John 1:16 (ESV)
16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
We all prefer things to be “full.” It’s a good feeling to pull out of the driveway in the morning and see that you have a full tank of gas. We are thankful for that full feeling which comes at the end of a delicious meal, especially after eating a wonderful spaghetti dinner like the one after church this morning, hint, hint.
The desire for fullness we have in our daily life even follows us to church. We rejoice when the sanctuary is full of worshipers. We celebrate when the enrollment in educational programs, like with our Little Lambs Preschool, is full. We are relieved when a sign-up sheet is put up for a particular project or servant event and we see it is full with names of willing volunteers.
Schools, whether it is a Lutheran school, private school or even a public school, they all prefer to have full classrooms, fully funded budgets, fully and professionally staffed classrooms.
The reality of life though is that things are often less than full. Gas tanks need to be refilled, especially if that little warning light comes on and dings at you to remind you that you are driving on fumes. Shortly after a meal is over we start wondering about the next one. Unfortunately, not every classroom is full nor is every school budget fully funded or fully staffed.
More challenging than the discomforts or the inconveniences of our physical “tanks” being left unfilled is the reality of the emotional emptiness experienced by so many people. Studies have been done which say people are lonelier today than in any other time of history. One may have hundreds or even a thousand friends online, but yet they have no one they can talk too or hang out with. After the loss of a loved one, “I feel so empty” is the lament, the cry of the ones who are left behind to grieve that loss.
As hard as the physical or emotional emptiness we can be, the spiritual emptiness people experience can be even more devastating. Jesus in Matthew’s gospel encounters a young rich man. This young rich man comes up to Jesus and says, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responds saying, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” “Okay, which ones?” Jesus says, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Okay Jesus, all this I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young rich man … upon hearing this went away sorrowful, he went away sad, for he had great possessions (Matthew 19:16-22). In his own eyes, the young rich man was full of righteous deeds. In many respects, his life was full of possessions and of power. But when asked to take what he had and give it to the poor, the young man couldn’t do it. His possessions, as abundant as they were, as full as they made him feel, he just couldn’t part with them. Because he couldn’t do it, because he couldn’t walk away from his earthly fullness … he was left spiritually empty.
Our schedules may be full, our homes may be full of goods and conveniences, our garages may be full of vehicles and toys, our retirement funds may be filling up … and yet … so many people’s lives are empty.
Without Jesus in one’s life … emptiness prevails. Take the apostle Paul for example. He had authority within the church. He was a leader who made it his mission to take out all those who were following the teachings of Jesus instead of the teachings of the Pharisees and chief priests which he followed. Paul had clout because his family line came from one of the great Old Testament tribes of Israel. Paul had a top of the line well-rounded education. Despite all this, despite all the things which made his ego full … Paul’s life was empty. Empty because he didn’t have the true love and grace of God in his heart. That is until Paul was converted to being a believer. Through Paul’s faith in Jesus as his Savior, Paul received God’s grace and Paul not only became spiritually full but he also became one of the biggest advocates for the faith in the first century.
Paul wrote in Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we, that you and I, might receive adoption as sons” (4:4-5). God emptied Himself in the person of Jesus who came down from heaven and took on our flesh, to be like you and me. God did this not because He was full of Himself or because there was no more room in heaven, but He did this, He emptied Himself into Jesus so that you and I might receive the fullness of His grace as His dear children.
Jesus’ journey in human flesh is described briefly for us in the Gospel of John. God, the creator of heaven and earth and all that fills them, He could have easily chosen to be full of anger and judgment because of man’s sin. But instead, John describes Jesus in our gospel reading as being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:16). In the gift of Jesus, God the Father does some absolutely marvelous things.
John talks about the first of Jesus’ miracles which happens at a wedding in Cana. The wedding party had run out of wine. Jesus took six empty jars, filled them with water, and miraculously turned them into jars of “good wine” for the wedding guests. Jesus would go on from there to fill diseased bodies with health and vitality. He would fill hearts emptied by grief with the joy of seeing family members raised from the dead. Jesus would fill panicked disciples with the peace of his presence and Word.
Every action of Jesus was done not only as part of his mission but also as a part of his journey to the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night Jesus was betrayed into the hands of sinful men, Jesus emptied his spirit to God in prayer. Hanging on that wretched cross, Jesus’ body was emptied of life when he announced, “Tetelestia. It is finished.” Every part of Jesus’ being was fully emptied of life to pay the price of forgiveness for the sins of the world, for the forgiveness of your sins and mine. The sacrifice of the Lamb of God was full and complete.
Receiving by faith the fullness of Jesus’ sacrifice and the full assurance of His resurrection from the dead, you and I receive John’s gospel promise … “And from his fullness we have received grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
You and I, we have fully and daily receive God’s grace. The infant who is brought forward by loving parents to be baptized, who is held over the baptismal font, that child receives God’s grace. That child, physically small and mentally not yet developed, that child receives the fullness of God’s grace with sins fully forgiven as he or she is washed clean and welcomed into God’s family.
The person who comes up to the communion rail, who approaches God’s altar receives the fullness of God’s grace. The meal they partake in is small, a simple wafer and a sip of wine, but the feast they are partaking of with the saints in heaven is plentiful. In faith, the one partaking receives the fullness of Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins and the strengthening of their faith.
Worshippers, you and me, we gather here with guilty consciences, complicated lives, strained relationships, fearful hearts and every other malady imaginable. We gather because it is here, it is in God’s house where we hear the Word of God spoken. We hear that all of our sins, they are forgiven, they are removed from you as far as the east is from the west. The forgiveness of God is full and its free … and it is yours.
It’s yours to share. We share this everyone who walks through these doors and we especially share it with our Little Lambs as they hear about it in Jesus Time. They then take it home with them to their families as they share the stories and sing the songs they learn. We all receive this grace and we all receive it in an over abundant way. The grace of God is poured into the cup of our heart and because we receive grace upon grace, our cup runs over. The grace of God it spills out of us and to those around us. It does so in all we say and do. This overflowing love of God, this grace upon grace, this is what makes your life and my life full. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.