The Gift (Certificate) Which Never Expires: A Sermon by John Zahl

This selection of a sermon comes from John Zahl’s collection, Sermons of Grace, available here. For […]

Will McDavid / 2.23.15

This selection of a sermon comes from John Zahl’s collection, Sermons of Grace, available here. For those who made it to Liberate this year, the moving illustration towards the end should sound familiar:

My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.

-John 14:27

Unlike the peace of the world, the peace of God lasts. The forgiveness of God is not a bait-and-switch trap. It does not expire. When Jesus uttered those fateful words on the cross, “It is finished,” he meant what he said. The heavenly parking meter is not ticking.

Imagine, if you will, a cup of coffee that never needs topping up. Jesus described just such a scenario when he spoke with the woman at the well. He saw the problem I’ve been describing, and he offered an alternative solution. Here are his words: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty” (John 4:13-14).


Of course, this is a hard thing to wrap our heads around. It is a foreign commodity, a kind of currency that does not suffer from inflation.

A few years ago, just before Christmas, I received a very generous gift certificate to a local, high-end department store. The man who gave it to me was a member of my congregation and also the owner of the store.

About two weeks after I received it, I went into his store to make use of it. He met me at the entrance. I proceeded to select a lovely sports coat, one which I could wear in both professional and social settings, plus a nice dress shirt and some fancy loafers. I made sure to look at each of the price tags (on the sly) as he showed me different items that he thought would suit me well. In my head, I spent much of the time doing some calculations. My plan was to overshoot the gift certificate enough to be able to then put a bit of cash back into the store’s register, thereby showing my gratitude for the generosity I had been shown and also displaying my support for his shop.

When I got to the register, he proceeded to tally up the total. I put my wallet on the counter and got my card out of my wallet. But as he turned to face me, he placed the gift-certificate down in front of me, and said, “It looks like you’ve only spent a little more than half of your credit with us.” I was mortified. In that moment I realized that he had only been charging me half of the ticket price. It meant that I was still in his debt, and the feeling accompanying this realization was quite uncomfortable.


I knew what had to be done and explained the entire situation to Deirdre upon my return home. She agreed to accompany me back to the store in a few weeks’ time, where she would “help” me spend the rest of the credit by finding some new clothes for herself. We agreed that we would spend well over the remaining amount, in a further attempt to show our appreciation.

So we did just that. After a little shopping, we approached the counter as a unified front, and with a veritable armload of wears we wished to acquire. I handed our friend the gift certificate. He took the gift certificate in hand and then began entering the purchases into the register, bagging them up one by one as he went along.

Finally, when the bags were full, and everything had been rung up, he turned to us with a look of seeming amazement on his face. “You’re not going to believe this,” He said, “but I’ve rung everything up, and the total comes to exactly zero.” We were horrified, and protested a bit. “That can’t be right. The total should be well above what was left of our store credit, etc…”

Then he got serious, and he said, “I don’t think you understand how this gift certificate works. No matter what you throw at it, the total will always continue to come up reading zero.” It was the first moment we understood the nature of the situation, which, for us, had to be spelled out. In our attempts to buy our way out of the debt, we had completely missed out on seeing the value of the credit, of the gift, which this generous man took such pleasure in bestowing upon us. There were no words. And are you wondering if he gave me another comparable gift certificate again, for Christmas of the following year?

The work of the cross, for you and for me, carries with it the inescapable reckoning of God’s peace with the world, which is a trustworthy, unwavering, and everlasting promise to the world. Let us close with the blessing:

And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.