9 February 2016 Tuesday Church -Amazing Grace
READINGS: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21
It’s Shrove Tuesday. It’s a day of cleansing. the last day before the fast of Lent when people used up the ingredients they had that would go off over the next 40 days if left unused. Hence the pancakes! Words related to this are “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras. And he word “carnival” from the Latin carnem levare, meaning “to take away the flesh” – and was also associated with Shrove Tuesday.Traditionally viewed as a day of repentance, Shrove Tuesday has become the last day for celebration and feasting before the period of fasting required during the Lenten season.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday – the start of Lent.
Ashes on the forehead remind us of our mortality. We are made from dust, hence “dust to dust, and ashes to ashes” which we hear at funerals. Many people take Lent and fasting or going without something for these days (excluding Sundays) until Easter Saturday.
Jesus didn’t seem to focus on special days.
He simply says
- When you give to the needy
- When you pray
- When you fast
Why all this secrecy? Praying behind closed doors and giving so that no one know you’ve given?
- It’s really about the people of Jesus’ day who did things for the wrong reasons.
- Showing off before others.
- Trying to impress.
Of course people will find out you’re doing good. After all Jesus also says;
Mat 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Mat 5:15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Mat 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
People made their religion into the legalistic doing of things and wanted others to see them do it.
Jesus says – when you do these things – let them be a spiritual discipline that is in the background – quietly connecting you with God, with the really important things (fasting teaches you that – it keeps you aware of what really matters – and it’s not food or satisfying yourself).
All these things are normal. And he continues with these words:
Mat 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Mat 6:20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. Mat 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Lent is a time of reorientation of our lives.
And underlying these disciplines is the truth that none of it earns us points really.
John Newton knew that – he was the most wretched of sinners.
That’s why Amazing Grace is such a powerful song. Not because it’s played so often on the bagpipes. John Newton was English anyway – not Scottish. It’s powerful because it reminds us that we are undeserving sinners.
That’s why Grace is amazing. We didn’t find ourselves.
- I once was lost, but now I’m found – by God.
- Was blind but now I see – through God opening my eyes.
It’s actually in a more modern version of “Amazing Grace” that one of the original verses turn up that are not in the traditional version most people sing:
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below, Will be forever mine.
Whatever happens – the whole world can end – but our relationship with God is steady. Nothing can separate us from His love in Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
It’s the chorus that we love in that version:
My chains are gone I’ve been set free
My God my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love amazing grace
We fast, we pray, we give in response to the amazing grace and mercy of God.
Not to earn it.
During Lent we remind ourselves of what Jesus went through to achieve our salvation.
The 40 days lead us to the cross – where he suffers for us and pays the ransom price to buy us back for God.
In the last hymn we sing today by John Newton he writes about our faith as an experience of Zion – the city of God’s dwelling place. Zion was always about God’s presence with them,
And he writes about grace again in these words:
See, the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love,
Well supply your sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove;
Who can faint, while such a river
Flows to heart and mind engage?
Grace which, like the Lord, the giver,
Never fails from age to age.
And then in the last verse – reminding us of where our treasure is:
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know
May you have that certainty of his grace in your lives.