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Romans 4:13-25 February 25, 2018

Your Credit is Good

The scene is so familiar, you see it time and time again in movies and TV shows.
A person is ready to checkout of a store and the clerk asks for their credit card. They
hand it to the clerk and it is scanned. “I’m sorry, this card is maxed out.” “There must be some
mistake,” the customer says. “Try again.”
(This always cracks me up. I have never seen an occasion where a rejected credit card
suddenly works when you try it again. And still, we hope.)
Wouldn’t it be a hoot if somehow money could be transferred into an account between
swipes and suddenly – POW! – great credit!

That is precisely how God’s love works. That is how grace works.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is
the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
Everything that Christians talk about when we talk about God comes to us as a gift.
There is nothing that we can do to earn it and we can’t get ahead of other people by working
harder to get it. Forgiveness from God. Salvation. Eternal Life. Spiritual Gifts. Peace. Hope.
Joy. Love. If you really want these things, the best place to start is with a receptive heart.
Of course, it makes sense to begin at a different place. For example, you could argue
rather convincingly that you know love because you were raised in a loving home, had caring
teachers and good friends and found a life partner that has been with you forever. That’s great!
Good to know. But what did you do to earn such a good life?
Whether you begin with God or view life as good fortune apart from God, about 99.9%
of the good things in life are unearned. If you are a committed atheist, at the very least you
should develop an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving for every good gift, every fortunate
turn of events that you have received.
But for us as Christians, our gratitude should be greater because it has been revealed
to us through Christ how much more God has been at work in the world to love us
unconditionally. We come to that awareness through faith.
The apostle Paul was a Pharisee, a faithful Jew who lived a life that was pleasing to
God by following the Law of Moses. But no matter how hard he tried, he knew that he was
bound to fail. And every setback created doubt in his mind that he could ever please God. With
those failures, came despair and sadness. Since the Pharisees were the best at keeping the
Law, most Jews saw themselves diminished in comparison (not a good thing) and those
“Gentiles” outside the synagogue were even more hopeless, since they did not even have the
Law of Moses on their side!
But there were Jews that spoke about Jesus and about how, though Christ’s life, death
and resurrection, God offered believers forgiveness and new life. This was an unearned gift; all
you had to do was believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Paul couldn’t believe this. In a word, it was “poppycock”. If the Law was hard, this was
beyond belief. So, Paul and his friends persecuted these Christians and tried to quench these
ridiculous claims. But then Paul had an experience in which he encountered Christ and
realized that he could exchange his world of doubt and anxiety for the peace which surpasses
understanding. He could let go of his efforts to earn God’s love and open us his empty hands
to receive it. His life was never the same. Christian faith was born.
But…really…a guy rising from the dead? That’s something that can’t be documented or
“That’s right,” Paul said. You have to take it on faith.
Here, in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul argues that even God’s relationship with
the Jews, going back to Abraham, was founded on faith.
Abraham and Sarah were told that they would have descendants as numerous as the
stars in the heavens. But Abraham was almost a hundred years old and Sarah was in her early
nineties when finally, Isaac was born. The Law of Moses wasn’t a thing yet since Moses wasn’t
a thing (he would not be born until about 300 years later!). But “No distrust made him waver
concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being
fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith ‘was
reckoned to him as righteousness.’” (Romans 3:20-23)
Jesus works the same way. How can you prove that the promises of God are true? You
can’t; you simply believe in them and then see your life transformed. This comes by active faith
in God’s promises.
But what is faith in God? I recently read a good analogy by Gracia Grindal, who heard it
from another preacher: Imagine that you are in a tall building and hear fire sirens. You realize
that the building is on fire and your only way out is to jump out of the window into the net that
the firefighters are holding on the ground below. Faith is not simply believing that the net is
there, or that it is strong enough to hold you, or that the firefighters will be able to hold onto it
when you land. Faith is not knowledge, but it is acting on what you know, believing these
things are true enough for you to make that jump.
Most people really like the idea of grace. What’s not to like? It’s a gift and it’s free. But
often we just don’t trust it and fall back into old pre-grace habits. Consider the possibility of
heaven. What do you think you will encounter on your first day? Many Christians would say
that they will meet St. Peter (or an angel) at the Pearly Gates and will expect to be ushered in
or sent away, depending on how they lived their life on Earth.
That’s “Earth talk”, not heavenly conversation. It’s only natural that we good people
expect to be rewarded for all of our wonderful acts of love and those miserable, cruel, evil
persons that we know (and you know who you are) will face judgement and the subsequent
rejection from God’s presence. But don’t you see how limiting that is? You are replacing the
guaranteed love of God with the subjective possibility of acceptance into the Kingdom.
It’s not just apples and oranges here. It’s comparing one apple to an orchard of apples.
You know how much I love movies. Well, there’s a thing right now that you can
purchase called Movie Pass. You set up an account online and for $9.95 a month you can use
a Movie Pass card at theaters and see up to a movie a day. It’s a real thing; I have a Movie
Pass and a few of you do, too. Well, Cinemark Theaters have started their own program. It’s
called Movie Club. You set up your account online and for $8.95 a month you get one movie
ticket and 20% discount on concessions. I recently went to the ticket window and told them
that I wanted a ticket charged to my Movie Pass. The girl at the counter entered in my ticket
and said “Nothing’s coming up!” I told her to try again. The manager came over and said: “You
are trying our Movie Club. He’s on Movie Pass.” I laughed. “Oh yes, Movie Club! I don’t know
why anyone in Sandusky would join Movie Club!” Sue thought that this was a rude thing to say,
but I meant it. Why would anyone trade the possibility of a movie a day for $9.95 for one movie
a month for $8.95, in a town where tickets are never as much as $8.95?
That’s the way it is with God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Freely given as God’s gift,
trusting that when a person realizes such love that they will respond in giving their life away for
others, too. Why would you trade the possibility of love unending forever for a life in which you
would always wonder if your credit with God was good, if you had done enough to merit God’s
favor and acceptance.
Our credit is good with God because it’s not about us, but about God.
God knows the world is a mess. God knows that we humans will continue to mess
things up. Jesus comes to us as we are. One day things will be different, but that day is still
some ways off. In the meantime, God’s love is breaking through our darkness and bringing us
comfort, hope and new possibilities. Your credit with God is good because it is God who
creates love and maintains the relationship with us. The same God who Abraham trusted to
bring him descendants is the same God who Paul trusted to proclaim Good News to the world.
God provides the net to catch us. God is holding the net. God will bring us to a safe
place. Have faith. Your credit is good. Jump!