Christianity is a pretty decent, attractive religion except the stumbling block that the cross represents. Christianity has community, ethics, morality, service, spiritual connectivity, all good things. . . but the cross introduces a new dimension, that brings discomfort into a nice, tidy religion. It's easy to accept the fact that we need some help from God, but it's very hard (impossible, in fact, without a change of heart) for man to accept that the kind of help he needs doesn't just require God as a cheerleader or a helpful friend; the kind of help man needs requires God to send His own Son to die for him. It's hard to admit that we need help that bad.
The text of the sermon last week was from Mark 14, specifically a look at Peter the night before the crucifixion. Peter was a close associate of Mark, and likely the Gospel of Mark was written largely from Peter's own viewpoint. What is therefore interesting is just how imperfect Peter is depicted in the Gospel of Mark. There is no attempt to brush up the portrait of Peter; instead he is shown for just how fallible, pompous, and self-reliant he truly is. . . until he is broken. With his denial of Christ, Peter's pride and self-reliance is shattered, and he finally truly comprehends his need for grace. Far from making Peter useless, his failure makes him more useful in Christ's kingdom, for when he is weak, Christ is strong.
That is the Gospel, not that we come to God with a resume for our accomplishments that show our usefulness for His kingom, but that we come empty-handed, broken, and dirty, and in need of a Savior. Only then, when we come knowing we have nothing, can God begin to use us for His purposes. That is the Gospel of Grace. That we are utterly sinful (not just sort of sinful), but that God will completely accept all those who turn to Him in faith. Utterly sinful and completely accepted. What a paradox, a stumbling block! - but what a beautiful truth. God's mercy is great. His grace is abundant.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
If you are interested, last week's sermon by my pastor can be found here. Choose "sermons" from the left taskbar, and then choose "Peter and Judas" from October 8th. I especially thought the comparison of Peter and Judas was interesting.