Apologies, the first 10 minutes of the sermon is missing due to technical issues.Morning everyone – I want to start this morning in the book of Esther – might take some finding there in the old testament – Esther 4 - with the story of Mordecai and Esther, Mordechai is in the role of adoptive father figure to his daughter – and under strict instruction she has concealed her Jewish Heritage, and thanks to her beauty has been chosen by the Persian King to be his new bride. The problem is, we learn in Esther 3 that there is a plot underfoot to kill the Jews – her people, and herself, are in mortal danger. Mordecai pleads with Esther, - go tell your husband the King to put an end to this – you need to be bold – you need to speak out. And Esther responds with fear and reluctance – we pick it up from vs 11 in Chapter 4
“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”Esther is afraid – if she approaches the king in the wrong way – she herself will be in more danger – she would much rather do and say nothing! But Mordechai reminds her how this affects her as well – don’t think that you will escape and be unaffected - the danger is there – even though you are a Queen – you need to take your opportunity – and then listen to what he says to her – a famous passage: And who knows but that you have come to you royal position for such a time as this! Orphaned, plucked from obscurity – Esther has been through a lot, but it had led to this point, and has been prearranged – Esther has been placed there for that moment by a Sovereign God.A time such as this!Well folks, it’s been some week hasn’t it. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have seen this past week alone, how, as we exited so called Women’s month, our city, our country, has just been exposed again and again - time of time – the stories do not stop – and they’re not stories out there – they are stories in our communities – in our schools, our business places – even in our church – this past week – people have been confronted and affected by men attacking women. A complete and utter disgrace – we hang our heads in collective shame at what is happening right here and right now. I haven’t really been looking forward to this morning – my head this past week has not really been in the most positive headspace to put together these thoughts… but it is still good that we come together – that we meet around God’s word and see what it says to us. Whether we arrived with hearts full of rage, crying out for justice – demanding people be held accountable. Whether we arrived here with hearts of compassion, mourning bitterly for the broken families, grieving with those affected, whether our hearts are despondent, and searching for hope – looking desperately for something good – to believe in, to place our trust in – to lift our eyes and hearts and minds to higher things. We look to His word – because it reveals God to us.This series we are continuing the morning is calling Knowing God. And if ever there was a time that you especially felt that we needed to turn to God and to Know him and his peace, to know him and his plan, it was right now.We started with the Holiness of God - God is pure, God is Holy, there is nothing sinful coming from a perfect, righteous, worthy, Holy Holy Holy God. We were reminded that Holiness isn’t a characteristic of God – it is the VERY NATURE of God – there is none beside Him Holiness is at the very centre of His being. We like to meditate on God’s love – God is love –and then we struggle to reconcile how a loving God allows things to happen – because we forget to look at His Holiness. We contemplated His Justice – He is Holy and He is Just – which means there are consequences to what you do in this life – which means there is a right and a wrong and there is a standard against which we are examined and a most high, Holy Judge who stands and sees all – and we welcome that as well of course this week – we are hungry for justice because we see these horrific things happening around us and we can’t bear the thought of people getting away with it. Of it going unpunished and there being no justice. But we also remembered the same sin problem that has affected, has infected all of us – and we all fall short before a most Holy God. And this is why last week Ali shared with us on the MERCY of God. In his mercy he takes away an eternity facing the wrath of God – he takes his own wrath and places it on Jesus – and we remembered that even this morning – My saviour – the sacrifice on a cross to forgive the sins of man, to forgive, my sins.And we arrive, this morning, at the Grace of God. If mercy was man not getting what he deserves, Grace is man getting what he does not deserve – sounds like I said the same thing twice. God has mercy on us in that he takes away our eternal punishment through what Jesus achieved on the cross. And his Grace towards us gives… gives us life, gives us all we have. A chance to enjoy his creation, on opportunity to live lives in relationship with him. A possibility – if we seek Him - to know Him. To have our eyes opened – to see Him, to hear Him.I was teased by friend of mine last week – saw her on Sunday afternoon, and she said, oh, how was church this morning, how was the Big Guy, was He largely unresponsive as usual– and then she chortled off to herself at how witty she was – and that’s the kind of trap that the world sets. If you say God is silent – well, then he is dead or useless, if you say well, yes, God spoke to me they try to make you sound like a crazy person. But God wants us to know Him – he wants us to connect with Him. And yes (you know how you always think of the perfect thing to say way after the event) – yes, it is crazy – that the most high God, the creator of the whole world wants to talk to little old you and little old me. But it’s true. He wants to be known – He will be known.Why is this book still around? No other piece of literature has even come close to remaining relevant and necessary in people’s lives. Not even close. Because it is God speaking to us. He wants us to Know his Holiness, His Justice, His love, His mercy, His Grace – to know all these things, because even though he knows every single thing about us – past present future - we need to know him. I strongly believe we are born with, in some sense a preset - hunger, or desire, and even some base awareness of a higher power. It seems so common to pretty much every society that has ever lived – David a few weeks ago shared a great verse and it said:Acts 1726 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.When Ali and I partnered up for these two weeks we were kind of divvying up the topics, and figuring out who was going to go first – and I thought, well, Knowing God’s Grace hey, this is gonna be an easy one – this is gonna be an easy sell – God’s gracious gifts – all the blessings, and we could spend a warm 25 minutes thinking about the Goodness of a Giving Father – the blessings that come our way – his daily provision and care for us, the apple of His eye – because we are the chosen special ones and we who have identified with him deserve his special anointing and favour on our lives. THAT’S. NOT. WHAT. GRACE. IS.The fundamental idea, is that it is undeserved. And we’ll think just now about what it is – but whatever IT is - it is fundamentally got nothing to with what you have done. It is a gift you haven’t earned. It is not a payment for a life lived in service of God. It is not the automatic outcome of being a good Christian boy of girl. The Grace of God – is up to God. He gives, whatever he wants, to whomever he wants. And it is up to Him.And that, is not an easy sell. That is not an easy thing to wrap your head around – because, our whole lives are built upon the exact opposite of Grace. You get out what you put in. You reap what you sow – that’s biblical right? If a man doesn’t work, he cannot eat, right? From a young child you would have been taught to you need to work hard – nothing comes easy – you need to earn your way through this life. Your schooling prepares you for a career where if you do the work, you will get the payoff.Why would you work for free? Ridiculous. But then you pick up this book and you start to read strange stories – stories of God giving – giving freely, giving graciously… God intervenes with his people – and he keeps doing to opposite of what you might expect – He chooses the outcasts, to Moses with the speaking problem – he is given the leadership …. He entrusts the gospel to fisherman and carpenters. The Kings of all Kings – Jesus Himself – is born/given into a lowly household. No might, no resources, no armies behind – but He brings about the Gospel revolution. Parables from Jesus himself trying to explain the kingdom of God using the picture of labourers, who all arrive at different times, do different amounts of work, and get paid the same. Jesus himself, as he hangs on the cross assures the thief right next to him, that he will enter paradise… That guy is freely given the keys to heaven! That’s not fair! That’s not just. But it is Grace.We don’t understand. We live in a natural world, that is ordered – that has rules – that is mathematical – if you do this, then that will happen. But Grace comes to us from Heaven above, by it’s very nature Supernatural – outside of Nature. Why would you leave 99 sheep behind to go search for 1 lost sheep? Why are the meek blessed? Why will the first be last?Phillip Yancey, in his bestselling book What’s so amazing about Grace- I’m sure we have a copy in the library – and many of you have a copy on your shelves – talks about the new math of Grace. This is not accounting (without offending the accountants here) – with plusses and minuses and a tally and the end to see if you’re good enough.Robert Farrar Capon states, “If the world could have been saved by good bookkeeping, it would have been saved by Moses, not Jesus.”But we live under Grace, not under Karma. Praise God. Praise God that he gives even when we don’t deserve – even though we don’t understand. Yancey coins the term the scandal of Grace – that even the worst of the worst would be forgiven. Legalism says – bad people don’t get into heaven – but Grace says, come to me even the worst of the worst. It says forgiveness is available to everyone. And that makes us feel very warm and fuzzy when we think about ourselves, but it actually makes us a bit uncomfortable when we look at others – you know, the real sinners.Even those who are not saved and never become saved benefit from grace. We might call it God's "common grace." "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45).It runs anti to how we live our lives and how we think JUSTICE operates. What we think is fair. Let me tell you, if I decided to, on the way home from church, go buy a large slab of chocolate, and a small little chocolate bar – and when I got home, I gathered the kids round and I said, good news guys, I got some chocolate on the way home! There would be much joy. And when I revealed the large chocolate and the small chocolate, and gave the big one to one child, and the little one to the other child how quickly do you think those happy faces would turn… well, the one face might stay happy, but the other face, would pretty quickly, let me tell you go red and start getting, quite.. er warm and moist…I would be told, loudly – that’s not fair – I would be accused of being cruel. And treating my children unkindly! That’s how the world thinks – I’ve just given them chocolates. They didn’t have any chocolate, now they both have chocolate! But I’ve supposedly done something wrong.This touches on another challenge we face when we try to understand grace – and that is the issue of entitlement – I am entitled – being treated the way everyone else is being treated – because that goes along with justice and fairness, and equality, which are all good things. But, just like my daughter would feel entitled to a piece of chocolate the same size as her brother – Just like this Christmas we tally up the gifts to make dead sure the Sylvie gets that same number of presents - Just like those labourers in the parable felt entitled to different to fair wages.Life is not fair. And Grace is not FAIR.It’s not fair that David has the voice of an angel and my microphone is turned down most Sundays. It’s not fair I’m greying in my thirties and some of you have colour in your hair well into your…ahem…70s?Trivial examples…ok, here’s one then - it’s not fair that my father passed away before my kids were born… - God didn’t give us that blessing – was he not Gracious to us? Of course he is, don’t be ridiculous – He has given us so much – according to His Grace – we are given different things. Different situations – different abilities, different things are coming our ways – but they all come from a Gracious Giver. To know God’s Grace is to appreciate that everything we receive is undeserved, unmerited, is given by the Father. If you come to my house - on our dining room wall hangs something that is very special to me – it’s not a piece of art, not a beautiful family photo – we have those as well, but the thing I’m talking about is a guitar. A pretty junk guitar, if I’m honest. Probably worth a few hundred bucks. But, if I woke up at night and I was in danger and I had to leave the house, I grab that guitar first and take it outside… and then I’d go back into the house and wake up Sarah and the kids…no I’m joking… But that guitar belonged to my Father – it was the one he played, and now it’s my favourite guitar to play. It reminds me of Him! It connects me to Him. The thing is precious because it came from someone precious. We are not entitled to anything. But He gives. HE gives. The problem is we don’t value the gifts – we don’t treat things well in general. We don’t reat our families well – we don’t respect and honour women – and we wander why society falls apart. We don’t even treat our time preciously – because we forget who has given it to us."Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25).Everything. Whether it is given to us as a blessing, or whether it us given to us as a lesson. Whether it is preordained for us to endure – some trial, some hardship that we don’t understand (Grace), that we don’t deserve (Grace).Paul talks about Grace being sufficient – we sing – your grace is enough – why, because even in the middle of weakness and difficulty – Grace reveals God – it tells us of His strength, and His power – it is an opportunity to learn just how weak and fragile you are, and how strong and mighty God is. How we long to have that sort of mindset. Count it all as joy? You must be joking… a very difficult challenge for sure.So if everything you receive – is Grace – if every Gift that comes your way is Grace – and thanks Paul, even the hardships and trials –get included into this thing – all you are given, then what’s the opposite of Grace. Ungrace? Disgrace? Well the opposite of receiving something – is, having things taken away from you – of being left with nothing. A world fully devoid of any of God’s Grace – would be a world full of nothing – of emptiness – no pain, no difficulty, no hardship – but even worse – absolutely nothing. The worst punishment in prison? Solitary confinement. One of the biggest problems with space travel? Astronauts going crazy in isolation, being disconnected, being cut off, and going insane… from being out of society. I bet if I asked how you parents of teenagers discipline their kids, it might be something along the lines of cutting off the WIFI switch. Go to your room, ja, sure – Go to your room and no internet – nooo please noooSo we give thanks to God for his gracious Gifts to us. It’s been a sombre week, but God is still on the throne, and he is still using his people and his creation to make himself known. We circle back to Esther. Perhaps you were born for a time such as this…Perhaps you were placed in your position – even in this threatening, fearful time to make Him known – each moment as a Gracious Opportunity. To Be Graceful in how you act, to shows God’s Grace to all of God’s creation, and to Know Him – even closer.I KNOW NOT WHY GOD’S WONDROUS GRACETo me hath been made known;Nor why, unworthy as I am,He claimed me for His own.I know not how this saving faithTo me He did impart;Or how believing in His wordWrought peace within my heart.I know not how the Spirit moves,Convincing men of sin;Revealing Jesus through the word, (God wants to be known)Creating faith in Him.I know not what of good or illMay be reserved for me,Of weary ways or golden days (what the future holds? Who knows?)Before His face I see.But I know whom I have believed;And am persuaded that He is ableTo keep that which I’ve committedUnto Him against that day.