Sermon for August 2, 2015
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Text of sermon:
Work is a good thing. At just about any age, I think we humans benefit greatly from having responsibilities and from keeping our minds and our bodies occupied. Of course, not all jobs, not all work is paying work (a stay at home parent may not be getting paid, but is working just as much, if not more, as your average CEO) but still having a job and having work, it gives you a sense of accomplishment, that sense of self-worth when you step back and look at something you have done and say to yourself….yes…I did that. Work can give you pride, and self-worth and self-confidence and for that it is very important.
Sometimes in life we learn that our work alone is not enough. Some projects are too big for one person, even simple projects. No matter how hard I try, I am simply not going to get a sofa up my staircase at home. It is just too much for me. And no matter how hard I tried, I simply cannot play the organ, sing and administer communion all at the same time. I don’t have all those gifts, and even if I did, I am just one person, and there are limits to what I can do by myself. Sometimes you learn that you have to work with others to accomplish more than you can do on your own. All of us have individual gifts and skills and sharing them with each other helps to make us collectively stronger. It helps us to accomplish bigger things than we could do working on our own.
But even when we are working together, there are still some things that are so far outside of our human capabilities, that no amount of teamwork or collaboration is going to help. There are some things that we cannot do on our own. Some things are so great we cant work for them at all. Some things simply have to be given to us, and recognizing that helps us to balance that self-worth and self-confidence that work gives us with humility and gratitude. No matter how big we are, or how capable we are, there are some things that we cannot do or accomplish on our own. Sometimes you have to learn how to receive something that you didn’t work for, couldn’t work for, and probably don’t even deserve. Those moments are called grace. To be given something that you didn’t work for and that you don’t deserve: that is called grace. Grace is about the graciousness or the generosity of the giver, not the worthiness of the recipient. With grace it is the giver who does the real work, the receiver simply chooses to either accept or reject the gift.
The Christian story, the gospel, the good news, is about the grace of God. It is about the graciousness shown to us by God by giving us something that we could never work for. No matter how hard we tried, either working alone or working together, we humans are not going to save ourselves. We just don’t have the power. It is something that has to be given to us. The gospel is how we believe that God did that. The good news is about how we believe that God has saved us and central to that story is the life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus came to a people who had been trying for a long time to save themselves. He started preaching, performing miracles. Last week we heard about him feeding 5000 people. The crowds got excited… they began to say to themselves: surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world. Surely he must know what we need to do to save ourselves. He must have the answer, oh and he did have the answer, but not the one they were looking for. They began to talk about this story that they knew, that they all collectively knew, about Moses and freeing the Israelites from Egypt. They started talking about this story, and Jesus starts to question them about it. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and when they were wandering in the desert and hungry did he feed them? No! He didn’t feed them. Moses didn’t toil and sweat to make the manna fall from the sky. God fed them. That food, which was their salvation, that was a gift from God. No amount of work or teamwork make that happen, it was a gift from God.
Then Jesus said the most powerful thing to them. He says to them: that is what I am to you. I am like that bread from heaven. I am living bread that has come down to you from God for your salvation. You want to know how you can work for this. You want to know what you can do to make this happen, but the answer is nothing. Just as Moses could do nothing to make the manna come from heaven, you can do nothing to produce the salvation that I bring. The work you have to do is this: accept the gift, or reject it. Receive the grace that God is offering you, or go on trying in vain to save yourself.
Work is good, teamwork is even better, but only grace can save us. God has given us something in Jesus Christ that we could never work for: he has given us salvation. Don’t get me wrong: we as Christians have work to do and God has given us gifts and skills to do it. There are things that we can do in this world, working on our own or working with each other, that can help build the type of kingdom that our Lord preaches about; there are things that we can do that will make us holier people; there are things that we can do to make our societies more just, and we need to do those things, but that alone won’t save us. Our true work is in helping the world to see and accept the salvation, the grace that has already been offered us. Let us begin by showing the world what our God is like. Let us begin by showing others the grace that our God has shown us. Let us being by spending less time talking about the work that we are doing in the world, and more time talking about the work that God has already done for us.