The necessity of God’s grace

Proper 13, 1 August 2021

Today’s Gospel is very important, and in some ways might be considered scandalous.  Some of Jesus’ words were very difficult to understand, to the point that some of His disciples didn’t follow Him afterwards.

Today we’re reminded of the Eucharist.  The disciples were sad when Jesus said He would leave; but He said He’d still be with them.  How can that be?  For the Church, those who believe in the Christian faith, we hear God speak to us through His holy Word, and touch Him through the Eucharist.  A woman who’d haemorrhaged for twelve years said, “If only I can touch Jesus, I’ll be healed”; for us Christians, every Sunday is the opportunity for us to touch God.  Pope Benedict XVI said, “When Jesus was crucified on the cross, no one dared to break His leg or any bone; but He allows Himself to be broken every Sunday for you and for me.”  Many of us have received the Eucharist since we were young, but I pray our understanding will be renewed.  We touch God, receive Him in our hearts, and encounter Jesus in a very intimate way.  For this reason, worship cannot be worship without the Eucharist – it’s impossible.  He comes down again, and we don’t only receive bread and wine, but the body and blood of Christ, by virtue of the prayer of consecration; that’s the faith of the Church catholic.

Everything is a gift from God

The Gospel speaks of the necessity of God’s grace – His undeserved favour.  The children of Israel asked Jesus, “What shall we do, to do the works of God?”[1]  It might seem they were saying, “Lord, tell us what to do, and we’ll do it”.  But it became clear to Jesus that they were saying, “Salvation can be gained through good works.  Tell us what you want us to do so we can receive something from God.” 

Everything we receive comes from God: you wouldn’t have life if God didn’t will it.  Your parents didn’t give you life – God used them to give us physical bodies, but life came from Him.  Adam wasn’t alive until God breathed into him the breath of life.  Everything we have is a gift from God, undeserved, because He’s generous.  There’s a saying, “God helps those who help themselves”; but salvation is purely a gift from God.  When God created Eve, He caused Adam to sleep: it was purely His gift, with no human effort whatsoever.

Like many humans, the people to whom Jesus was talking thought salvation could be a collaboration, a 50-50 work of man and God – like the rich young man who said, “What shall I do to enter the Kingdom of God?”  It’s not because of what we do but what God does that we can enter.

God is irreplacable

Exodus 32:1-2 tells the story when Moses was on the mountain praying and the children of Israel became impatient.  They couldn’t wait, but treated him as God and wanted to replace him.  They asked Aaron to make them a god who would lead them.  Since man is created by God, how can man make a god?  They were quick to abandon God and exchange him for something that was dead, made from gold; they were overwhelmed by impatience and disrespect.  Rabbi Umberto Cassuto said this request was totally absurd: they believed they could make a god for themselves, a god they could control.  They failed to realise that whatever humans create is subservient and sub-human: anything we make will be less than us. 

Sometimes we think computers are smarter than us; but no – they’re made by man.  Modern man looks to co-equals, political parties, and says, “Save us from our misery and poverty”.  We build human institutions to solve world ills: how many times have we heard, “Follow the science”?  but hardly have we heard people say, “Listen to God”.  Is science greater than God?  Who created science, but man?  We cannot elevate science or political parties to be God, or make one another gods – God is irreplaceable.  When the virus changes, science is obliged to change.  God can use authorities, people, human institutions, vaccines and science, but they can never replace Him.  We can be thankful for their help, but we must listen to God.

We need to rely on God

“What must we do?”  The children of Israel and the rich young man were indicating their willingness to be partners of God, but not recipients of His grace – so do we who are sinners.  Man lives only by God’s grace.  A song says, “Only by grace can we enter”.  Everything we receive comes from God; that’s why our worship is always thanksgiving to Him.  To do the work of God is to have faith in Him, trust in Him, and commit our lives to Him.  When we trust in Him, we won’t be disappointed.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust each other; but humans aren’t perfect like God.  We all make mistakes, but God doesn’t.  We’re not all-powerful; how powerful is God compared with us?

We need science, medical professionals, and politicians who do their best to try to protect us, but in the end it’s God who protects us.  We may be thankful for vaccines, but they were made by people to whom God gave knowledge and ability.  Thank God for protecting us. 

Salvation and entrance into God’s Kingdom isn’t because of human work, but because of God’s work alone.  Many things in the Bible are conditional: if you do this, this is what will happen; but salvation is a free gift from God.  If you haven’t given your life to Jesus 100%, salvation can’t be earned by human effort – we need to rely on God’s grace and simply open our hearts to Him.  Let’s pause and pray, and realise there are things we cannot do, that God can do alone.

Heavenly Father, thank You for reminding us that You’ve given us life through Your Son Jesus Christ; that although He’s ascended, He’s with us, that whatever we go through in this life, He’ll never leave nor forsake us; that we can touch Him and receive His life, the medicine of immortality.  Thank You for reminding us that we need You, that there are things we cannot do and we’re totally dependent upon the grace of Almighty God.  Like a child dependent upon milk from the mother’s breasts, we’re dependent upon You, Lord Christ: we’re helpless without You, we’re not strong without you, we don’t know where to go without You.  Lord, in trust and confidence we open our hearts and let You become the Lord of our lives.  In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] John 6:28

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