubble of grace. O Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow after us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. The bubble of grace precedes and follows us, protecting us and enabling us to do the work God gives us to do. The collect reminds us that our will alone is not enough to keep us inside the bubble of grace. A measure of God's grace keeps us in his grace, and for that we give offer our thanksgiving. God's grace precedes us, opening doors that need to be opened, smoothing the rough places, showing us a path through life's obstacles. David confesses to that in Psalm 26 we read this morning. Verse 3 For your loving-kindness is ever before my eyes, * and I will walk in your truth. For David, the bubble of grace enables him to walk boldly through a mine field of corruption: wicked and deceitful people, ungodly practice, and predators who seek his life. He emerges with a resolve that's unjustified considering his predicament. The grace that sustains him allows his to exclaim: My foot stands firm; * I will praise the LORD in the congregations. By the way, if you're a walker, as I know some of you are, this should be your psalm. Make it your own, Maybe memorize it before your next 5K. The bubble of grace also smooths out our wake. What we leave behind us, the impressions we leave on others, these are sweetened by God's grace to glorify him and be a blessing to us. We need to be reminded how wonderfully God takes our best efforts and makes them better. That's what the Apostle Paul does in our reading from Romans today. Rom 12":3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, After all, it is God who has made us, and not we ourselves. Paul encourages his readers to stay within themselves. He continues the thought, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. If you have the gift of prophecy, proclaim what your faith reveals to you. Not what your imagination conceives. Serve, teach, exhort, give and lead as God gives you the grace. Stay inside the bubble and God will use your gifts and shape them for his purpose and yours. But step outside the bubble, now here's where problems begin. Last week Peter's sun was at its zenith. He answered Jesus' question with the words on which the church is founded. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." But immediately, Jesus places Peter's confession in the context of the bubble of grace from which it came. "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my father in heaven." Matt 16:17 That is followed by the rebuke given to Peter in today's Gospel lesson. But before we look at that, let us consider the broader picture of where we are in Matthew's narrative. Until this point in the 16th chapter, verse 21 to be specific, Jesus' ministry has been one of demonstrating the Kingdom of God come to earth. Miracles, deliverances, preaching and teaching have all had a broad application to the Jews first and then also to the Gentile nations. But from this point on, Jesus' zeros in on his disciples and begins to prepare them for what will happen to him. At the same time, he begins to prepare them for who they will need to be after he leaves them. This is what the bubble of grace looks like for the disciples. And by extension, for the inheritance of the Apostles: The Church. So I'm going to be a little lenient toward Peter. The bubble of grace was being formed before his eyes. It was happening to him first, just as Jesus said it would when he told him he would build his church on that particular rock. Peter parleyed his God inspired confession into a Peter inspired script. If indeed Jesus is the Son of the living God, then He must need act like God so that everyone else would see and be as convinced as Peter was. But there was nothing God like in the picture Jesus drew of his coming suffering and death. The picture Jesus drew showed him withdrawing from his Godlikeness to submit to the worst of human degradation. I doubt if Peter even heard Jesus' last words, "and on the third day be raised to life." The affront to Peter's understanding was so egregious that he felt the need to correct Jesus. Let us not miss the Biblical irony of Peter correcting "the Christ, the Son of the living God." Peter's humiliation becomes the occasion of Jesus' teaching his disciples. In order to change the world, Godlikeness could not be above the world, but in it. Those who would follow Jesus to his heavenly triumph must be willing to follow him in his journey through the world. Take up their own cross. Lose their life to find it. What does that say about the bubble of grace that is our protection and enabler? It says that God's grace is porous. It's not a shield against the world. It is a membrane that protects us without isolating us. We are in the world even though we are not of the world. The world touches us just as it touched Jesus. The world may have the same evil intent against us that it had against Jesus. But living in the bubble of God's grace means that something beside the world, closer than the world, is nearer to us than the world can ever be. Paul certainly knew the worst that the world could throw at him for being an Apostle of Christ. But against the floggings, imprisonments, ship wrecks, riots and chains, he knew God's grace to be a sufficient antidote. 2 Cor. 12:9. "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Our vulnerability is the very window through which God's grace is revealed. God's grace is porous, but it is also lavish. It is not a thin layer of protection threatening to fall apart, but a thick and multi-layered fabric constantly being renewed and rewoven by God himself. In Ephesians 1, Paul reminds the church of its inheritance in Christ. "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the richness of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." Eph 1: 7. We don't usually equate being lavish with wisdom and understanding, do we? Lavishness is excessive, beyond wisdom and teetering on the brink of foolish excess. But out of God's wisdom and understanding he chooses to lavish us with his grace. How amazing that God's grace is both sufficient and bountiful at the same time. The last thing I wish to say about the bubble of grace is that it is never apart from God as something God gives us at the expense of losing it himself. God's grace is our contact with God himself. Again, let's turn to Paul. His first letter to Timothy, 1st chapter, 14th verse. "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." We experience God in his grace. It is not a semblance of God, it is God himself who meets us through his grace. The essence of God's grace is the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. So the bubble that surrounds us is also Christ within us, himself given for us. Holy Eucharist is our reminder that this is so. I know of no better description of the bubble of God's grace than in these lines from St. Patrick's Breastplate. Christ be with me, Christ be in me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. May God's grace lead you and follow you this day and forever. Amen.
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