A Matter of Life and Death, and Love

by Elaine Maust
Ephesians 2: 1-10
Lent 4
March 15, 2009

When we were very little girls, my sister and I lived on our family’s farm. We didn’t just live in a house on the farm, mind you, we lived on the farm. My sister must have been about two at the time, and she and I were riding on the back of a wagon being pulled through the bumpy muddy barnyard. There were very deep holes in this sheep yard, and as the tractor and wagon lurched along we swayed and bounced.

Well, my little sister was light as a feather and when the wagon wheel fell to the bottom of a particularly tremendous bump she went flying way up into the air, out of the wagon and down to the bottom of a huge mud hole. She landed flat on her back, arms and legs spread and my dad remembers the mud closing in over her. She was gone. In an instant she vanished completely.

Our message from God this morning is from Eph. 2:1-10. This is Paul writing a letter to the Christians in the town of Ephesus. This is God, speaking to Jubilee in Meridian.

And this is what it says: (v1) But as for you, you were as good as dead.

We were completely submerged in the sin life. As surrounded by sin as my little sister was buried in the mud. It was as if the very air we breathed was filthy.

“You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and (as the Message says) you breathed out disobedience.” We were as contaminated by wrong acting and thinking, as lost as my little sister down at the bottom of that nasty barnyard pit.

“But as for you, you were dead”. What? All of us? Dead? At one time, we were the living dead, walking around as we were in sin. Death and sin were our home address.

What? This is not us. Did I hear you say that? We are the good people. Right? The responsible ones. The religious above average. Right? We are the ones who found God’s to do list (the 10 commandments) and checked all of them off. Right?

We don’t like to think of our nasty little habits as trespasses and sins. Or to admit that we are part of a world of people, the human race, who consistently take the road to feel good instead of the road toward God.

But like I said in a sermon a few weeks ago, our brokenness, our sin, is one thing we all have in common. Still, we would rather be saved from despair than from sin. We read these strong words that everyone disappoints God and we feel a little sick. Us, God? Surely not us too? We are the good ones, remember?

Verses 2-4 says that all of us were dead on the inside. That what we once did was follow our worst cravings, desires, and thoughts. Our situation was desperate. Our fate grave. Would we die like this? Empty and filthy and lost on the inside?

Then at the beginning of verse 4, just when we think all is hopeless, when we are ready to despair, the cymbals crash and two words explode with hope, “But God”.

Back to my little sister. My dad was riding in the back of the wagon with us. The same instant that my sister hit that mud puddle he jumped down off the tractor and into mud himself. He reached down into the nasty water and scooped my sister up. He told her “spit, spit, spit” and he took off running for the house. “Blow, blow, blow,” he said as he ran.

My grandmother came out onto the porch as she saw my dad coming, holding this little creature completely covered with mud and anything else that might have been in the barnyard. What did he have in his arms? And she called out to him, “Is that one of ours?”

But God. But God who loves us, came down to earth, right where we people were. He came in Jesus, because he loved us. Just like my dad jumped off the wagon and into that mud hole for love of my little sister, to save her, no less, Jesus came into the world messy though it was, to scoop us out, and raise us up. Loved us enough to see value in us, when there wasn’t any. Loved us enough to risk contamination himself. Loved us enough to scoop us up and give us chance at a new life. (4)

I’ve experienced puppy love, romantic love, parental love… These days I am intoxicated with the love of a grandparent. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s just because Isaac is our first, but even grandparents who have a dozen grandchildren assure me that Nana and Pawpaw love may just be the best love of all.

But there is one more love that is even more wonderful. There is the great love with which God loved us. While we were still among the living dead, walking through life following our fears and addictions and chasing emptiness, God came looking for us. Sent Jesus in fact. And just as Jesus came bursting back to life, God makes us alive through that remarkable love.

And that is salvation. God saves us from death.

(v5) And God saves by grace.

During that trip to the house in my dad’s arms, my sister lay completely still. But he could tell she was beginning to spit and blow like he told her to. He gave this nasty little girl to my grandmother.

Then my mother and grandmother gave my sister bath after bath after bath to scrub her clean until she was pink, blond and blue-eyed. My dad, mother, and grandma became the trinity of my sister’s salvation for a tumble that could have killed her. And she survived. And to look at her today, you would never know this even happened. But this story has been recounted so many times in our family, that it has become a story of love and grace. It is a story of salvation.

And it is God’s remarkable love and amazing grace that scrubs us cleans on the inside: “by grace you have been saved.”

But God who is rich in mercy. The economy these days has not been kind to any of us, but it has been especially hard on rich people. Those who were rich in stocks have watched the stock market crash. Those who were rich in real estate have watched house prices fall off a cliff. Those who were rich in timber know that prices are so low that it is not worth calling the loggers.

The good news is God is not rich in stocks or real estate or timber. God is rich in mercy. And he has invested that mercy and grace in us. How can it be?

“But God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us…” Why? (v7)

We are saved because God wants to be kind to us. What??? What is God thinking? Is it not clear that we mortal humans are going to be a lot of trouble? That we have a tendency toward being selfish and needy and greedy?

But how else might God’s wealth in grace and mercy be known? God does not have a diversified portfolio. God invests all of his love and grace and mercy in humans. There is no explaining it. It is the gift of God.

(v8-9) To make it clear, it is repeated twice. Not by anything we have done. Not by works.

You know what “works” are, right? They are the Boy Scout merit badge stuff. God wants us to know that one of the reasons we are rescued simply by his love is so that we don’t brag about it. We were not saved by doing right or because we deserve it. It is the gift of God.

Back to the grandparent love. I don’t love Isaac because of anything he has done. Our son Nathan has pointed out that our grandson, Isaac, seems to have overlooked the fact that he has been born into a family of overachievers. Isaac, Nathan says, is bringing down the average. He is the only one in our family who is not pulling his own weight. He says that Isaac is a drain on society. I don’t care. We love him, because that what Grandparents do.

And God loves us, because that’s what God does. Not because we’ve done good, we haven’t. Not because we are trying hard, it didn’t work. God loves us because that what God does.

We are saved from sin. We are saved by grace.

And we are saved for…

Is there something expected of us after all? What? V10 “for we are what he has made us.” Or as the King James says so beautifully, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus, unto good works…”

There it is again, good works. We must be clear about this. We are not saved by good deeds, we are created for them and saved for them.

Duane’s Maust side of the family are inventors and engineers. Whether they create voice activated steering for the cars of the future or devise new farm machines to harvest sugar beets, their specialty is function.

Duane’s Grandpa Maust was the first in whom I noticed this gift. I will never forget visiting Grandpa in his little white block house in Florida. We walked in the door to the smell of burning oatmeal, and there on the table was a toaster with a goose neck lamp rising out of the slot intended for bread. It seems that the toaster and the lamp had both malfunctioned and so Grandpa did the only logical thing to him, he made one appliance out of the two broken ones.

Well, God is even more brilliant and imaginative than the Mausts. And we are God’s project. And what is the function God intended for us? We are created in Jesus Christ to do good works.

Grandpa Maust planned and worked on his intention, light for his little breakfast table. God planned ahead, working with us though Jesus. (10) God’s intention? That we would do good works. Not in order to be saved. And this is important. But because we are saved.

And that is salvation. We are saved from death and sin. We are saved by mercy and grace. And we are saved for the good works for which God planned us all along.

We don’t become Christians or good people by trying to be. We are changed as we let God reach out and change us and so that we can live the life of good for which we were intended. It is by grace that we are saved. Not of ourselves. It is the gift of God.

It is grace. And it is amazing.

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