But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we ere dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. — Ephesians 2: 4-7
I have to admit, I have never really followed college basketball. But this time of year I do have many friends who get very excited at the playoffs near and the tournament bracket is announced. They truly get caught up in the madness of March basketball!
I can remember three time in my life when I have filled out a tournament bracket. The last time was accompanied by a handshake and friendly bet where I ended up winning $5. (I have no idea who I won, because my friend Andrew was an avid basketball fan.) The first two times were for Mr. Earl's two spring math classes I took in high school. Now there are a couple of things to know about Mr. Earl. First, he was known throughout the student body to be a very difficult math teacher. For that reason, many students tried their best to avoid taking his classes. But I really enjoyed his classes. He didn't expect merely a passing grade, he expected proficiency. When I took Calculus in college I finally realized just how excellent of a teacher Mr. Earl really was. Second, Mr. Earl LOVED basketball. He served as the high school women's basketball coach for many seasons and amassed an impressive record over the years through his encouragement and coaching skills. His investment in and care for his students in the classroom and on the courts was obvious.
Because his classes were challenging, Mr. Earl had a number of ways to earn extra credit, including filling out the March Madness bracket each spring. Every first-round win guessed correctly was worth 1/2 point, every second round win worth 1 point, and so on. Those brackets were a complete shot in the dark for me since I had not followed a single basketball game all season. But, I played along and did receive points here and there, which helped me keep an A at the end of the semester. Did I have to work hard to earn those extra credit points? Definitely not. Did I even understand what I was doing to earn those points? Well, I understood the concept of the bracket, at least. Was I thankful for Mr. Earl generously giving extra credit to his students? Absolutely.
The entire month of March falls within the season of Lent this year, and our scripture readings in worship speak of both madness as well as mad-ness. Throughout Jesus' ministry he proclaimed the extravagant love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace of God. The church leaders of his time thought this message was sheer madness. They could not fathom a God who would care so deeply for creation and God's children that grace would abound so freely. Surely, they thought, the people had to somehow earn this grace. Surely the people had to be properly trained in the faith to receive this grace. But Jesus' message was different. Jesus' message proclaimed that all people received this gift of grace through the boundless love of God through Christ Jesus. To the church leaders of the time, a personal, touchable, caring, forgiving, healing God was sheer madness.
And this message that Jesus proclaimed led to the mad-ness of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes. They were angry. They felt threatened. Their ministry was based on access to God that they controlled. So when God healed the outcasts and the marginalized through Jesus, and when God ministered in fellowship with tax collectors and humble fishermen and the Samaritan woman outside of Jerusalem through Jesus, a deep anger among the religious leaders ensued. The "immeasurable riches of his grace," as Paul wrote, were too much for them to handle. Sharing these immeasurable riches with common, everyday people may have cost Jesus his life, but in April we continue the story of God's grace in the triumphant Easter season. Not even the death of God's own Son could contain the grace God continues to bless us with each day of our lives.
We may not have to earn God's grace, but we are certainly changed by it. We may not have to be experts in the faith to receive God's grace, but we are certainly called to follow Jesus more closely because of it. The result of God loving us so madly is that we are emboldened to love God and our neighbors as madly as we love ourselves. We may not have a bracket to fill out, but nonetheless, we boldly proclaim madness this March. It is the madness of God's abundant grace for all of God's children. Thankfully, what may seem like madness to us makes perfect sense to the Lord our God.