“The New Order by Love and Grace”
I want to start with something funny: A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I will give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.” The man says, “Okay, I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.” “That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!” “What, three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.” “Terrific!” says St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.” “One point?” he says, I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.” “Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says. “Two points?” Exasperated, the man cries and says, “At this rate, the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God.” “Bingo, 100 points! Come on in!”
If we were counting on our good deeds on earth to get us into heaven, no one would get it by their good works. The Apostle Paul says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 3:8-9). We can attend worship service, dedicate our time, give our offerings, and share our gifts and talents, but it is by God’s gifts and grace that we get into heaven. Our health, physical and spiritual, is also by God’s grace. The Apostle Paul says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 3:10).
However, we wonder what the good works are. We live in a chaotic world, which makes us confused about what good work is. We, perhaps, pursue the good things, the best ones, and first place in every moment. For example, if our children or grandchildren win first place in any competition, we feel happy. We also want to win every competition, rather than lose it. It is a so-called “society of competition.” Everyone is in pursuit of being a winner. Everyone pays attention to the one who wins first place. If it was a world in which only the winner survives, how could the losers live in the same world? Today, I want to talk about “The new order by love and grace.” What if we were not judged by our abilities, but by love and grace? How about a world in which we cooperate with love? At least our church should be like that, with an open mind, open heart, and open doors.
I heard a story about an eagle. You may know that eagles train their baby eagles to make them strong. They drop their baby eagles down from high in the sky. The baby eagles are still not old enough to fly, but they must pass that training several times to survive. That’s why eagles become the strongest birds. Perhaps, animals are mostly similar. A few days ago, I met a friend of mine during my vacation. She shared a story about when she lived in a rural area in Korea. There was a swallow’s nest in the eaves of her house. She enjoyed looking at their everyday life. She was happy to see them; a mother swallow fed her babies. She even thought it was cute that they dropped their poo-poo down together. However, one day, she noticed that the mother swallow fed her babies, according to how strong they were. The weakest ones never got enough food. Finally, the weakest was dropped out of the nest. As soon as I heard it, the idea of “that’s the animals’ world” came to my mind. It means only the strong can survive. And then, I thought about the differences in our human world.
In today’s scripture, Jesus went up to Jerusalem as usual because it was a festival of the Jews. But, Jesus visited a pool called “Beth-zatha” rather than joining a party. The pool of Beth-zatha in Hebrew means “the pool of grace.” According to the scripture, Beth-zatha had five porticoes, in which many ill, blind, lame, and paralyzed people were waiting for their healing. They believed that if they went into the pool first, the water would be stirred up by an angel and they would be healed. That’s why many of the sick were there to be healed. Jesus visited one man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, he knew that he had been there for a long time Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” The ill man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
What do you think about this story? I think about how much our mindset used to be focused on the world’s values like competition and self-defense. Beth-zatha means “the pool of grace,” but the pool became the place where people were still judged by their abilities. It is like even though you are sick, blind, lame, or paralyzed, you have to win first place in order to get the grace of God. It represents that you have to be the strongest, the best, and the most powerful if you want to survive. The weak, the last, the least, and the powerless never get it.
You may feel sympathy for the ill man. You may understand the man’s complaint about how he can’t go into the pool first if no one helps him. Of course, we may understand him, but the answer to Jesus’ question, “do you want to be made well?” was not proper. Like the man, we sometimes go into self-defense mode or complain to others about our situation or what we couldn’t do. Don’t look at the problem, but only our Lord Jesus Christ when you pray because he knows our situations better than we do. Jesus is different than our mindset. Even though the man answered with a complaint to Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me,” Jesus knew what he needed. Jesus said, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” The man was made well at once, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Remember, God makes things happen that we can’t make. God doesn’t look at our abilities. God’s grace and love are open to everyone, whether we are weak or strong, poor or rich, powerful or powerless. We can’t compare our righteousness or value with others. Each of us is special as a Masterpiece of God. We are all sinners before God, and we are all justified by God’s grace in the love of Jesus. The Letter of Romans says, “The righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).
If we judge others according to their abilities or situations, how are we different from the animals? Remember, Jesus gave us the new covenant by his blood and body, which is the new order by love and grace: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus came to the world for those who are the weak, the poor, the last, the least, and the powerless. If we ignore them, it is like we ignore our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus opens the new order by his grace and love. Let us share God’s love and grace in everyday life. The most precious dedication to God is your presence before God, connecting with God and others by love. Thanks be to God. Amen!