Monday, July 18, 2005

Sermon on Little Graces

During the last months of World War II, the British conducted daily bombings raids over Berlin. The bombers would take off from an airstrip in England and fly surrounded by smaller fighter planes whose job it was to keep German fighters from attacking the bombers. Which were easy targets.
One night after a successful bombing raid, as they were heading for the safety of England, the bombers were attacked by a large group of German fighter planes. Somehow, during the dogfight, one bomber found it self flying alone with no protection, and suddenly, a German fighter appeared out of nowhere. The crew of the bomber watched as the German plane moved closer and closer, until finally, it was in range. They prepared for the worst and watched helplessly as tracer bullets began spitting from the fighter. Bullets whizzed by them, over and under, until bang, five bullets slammed into the fuselage of the bomber near the gas tank. The crew braced for the explosion, but nothing happened. They could see fuel pouring from the bullet holes, but there was no explosion. Miraculously, they were able to make it back to their based and get safely off the plane.
A few hours later they had landed , one of the mechanics showed up in the crew’s barracks. He had found the five bullets inside the fuel tanks, crumpled but not exploded. He handed them to the pilot. The pilot carefully opened them and to the crew’s amazement found each empty of gunpowder. Inside one was a tiny wad of paper. When he unfolded the paper, he found a note which read: “We are Polish POW’s forced to make bullets in factory. When guards do not look, we do not fill with powder. Is not much but is best we ca do. Please tell family we are alive.
Five tiny bullets, out of millions and millions of bullets made during the war, made all the difference for the crewmen of a British bomber. These seemingly little act by the Polish prisoners changes the world for the British Crew.
It is these acts that I want to talk about today, the small acts of life in what ever situation we happen to find ourselves that we can change and create a catalyst for major events that change the world, and the life of those around us and abroad. In our youth group, our challenge for the summer holidays and time after was to begin to change our actions to mirror those of Jesus, to begin to live our lives in such a way that people around have no choice but to be moved by our kindness, love and support that we give and radiate. To some this small work may not seem that important, but these small sparks are exactly what start a forest fire of transformation. Mike Yaconelli puts it this way: “The Power of Goodness is found in the tiny. Since the beginning, God has chosen the tiny over the large: David over Goliath, Gideon and his three hundred soldiers over thousands of Midianites, Elijah over the prophets of Baal, one sheep over the ninety-nine sheep.” Spirituality is about doing the tiny work of God, little acts, small responses to God’s presence in our lives. Today I want us to examine these small responses, little acts, which I entitled ‘little graces’ but before we get to what I mean by this title which I shamelessly plagiarized from Mike Yaconellies book Messy Spirituality which again, if you have not read it I highly recommend it. Now If you have your bible with you would you open to Matthew 25:starting at verse 14 to verse 30. This passage of scripture demonstrates to us the need for responsible use of the gifts of God in His service that He has given us according to our ability, during the time when Jesus is not present, as verse, 15 states. The first two servants were Good and Faithful, for they made the most of their opportunities for their master’s sake. The third saw no point in trying to get profit which would go to the master at the risk of making a loss for which he would be punished. In fact from the Greek word poneros this word used for the third servant has the meaning of slothful servant, lazy servant in verse26. This passage brings a personal incentive to be a good steward of what is given to us, what ever our circumstance is. The Polish Prisoners of war had much to be mad about, and much to be afraid of, they were invaded, taken out of their homes, they didn’t know if their families are alive, people all around them were dying in the hands of an empire, their choice is to make a small difference a tiny glitch in the enormous production of armor and weapons, their small tiny choices saved lives. The question then we need to answer for ourselves is, what have we been entrusted with? What have we been entrusted with according to our ability? Is it our jobs, our families, our neighbors around us, money, certain talents, our personality or all of the above? What are we to be good stewards with? I want to suggest to you that when ever you do ANY small act of love, grace, kindness even though it is not seen, IT is seen (PAUSE), and it makes a difference, in the spiritual realm and the physical. For every small act of kindness, love and grace, will change the world around you and me, and begin a transformation of our world. Using more of Yaconellies words: “Spiritual people are about tiny things, which are the fruit of their spirituality. The spiritual life is not a life of success; it is a life of faithfulness, and it’s not easy.” I am not sure what the servants did to earn more talents from what was given to them, but I want to suggest that what they did do is become faithful to what was given to them. What I want to suggest about the unfaithful servant is what his Master says in verse 26 “ You knew …” the master begins his rebuke by reminding the servant that he knew, he knew the desires of his master, You knew… then is rightly given question. On the supposition that he was right, he was right that His master would be angry if he wasted or lost the talent but, he ought all the same to have acted differently. This parable concludes that different spiritual opportunities are given to different people. These opportunities and gifts are around us, small and tiny they are often hidden and neglected but nevertheless they are there, they are often disregarded, overlooked, and ignored, but they are there. The call is to do the little things, to be good stewards of them so we can be trusted with big things. Well this teaching makes sense.
Please take your Bibles and flip back now to Matthew chapter 20 starting in verse 1 to verse 16, Here we are again presented with another parable of a landowner and who hired people to take care of his vineyard, all through the day. This story is involving absurd economics, to get home a truth of the kingdom of heaven. In the first parable that we read out of Matthew 25 we are given a picture of God asking us to be good stewards of what is entrusted to us. In this parable as in other parables, many of the details are to give color to the story and are not to be pressed for a theological meaning. The point is driven that in the kingdom men receive what they need and this is eternal life. But this economic absurdity is complicated and although we like to say that its clear it isn’t…its not fair… Mike Yaconelli puts it this way: “ [this] parable by anyone’s standards is offensive, discriminator, elitist, ridiculous, and is very annoying.” In this parable the workers are angry, unhappy they feel that a great injustice was done, today this landowner would surely be sued. The reality is that if we were to think of ourselves in a working environment of the same situation if we were really honest we would feel wronged, undone, angry, surely I put in 8 hours and they only 1 how can the pay be the same?... ITS NOT FAIR! In fact yesterday as I and many others were re-shingling my roof, I was thinking to the similarities of this parable to my day, as some cam early to help, others half way and yet some more at the end…and yet they were all paid the same…..NOTHING….It’s not Fair….But yet Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like this! What? THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE WHAT? Like the unfair landowner? The earlier parable made more sense, we were to be good stewards and if we are not we are punished…that’s clear…that’s simple…but the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner that doesn’t understand our economic fair democratic system? Not according to this parable. Generous? Yes but Fair? No. This is given by God, who is continually calling people of different degrees of moral attainment and spiritual privilege to His service, and therefore no-one has any claim on Him for more than anyone else. God has sovereign freedom to do as He pleases for generosity may be added to justice. To the Jewish community this parable could also have been upsetting to hear as the chosen people of God, Jesus is now telling them a parable that God’s mercy and generosity is being given to others.
What is going on here? These parables teach us important lessons, One the importance of faithfulness and stewardship, living in a way that is productive loving and caring even in the small things of life. Second Lesson we receive from the next parable is that God’s grace is not Fair, but its Generous, faithful even to the little us, who may have some how only worked for an hour. There is coloration here in these two parables the call to our faithfulness and even though we are not often even or faithful. Even though we are often bad stewards of our gifts, even though we some times only get it right really late. God’s generosity and faithfulness gives us credit even when we only had short time to do it. Jesus presents it to us very clearly: “The last will be first. You have to die to live. Clearly Jesus’ love is more than radical; it is arbitrary, bewildering, shocking, and offensive. None of us wants to admit it, but if we had started work at sunrise, we would have resented those who had worked only an hour and received the same pay”
So what is the connection, perhaps my title doesn’t even make sense in the light of both parables, but what I want to explore is that we are called to be good stewards in little things, and that God’s faithfulness is great in Big things and little things, and his generosity is a home for us all…So perhaps little grace could be understood as little acts that we do to change the world around us…To be Jesus to those whose world needs just that, and perhaps the Graces part of Little Graces can be understood in the light that Jesus ultimately gives us a hope, chance, life, and grace when we are bad stewards.
It’s easy to say that loving everyone is a great concept, but when love contradicts our sense of fairness, we are angry. Yes, we are all in favor of God’s love, but his love is mysterious, the landowners unfairness was great news to those who were unemployed with no hope of being hired. God’s news is Great News to us…God’s love may be “unfair”, but when his “unfairness” includes you and me, who wants to argue? We should be comforted by this generosity and faithfulness, and recognize that because of this unfair grace we now have life and are called in turn to be faithful and generous. AMEN.