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J.I.T. Grace

Listen to the recording of this sermon:

Jeremiah 31:31-34

March 29, 2009

Sermon preached by Rev. Donald Ng at the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco.

When we go grocery shopping, we buy perishable items that we plan to use before they expire. In our pantry, we try to move our canned goods so that in time, we get the chance to use them before it’s too late. We might not call our grocery shopping habits, J.I.T., but that’s what we do. In short, J.I.T. means “just in time.”

This term comes from how manufacturers handle the inventories of materials they use to create their products. In the old days, to ensure their production lines were always running, manufacturers acquired substantial quantities of materials and kept restocking those supplies as parts were used. The problem with that is that huge amounts of money were used to buy raw materials, warehouse space was needed to store all of these materials, the potential risks of losing these materials from theft, fire, flood, infestations meant buying insurance for these materials, and finally the good possibility that with new innovation, these materials that you thought you might use will be obsolete. These were not cost efficient business practices.

So J.I.T. emerged to handle inventory. It scheduled materials to arrive just as they were needed, thus reducing risks and cost. Just in time when they are needed. I read that Toyota perfected this system for assembling cars and the Midwest supermarket chain, Piggly Wiggly figured out how to use it in the grocery business.

Jeremiah

Our lesson for this morning comes from the prophet Jeremiah who had his problems with the people of Israel. We might also say, J.I.T. is “Jeremiah is troubled.” The people of Israel have failed to keep the Mosaic covenant. In the context of the surrounding chapters of Jeremiah, our passage is part of the divine promises to a reunited Judah and Israel to be restored to God and to the land from which they have been physically and spiritually removed, due to their breaking God’s covenant, as one might break a marriage covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the people will now have a God-given means of keeping God’s new covenant.

So God, instead of abandoning them, promised them a different kind of covenant, one where the law would be written not on tablets of stone, but on the tablets of their hearts. One can only imagine that it takes little time to write down laws and commandments on stone tablets; but when God is writing down his plan for our lives on our hearts, it may take more time. It took God coming into the world as an infant, growing up to become a rabbi, calling to him disciples and casting out demons, getting betrayed, arrested, tortured, condemned, crucified, and finally rising from the grave for God to write his laws on our hearts.

The church has understood the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of that new covenant. But even we under God’s new covenant aren’t so much conscious of God’s grace as an overarching covenantal principle as we are of receiving God’s grace in small amounts, as we needed it.

Let me explain. God’s economy operates on the J.I.T. principle too. God did not make us with the capacity to store up great quantities of love, joy, faith or grace. Instead, God gives it when we need it. This is “Just in time grace.”

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In Exodus 16, God supplied the Israelites with manna only for a day at a time. It was delivered just in time and each day’s quantity had to be eaten that day; any they tried to hold for the next day spoiled. God cared for them, the Israelites learned, but it was a day-to-day basis.

We hear echoes of J.I.T. in verses like this one from Isaiah: “O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning” (33:3).

From Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies…are new every morning” (3:22-23).

Jeremiah himself seemed to have J.I.T. grace in mind when elsewhere in his book he spoke of God as “strength every morning, our salvation also in the time of distress” (16:19).

Jesus taught his followers about daily grace when he said to not worry about what we will eat, drink or wear, and added that “your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32).

And Jesus included J.I.T. grace when he taught us to pray with the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).

Daily Bread

We have all experienced a time when the food on the table was so good that we thought about eating more and more thinking that if only we can store up enough to last all day or even into the next day! We wish that can be so.

While we Chinese-Americans think that we can’t be satisfied until we have rice, we still love bread. We love our char siu bows later this morning. In recent years, the food industry has figured out how to add preservatives to store-bought bread that prolong its freshness for several days. But if you’ve ever baked your own bread or used fresh loaves from the bakery, you understand why, before preservatives, bread needed to be made fresh every day. Bread just does not keep.

Fresh from the oven, and for a few hours afterward, bread is wonderful food. If you seal it in something like plastic wrap to keep the air from it, you can keep it soft for a day or two, but the second day it doesn’t taste nearly as good. And by the third or fourth day, green mold starts to appear on it.

Of course, you can keep the mold away by not sealing up the bread. The only problem was that is that within hours, it turns stale and hard. So for centuries, the only way people had good and tasty bread was to bake more every day.

So when Jesus tells his disciples—and us—to pray for daily bread, he is implying that the blessings of God are given for immediate use, for the present moment, and that we are never self-sufficient.

Just like we can’t ever eat enough food today to last a lifetime let alone tomorrow, J.I.T. grace is to sustain us in what we need for today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

With the financial instability that the whole world is going through right now, many of us are worried about what tomorrow might bring. My MMBB retirement account like yours has lost more than 40% of its value! We might want a lifetime of assurance all at once but when we do, we might end up relying upon ourselves and not on God alone. “Give us today our daily bread” is our plea for day-to-day provision, not for a lifetime of security.

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Lenten Grace

We have been on the journey of Lent moving toward Holy Week in two weeks. Some of you have been in worship every Sunday. Others have added to these weeks a weeknight Bible study to experience the meaning of our human condition that badly needs J.I.T. grace. If we tried to hear all of the Scriptures all at once, we would be overwhelmed. If we tried to read all 7 chapters of our Lenten study books, we would have too much to digest.

We don’t teach you or preach to you the entire Bible all at once. We give you small sections of a chapter so that we may look at it carefully and slowly to find meaning and understanding just in the appropriate amount for us to learn and grow. We read only 5 verses today. We get these Bible lessons just in the time when we are ready to hear them. It’s J.I.T. grace.

If I tried and how much I wish I could read all the texts and write all of my sermons all in one sitting so that I am freed up to play more tennis or golf! But every Monday, I read the Bible and feed on the daily bread of good news that comes from God that I am able in God’s grace to come up with a message to tell on Sunday that I know about “just in time grace!”

Once there was a rich man who had a son to whom he promised an annual allowance. Every year on the same day, he would give his son the entire amount. After a while, it happened that the only time the father saw his son was on the day of the year when he was to receive his allowance. So the father changed his plan and gave his son only enough for the day. Then the next day, the son had to return to receive the next day’s allowance. From then on, the father saw his son every day. As hard as it may be for us to grasp, God wants to see us daily. God wants to be in our hearts.

God’s new covenant is not written on tablets of stone, but on the tablets of our hearts. Jeremiah said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:33). The key to knowing God’s grace when we need it just in time is to always be connected to God. God is the ultimate supplier of what we need—J.I.T. In other words, “Jesus In Time.”

Let us pray.

Gracious God, thank you for providing us all that we need day by day. Help us to trust in your promises of many new tomorrows as we receive your grace of Jesus Christ on the cross just in the time when we need him. Grant us faith: faith in you as our provider, faith in you as our hope, faith in you as the one who meets our needs and who fills our lives with good things. In this, as in all things, may you alone receive glory. Amen.

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