Sunday’s sermon: The Meaning of Grace

Text used – Romans 3:29-30; 5:1-11

  • As I was thinking about grace this week, I was thinking about a bunch of those childhood playground games.
    • First thought: Red Rover
      • 2 teams stand in lines facing teach other holding hands
      • Team A calls over one person from Team B → that person runs across the space btwn. the lines and tries to break through Team A’s line while Team A tries to keep their line from breaking
        • If person breaks through, they get to take someone from Team A back to their line
        • If person doesn’t break through, they join Team A
    • Also thought about Duck Duck Grey Duck (Yes, people … it’s Duck Duck GREY DUCK. None of this “goose” nonsense. Geese don’t play with ducks. That’s ridiculous!)
      • Kids sit in a circle facing inward
      • One kid walks around the outside of the circle tapping people
        • If you’re tapped and the person who’s it just says “duck,” you stay seated
        • If you’re tapped and the person who’s it says “grey duck,” you get up and try to catch them before they can run all the way around the outside of the circle and take your seat
          • If you catch them, they remain “it”
          • If they make it back to your seat, you’re “it”
    • Game that we played at Girl Scouts when I was little: Mr. Bear à from a “Girl Scout Games” PDF I found online: One person is Mr. Bear. He is trying to sleep in his den. The other players sneak up to Mr. Bear and whisper, “Mr. Bear, are you awake?” Mr. Bear pretends not to hear them. Then the players yell, “Mr. Bear, are you awake?” This makes Mr. Bear furious! He chases them and tries to catch them before they reach home, which is the safe place. Everyone tagged becomes one of Mr. Bears’ cubs. They go back to the den with Mr. Bear. When the remaining players come back to wake up Mr. Bear, the cubs help Mr. Bear catch them.[1]
    • All of these games involve someone being singled out and trying to catch others while those others try not to get caught. And when we really get down to it, I think that’s sometimes the way we end up feeling about grace.
      • One hand: feel like there are things we do that make it impossible for grace to catch us → things that put us beyond the reach of grace
      • Other hand: feel like the ones chasing grace → like if we were just better … faster … more righteous … more Christian, we’d be able to “catch grace”
  • Probably how some of the early Christians were feeling when it came to grace because of the many divides that had grown up in the early Church
    • Theological divides → When we read a passage like this one from Romans this morning, we have to remember that what seems relatively clear and straightforward to us was anything but clear and straightforward for the early Christians.
      • Justo González (acclaimed church historian): The many converts who joined the early church came from a wide variety of backgrounds. This variety enriched the church and gave witness to the universality of its message. But it also resulted in widely differing interpretations of that message, some of which threatened its integrity. The danger was increased by the syncretism of the time, which sought truth, not by adhering to a single system of doctrine, but by taking bits and pieces from various systems. The result was that, while many claimed the name of Christ, some interpreted that name in such a manner that the very core of his message seemed to be obscured or even denied.[2] → We who read this Scripture today have the benefit of 2000 years of theological thought and church doctrine that have laid and strengthened the foundation for our understanding. But in the time that Paul was writing this letter to the Roman church, there were all sorts of beliefs and teachings about who Jesus was and how Jesus was or wasn’t connected to God spreading throughout the ancient world.
        • Gnosticism: belief that a select few followers held a special, mystical knowledge, and that knowledge alone was the key to salvation → spiritual was crucial while the things of this world, especially the body and things related to the body, were to be denied and even reviled
        • Marcionism: god of the First Testament = Jehovah → not the same as the God Jesus spoke of → sought to excise all of the references Jesus made to Hebrew Scriptures from the teachings of the early church
        • Docetism: viewed all matter as inherently evil and so belief that Jesus was never actually incarnated into a physical body → that he was a spirit that only seemed human to us
      • With all of these competing ideologies and budding wayward beliefs spreading like wildfire through the ancient world, it’s no wonder some felt that grace was something they had to chase.
  • In the midst of this throng, we have the works of Paul who was trying to spread the good news of the gospel – a message of grace and salvation for all through the embodied life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    • Ideologies (or heresies, as they have been labeled by the Church for centuries now) that were beginning to develop as Paul was making his missionaries journeys through southeastern Europe and the Middle East → Paul’s frequent references to “false teachers,” esp. in Gal
    • Not just competing theologies but competing backgrounds
      • Last week: mentioned the divide btwn. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians → Many in the earliest days of the early church believed that, in order to follow Jesus, you also had to follow the Jewish Law as laid out in the book so Moses, including the law pertaining to circumcision.
        • View that Peter began to change with his interaction with Cornelius → vision about the sheet being lowered down full of what were considered unclean animals (unfit for human consumption) according to Jewish law → God to Peter: “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.”[3]
        • View that Paul was working hard to abolish – beginning of today’s text: No, not at all, but through the law of faith. We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith.[4] → Paul is trying to tear down some of those divides that others within the early church were still trying to keep up.
  • And once he’s made it clear just how open the gospel is to everyone – Jews and Gentiles alike – Paul gives us this exposition on grace and faith. Truly, these 11 verses are sort of a primer on grace and faith. They are the core of Paul’s belief laid out for us in black and white.
    • Central tenet of Christianity: This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people.[5] → These verses are so crucial, and I want to dive into the Greek here a little bit.[6]
      • First and most important: “love” = agape love → This is that all-encompassing, benevolent, unconditional love that God gives to us … the “love that covers sin,” as the Christian band Casting Crowns puts it in their song “Your Love Is Extravagant”: Your love is extravagant / Spread wide in the arms of Christ is the love that covers sin / No greater love have I ever known You considered me a friend[7] → It is this indescribably incredible love that God has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.


      • Gr. “weak” = encompasses all the ways that we can feel weak – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually → Remember, Paul himself has experienced all of these things. He was an up-and-comer in the ranks of Jewish religious leaders … until he encountered God on the side of the road – an encounter that left him temporarily blind and spiritually flipped upside-down. Paul’s conversion experience was dramatic and wholly life-altering, and his work since then had him imprisoned, beaten, chased out of homes and towns. It had him weak in every way … and yet, in that weakness, Paul found not self-pity and bitterness but hope and love and grace.
      • Gr. “ungodly” = not quite the judgment/condemnation it sounds like → It’s not just about a lack belief but also about being irreverent – about not showing the appropriate respect or honor to the sacred. These are those moments when we feel like we’re the ones chasing grace … but we just can’t seem to keep up.
  • But if we return back to that schoolyard games idea for a moment, Paul is saying that grace is less like those single-you-out games and more like a game that my boys have been talking about lately – a game that they learned in gym class.
    • Game = blog tag → And yes, it’s basically exactly what it sounds like.
      • Starts with one person who’s “it” → But every time that person tags someone, they become part of the blog, and the blog works to tag other people … to bring other people in. And once someone is in, they get to help bring in more people.
      • Scholar: Having discovered through faith the love that God has for each of us, we have peace and we have hope. We are no longer divided internally with questions of worth or feelings of failure. We are able to accept ourselves as we are because we experience being accepted.[8] → And in turn, feeling that acceptance in ourselves, we are called by the gospel to extend it to others as well … to bring more people into the blob.
    • Today’s text: But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.[9] → Grace doesn’t single one person out over another. Grace doesn’t hold fast to hands in an attempt to keep others out – to only let in the selective few who are strong enough … fast enough … good enough to break through. Grace blobs everyone in. Grace grows and shifts and expands each time another one of us finds our way back to God. We don’t have to be strong enough … because God’s grace has already taken us in. We don’t have to be fast enough … because God’s grace has already taken us in. We don’t have to be good enough … because God’s grace has already taken us in. Again and again and again, God’s grace has taken, does take us, and will take us in. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[2] Justo L. González. The Story of Christianity, vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 58.

[3] Acts 10:15.

[4] Rom 3:28-30.

[5] Rom 5:5-6.

[6] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel-Levy,

[7] Jared Anderson and Peter C. Kipley. “Your Love Is Extravagant” from Casting Crowns. (Brentwood: Capitol CMG Publishing), 2003.

[8] Ward B. Ewing. “Third Sunday in Lent: Romans 5:1-11 – Theological Perspective” from Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 90.

[9] Rom 5:8-11.

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