Water Streams and Umbrellas

For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so they also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy.  For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.                                      Romans 11:30-32

The lessons for this morning are built around a two-point theme: first is the dominant theme of mercy, because when God gives His Word it is irrevocable despite anyone’s rejection; the second is to consider the power of this mercy in our lives.

St Paul virtually shoves our noses into God’s mercy in the Epistle.  But before we get to his presentation, it is essential to understand what Paul means when he speaks of “disobedience.”

If you deliberately do something that’s wrong, that’s rebellion, and that’s what is at the heart of sin.  “Disobedience” is never merely an “oops!” — there is a sense of defiance about it, of trying to deliberately get away with something which has been forbidden.  So when Paul refers to us as “disobedient,” this is more than that we make mistakes, but that a basic attitude in our nature is to reject God, His will, His way, His purposes – simply put, it is rebellion.

With that in mind, we turn to Paul’s argument and find that indeed he begins out by reminding us, who represent the non-Israel people of the world, that we were disobedient and therefore deserved nothing but the penalty of God’s Law.  However, Israel, even though so specially privileged by God, also was disobedient by rejecting God’s way, His marvelous offer of life and salvation through Jesus Christ.

Because of such rejection, quite understandably, God could have simply packed up his bags and gone home, leaving both Jew and Gentile to stew in their rebellions.  But, of course, that’s not what the Lord did.

To understand what God has done, for the moment think of a water fight.  One boy has the hose and he aims it at his friend.  The friend on the other hand has brought along an umbrella, which he opens and protects himself.  Now the umbrella doesn’t stop the flow of water – it merely diverts it away from the one holding the umbrella.  The water keeps coming but now get showered on the grass and the flower garden, which gratefully drink up the moisture and flourish because of it.

Eventually though, if the force of the water is great enough, perhaps it begins tearing the fabric, or maybe it begins to bend one of the ribs of the umbrella – slowly the constant stream of water can wear away at the barrier, until finally it breaks through.

According to Paul, that stream of water is God’s amazing mercy and grace in Jesus Christ – the waters of Life, a stream which constantly flows in full torrent.  What the Jews have done in their “disobedience” is to put up an umbrella, a barrier to protect them from getting all “wet.”

In a sense, we are mystified, because why would you want to protect yourself from God’s mercy and grace??  And yet this has always been the problem of the “disobedience” of both Israel and non-Israel alike.  The sin in us so often assumes that if God wants to give us anything, then it will be something that it will hurt us, cheat us or kill us.

But just because the Jews have put up a barrier doesn’t mean that the torrent of God grace and mercy has been shut down!  No, it keeps coming in full strength, and like the grass and the flower garden drinking in the diverted water, God’s mercy and grace now showers upon all of us as well – now we get to experience these remarkable qualities which are to be found in Jesus.  And so HERE WE ARE! drinking deeply of the great “Water of Life”, the water that flows from the spiritual Rock, which is Jesus.

So now we get all the benefits of adoption through Baptism, we get the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, the reality of the resurrection, the promises of the Ascension, and the power of Pentecost.  And just look at how Christ Jesus’ Church has thrived down through the centuries, around the world — all because the Jews could not turn off the flow of mercy, they would only divert it.

But like the umbrella unable to stand against the constant barrage of water, so also the defenses of the Jews will not stand against the constant barrage of God’s mercy and grace.  One day the barrier of rejection will have eroded enough, that finally it will collapse and they too will experience the mercy and grace of God’s extraordinary gift of life in Jesus.

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Yet even if we do that, it still will not weaken or stop the flow of God’s mercy!  Whether people would follow Him or not did not prevent Jesus from coming as a human being, living a perfect human life for us, and dying on the cross.  He still would have come, even if nobody in all the world’s history ever believed in Him.  That’s because umbrellas, no matter how many there are, cannot stop the flow of God’s mercy and grace.

In chapter 8, Paul says that all nature is waiting for the revealing of God’s sons, the final adoption on the Last Day.  Creation has been kept in bondage, not because of its fault but so that we sinful human beings could have a home. Had God not done that, creation probably would have spewed us out into space long ago.  But the promise back in chapter 8 is that even if grace and mercy goes from umbrella to umbrella until finally it falls to the ground – even that mercy will have its effect on the rest of creation, it will never fall to the ground uselessly.

But then when the grace and mercy DOES fall upon us, what effect it has, what power and confidence it gives!  This is where the Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) comes into play.  Here was a Canaanite woman – not only was she not of God’s specially chosen People, but she was of the ancestry whom God had commanded should be utterly removed from the Promised Land because their sins were so repugnant to Him.  Yet here she is, drinking deeply of the shower sprayed off the umbrella of the Jews.

What particularly caught my eye was the problem her daughter had.  I am very familiar with the dialog between this woman and Jesus, but I never paid attention to the problem the daughter had.  I always thought that she was just very sick.  Finally I discovered that the daughter was “severely possessed by a demon.”  This set me back on my heels.

Remember when Jesus came down from the Mountain of the Transfiguration, that the disciples who were left behind had been trying release a boy from a demon that was particularly deadly?  They failed so miserably, so that Jesus had to personally step in, because this was a powerful demon.  Even back in Matthew 8, Jesus is spoken of casting out demons “with a WORD” – there was a personal presence and verbal command in order to cast out a demon – or so it looked.

Yet here, Jesus merely said, “It shall be done as you wish.”  No big splashy exorcism – Jesus didn’t even show up at the house!  All He did was to exert His will.

But the thing is, here was a woman, who by rights had no rights, yet who drank deeply of the grace and mercy that was bouncing off the Israelite umbrella of rejection – and look at the power she had access to!

Yes, Jesus gave her a hard time, but not because she had to prove her faith or worthiness!  If that were true, then that would be saying the umbrella can turn on or turn off the flow of God’s mercy and grace.  No, Jesus did this to expose to her and especially to you and me and the disciples, the fact that she had faith, drinking deeply of God’s mercy, and she had as much access to God’s power as did any believing Jew.

Look at the power to which she had access.  She, a Gentile (non-Jew), interceded for another Gentile, her daughter, which unleashed God’s will to a proportion not often matched in the rest of the Gospels.  Now that is truly an experience of mercy!

Imagine God’s will and power unleashed before us here today, as we come to partake of all of the Glory of God wrapped up in Jesus’ own Body and Blood, here at His table!  St Peter tells us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that belong to Life (which is Jesus) and godliness, through the knowledge of Him Who called us to His own Glory and excellence, through which He has given to us His precious and very great promises, that through these you might be partakers (koinonia – Communion)) of the Divine Nature” [II Peter 1:3-4].

So, now tell me, what’s that umbrella that you’ve got open?  What are the ways you have been trying to divert God’s grace and mercy from drenching your life?  Perhaps it has been in neglecting the study of God’s Word, or in avoiding the fellowship of Christ Jesus’ Church, or in evading the presence of Jesus, even when you might intercede for someone else.  Yet look at what you are missing.  Is your umbrella really worth it?

Jesus calls to you now, because His flow of mercy and grace has not diminished – He is pouring it out richly upon you right now.  His love, His promises, His power cannot be turned off.  “once you were no people but now you are God’s People; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy!” [ I Peter 2:10].

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