Tag Archives: grace

The Advantage of Grace – sermon on Romans 6:12-23

July 2, 2017

We’re looking at a Wesleyan understanding of Grace this month. Two weeks ago, you examined God’s prevenient grace. Before we knew we needed it, God showed us his grace. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8) Last week, you heard the first part of chapter six in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. It was all about the grace God offers through Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. We call this justifying grace – becoming dead to sin, and alive in Christ, puts us right with God. We are justified through our faith in Christ Jesus.

Today we look at another aspect of God’s grace: sanctification. Sanctifying grace sets us apart as holy to the Lord. It is through the ongoing process of sanctification that we become more and more like Christ.

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:12-23

“Therefore,” Paul writes, and immediately we realize we need to jump back to last week’s passage to understand what Paul is about to say. Here’s how that passage ended, in verse eleven: “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Now verse 12 makes sense! Therefore, don’t let sin overpower you, because obedience to sin leads to death.

Sin isn’t a very popular topic in today’s churches. We don’t like to hear about the ways we fall short of God’s plan for us. We don’t want anyone reminding us that our self-centered pursuit of what pleases us is not always pleasing to God. And it’s really easy, when we start talking about sin, to point out the sins of others, as if they might be more terrible than our own mediocre sins.

But all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are all guilty, in one way or another. We all need grace. And even after we have accepted Christ’s justifying grace, even after we have begun to walk in newness of life, we keep on needing grace.

Paul tells us that we need to keep on choosing grace as we seek to become more and more like Christ. Whatever we obey, that is what rules us. If we obey sin, it leads to death, but if we obey God, it leads to life. And this is not just-barely-getting-by life. Obedience to God brings us abundant freedom for all eternity, beginning now.

But doesn’t this freedom simply mean that we can go ahead and sin, knowing that God will forgive us? In fact, shouldn’t we sin more, so we can experience even greater levels of God’s grace? No, Paul says. You’re missing the point. The point isn’t personal freedom to do whatever we want.

Theologian Rudolph Bultmann writes, “Genuine freedom … withstands the clamor and pressure of momentary motivations.” Harold Masback adds, “Mere ‘freedom from’ this law or that obligation never leads to flourishing life unless it is linked with ‘freedom for’ a higher, heartfelt commitment.” (Feasting On the Word, Year A, Volume 3, 187.) The point of grace isn’t freedom. The point is sanctification.

Now there’s a word you don’t hear at the coffee shop during the week! That’s definitely a Sunday word, a great example of churchy language that we are supposed to avoid if we want to attract new people, people who might be put off by words that only the Christian insiders understand. But do we understand what sanctification means?

The biblical definition of sanctification is to be set apart for God’s glory. John Wesley used sanctification and perfection interchangeably. We don’t like that word, perfection, either. But Wesley wasn’t trying to set up an impossible standard for living.

For Wesley, “going on toward perfection” was a life-long process of Christian discipleship. Being perfected in grace means that we become more and more like Jesus, saying and doing the things that Jesus said and did, living our lives as he would live them if he were us. It’s a process of transformation.

One of the most frequent criticisms young adults offer the church is that we are hypocrites. We talk the talk, but we don’t walk the walk. We say we love Jesus, but we live our lives as if he didn’t exist (Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist).

Paul reminds us, “What advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death” (v 21). Walk the walk, Paul tells us. Live for Christ, now that you are dead to sin. Sanctification isn’t something that happens automatically; it’s a choice we make day by day, sometimes moment by moment.

Sanctification is what happens to us, by God’s grace, when we decide to center our lives on being disciples of Jesus Christ. It is that life of discipleship that sets us apart, and gives glory to God. And here’s the really wonderful thing: when we allow ourselves to be transformed in this way, we begin to transform the world around us.

At our recent Minnesota Annual Conference, Junius Dotson, General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries for the United Methodist Church, had this to say about the purpose of discipleship, or this process of sanctification:
“The point of discipleship is to influence the culture around us. We limit discipleship by segregating the secular from the sacred. We never take our faith public!
“The culture will have to live under the influence of Christ. In the world, [you] are each professionals who have been strategically positioned to reach new people and change their worldview, impacting the people around you. We don’t have to waste time in church meetings talking to death how to go beyond the church walls. We are already in every place in the community, in society.”

You have been strategically positioned to impact the people around you by the way you live out your faith, the way you ‘walk the walk.’ Think about that. How are you strategically placed to bring glory to God throughout the week?

It isn’t by our effort; we can’t strive for it. It is by God’s grace alone that we can be transformed. To what end? What’s the advantage of sanctifying grace? “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” The wages of sin is death – that’s what we earn, what is due to us right now. But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord – we can’t earn it. God gives us this gift through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Yet we must choose, and the choice is always before us – Obedience to sin that results in death, or obedience to God that results in eternal life, fully transformed into the likeness of the one we follow, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who invites us to this Table now. …

 

Salvation Has Come to this House – sermon on Luke 19:1-10

October 30, 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here

Last week, we heard Jesus tell a story about a tax collector and a Pharisee. He told the story to some people who thought they were better than others, and in that story, the Really Bad Guy, the tax collector, goes home justified, while the Really Good Guy, the Pharisee, goes home no more righteous than he had been before he came to the Temple to pray.

Today’s story is about another tax collector, only this time Jesus isn’t setting up a hypothetical situation to teach a lesson. This time, the tax collector is a real person, a short man named Zacchaeus. But before we can hear this story, we have to know what has happened since last week. Because Jesus has been pretty busy in the last part of chapter 18. Continue reading

Called to Receive Mercy – Sermon on 1 Timothy 1:12-17

September 11, 2016

The books of First and Second Timothy, and Titus are called “pastoral letters.” They were written to encourage young pastors of new churches in the first century. Each letter includes some teaching about doctrine, because there was a lot of controversy early on concerning what Christians should believe, and how they should live.

It was hard to make up rules for living, without falling into the trap of becoming all about the rules, and not about faith. That had been the problem in Jewish religious practice, and the early church wanted to avoid it.

They wanted to keep the main thing the main thing: faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified, risen, and ascended into glory. Living out that faith in Jewish society was difficult enough, but living out that faith in a pagan society, like Ephesus, was even more challenging.

Over the next four weeks, we will explore discipleship through the letters to Timothy. As pastor of the church at Ephesus, Timothy and his congregation faced the same questions we do today. How do I follow Jesus in a culture that does not honor him? How do I stay faithful to God and his call on my life, when others around me ignore God? How can I live out my faith within the Body of Christ, and grow deeper in faith with my brothers and sisters?

  • This week, we take a look at Paul’s experience of being called into Christ’s service. We will see how discipleship is a call to gratitude for God’s mercy.
  • Next week, we will consider how prayer develops our faith and makes us strong in the Lord.
  • On the 25th, we will skip ahead to 2nd Timothy, to see how discipleship requires aligning ourselves with sound teaching,
  • and on World Communion Sunday, as we begin our Fall pledge campaign, we will consider how stewardship is an important part of discipleship.
  • But it’s all about how to follow Jesus, once we’ve received him as our Savior. And who better than a first century apostle, writing to the early church, to help us learn how to follow Jesus?

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.
But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.
But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.  (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

To fully understand this passage, we need to remember the story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Saul came from Tarsus in Asia Minor (Acts 21:39), and studied under one of the leading rabbis of the day in Jerusalem, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Saul joined the Pharisees, and was vigorous in his defense of Jewish traditions.

In his zeal, Saul persecuted the early church (Galatians 1:13, 23; Philippians 3:6). On his way to Damascus, determined to arrest any who “belonged to the Way,” as the early church movement was called, he had a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ that changed his life, and Christ called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:5; 1 Corinthians 9:1).[1]

Paul’s story gives us a dramatic example of what repentance looks like – turning away from sin, and going in a new direction as a follower of Jesus. We need to remember that Paul wasn’t turning away from one religion to follow a new one. In fact, Judaism and Christianity were not yet separate religions. Paul’s conversion was within his understanding of what it meant to be a faithful Jew. He repented of being a Pharisee, and began to live out his Jewish faith in God in a new way, as a disciple of Jesus.

Before this experience, Saul was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence” (1 Timothy 1:13) who had even assisted in, and approved of, the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:57-8:1). Afterward, Paul became someone who rejected violence, and also the impressive rhetoric prized by the culture of the day.

Instead, Paul sought Christ to empower his speaking and strengthen his ministry (1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Corinthians 10:1-6; 12:8-10). Paul repented from persecuting Christians and turned toward leading them; from promoting violence, to peace.

Paul saw clearly that what had happened to him was not his own doing. It was by the grace of God that Jesus had appeared to him on the road, and called him to become someone new. The only right response, in the face of such undeserved mercy, is gratitude. And Paul pours out his thanks to God for this amazing gift of love, mercy, and faith.

Paul recognizes that he doesn’t deserve this gift. After all, he had been operating against God’s purposes when he persecuted the church. Paul says he “acted ignorantly in unbelief.” He knew who Jesus was, certainly. But he didn’t know Jesus personally. His ignorant unbelief was grounded in the assumption that he was acting in God’s will, when in fact, he was acting in opposition to God’s purpose. Yes, he thought he was serving God and taking a stand for what he believed to be right. But he was wrong.

How often we do this! We think we have a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong, and we stand up to what we think is evil, when we are really opposing God – because we are acting out of our own assumptions instead of God’s mercy! Yet God’s grace overflowed in faith and love for Paul, and God’s grace overflows in faith and love for us, too.

If you analyze these few verses, you will find that there are really only two sentence subjects: Paul, and Jesus. It’s personal, and it’s relational, this mercy and grace that Paul has experienced. For Paul, experience is more important than doctrine. The reality of knowing Jesus is more important than anything you might believe about Jesus.

There’s a phrase that identifies the core teaching of this passage: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.” It occurs throughout the pastoral letters, and it may have even been part of the developing liturgy of the early church. It identifies key elements of belief, things we can all agree are the important tenets of our faith. “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” Paul tells Timothy. This is the main thing that needs to always be the main thing.

Christ came to save sinners. The missio Dei – or mission of God – has always been clear: To seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10), as we heard earlier in the gospel parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:1-10).

Last week, I mentioned that we can get stuck here, so eager to see sinners saved that we focus all our attention on conversion. But that’s God’s job. Our mission is also clear.

In the Great Commission Jesus says: “Go make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) It doesn’t say, “Go convince people to believe in me, and then leave them on their own to figure out how to follow me.”

Jesus came to save sinners, to redeem us for the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to save sinners, and that salvation transforms us into something new, something that continues to grow deeper in faith as we follow Jesus by his grace and mercy. Jesus came to save sinners, who then become disciples, following him day by day, moment by moment, growing ever closer to him, becoming more and more like him.

Paul adds his own personal testimony to this statement of faith:
“—of whom I am the foremost.”
This is the gospel: Jesus came to save sinners – and I’m the worst one.

And that brings us right back to Mercy and Grace. It’s because I am the worst sinner on earth that I can experience this amazing grace, this abundant mercy and forgiveness. Verse 16 says, “But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.

This is why God shows me mercy: so that I can be an example to anyone else who wants to come to Jesus, but thinks they aren’t worthy, or don’t qualify for such grace. None of us qualify. So all of us who have received God’s mercy can show others, “no matter how bad you think you are, if Jesus could forgive me, Jesus can forgive you.”

Just as Jesus called Paul to turn on the road to Damascus and begin a new life in Christ, he calls us to turn on our road to wherever we think we’re going, and follow him. This act of repentance has to happen over and over again, not because Jesus changes the path we are to follow, but because we keep wandering away from it. Just like Saul, we think we are doing the right thing, and in our stubbornness we fail to see that we are opposing God’s good purpose for us.

That’s why we have each other, to encourage one another along the road, to hold one another accountable for staying true to the way of Christ. Following Jesus is a relational endeavor.

God wants us to be in loving relationship with him, because that is how he created us. We are his; we belong to God. Jesus came to restore us to God, to bring us home to the one who loves us more than we can possibly imagine. When we stray, lose our way, or even run from God, he will persistently look for us, and he is always ready to welcome us back home with joy, because he loves us. To answer the call to receive mercy, you have to turn toward God, and away from everything else.

Last week, Jesus challenged us to give up everything that matters to us most, in order to put him first and be his true disciple. Receiving mercy requires admitting that we belong to God, and being willing to live our lives in a way that shows others we belong to God. And what can we say to such amazing grace, to such profound mercy?

Paul has an answer for this question. The only thing we can do is praise God for his goodness, and thank him for his mighty love. Our lives praise God. Our prayers and songs give God glory. And as we lift our voices and show our gratitude by the way we live, encouraging one another and helping each other stay true to the gospel, we become examples to those who would come to believe in Christ Jesus for eternal life.”

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

[1] Christian Eberhart, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1768

Remember your baptism

A picture hangs in my office, taken sometime in the mid-1950s. A young boy is standing waist-deep in a river, holding a list of names, candidates for baptism.  Next to him is his father, a pastor, preparing to baptize a young girl. The busy river flows around these three figures, and makes me grateful that, by the time that same pastor, who also happened to be my father, baptized me, it was in a heated baptistery filled with clean water.

This Sunday is the celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord, the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Matthew’s gospel tells of Jesus going down into the Jordan River, where John was baptizing repentant sinners. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus wasn’t asking to be baptized because of sin, but in order to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:13-17).

There’s a story in the Old Testament (2 Kings 5:1-14) about another man, Naaman, who also walked down into the Jordan River. But Naaman didn’t do it voluntarily. In fact, he was angry that the prophet Elisha had told him to do such a degrading thing, and turned away in disgust. But his servants reminded him that he would have done a great thing if he’d been asked, so why not do this little thing he’d been told to do? Naaman changed his mind, and was healed of his skin disease.

I see a connection between John’s baptism “with water for repentance” and Naaman’s repentant plunge into the Jordan River. But I see an even stronger connection between Naaman’s “baptism” and the baptism of Jesus, who had no need to repent, who knew no sin. Naaman may have balked at first, but in the end, he did what he was told to do.  John may have balked when Jesus came to him to be baptized, but in the end, Jesus did what he was told to do, too. Naaman was cleansed of his disease, while Jesus took on the sins of the world. Both  were obedient to God.

Baptism won’t save you. Baptism isn’t some secret initiation rite with magical properties. Baptism is a sign of obedience. As you touch the water this Sunday, maybe making the sign of the cross on your forehead with a wet finger, remember your baptism and be thankful. Remember the promises you made, or the promises that were made on your behalf by your parents and the congregation that witnessed your baptism. Renew those promises to be faithful, to love God and neighbor, to seek righteousness, to be a true follower of Jesus. Then go out, marked by grace, to be obedient to God.

Getting Unbent – Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

 10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

It was extraordinary, really. I mean, I didn’t even know Jesus was going to be teaching at the synagogue that week. I only wanted to come in from the heat, and hear the Word of the Lord. I waited until all the others were in their usual places before I slipped in at the back. I knew that some of the women would look down their noses at me, but I was past caring about what others thought of me.  I knew that some people were convinced I had committed some terrible sin, to have suffered for as long as I had.

Eighteen years. My back had been bent for eighteen long, painful years. At first, it was just a little hunching over, poor posture you would probably have called it. But the fact was I couldn’t straighten my back, no matter how hard I tried. And over the years, it had grown worse, until I was completely bent over, completely crippled. Oh, I could walk with a stick to lean on. But I could never stand up straight. I couldn’t look you in the eye, or see the stars at night. I couldn’t watch a hawk soar through the sky or admire a rainbow. Mostly, the only direction I could see was down. If I craned my neck, I could see what lay ahead of me in the street, but that took a lot of effort, and the pain was just unbearable. It was easier to stick to pathways I knew well, stay out of the way, and get by as best I could. I had resigned myself to being bent. I managed.

So on that Sabbath, when I slipped into the back of the synagogue, behind all the other women, I wasn’t expecting much more than rest in a cool place while I listened to the readings from the Law and the Prophets. When I heard a strange voice speaking, I tried to look up to see who was teaching. I knew it wasn’t one of our regular rabbis. It was some visiting teacher – someone who spoke with authority, but also with kindness in his voice. It was good teaching, too. I actually understood most of what he was saying, as he explained the scriptures in words that were simple, yet somehow profound at the same time. As this new teacher spoke, I felt – I don’t know how to describe it – peaceful isn’t really the right word, but there was peace in it. I know what it was.

I felt … loved.

The other women were whispering about him. I caught a name – Jesus of Nazareth – and I remembered hearing about this man. He was the one who had nearly started a riot when he taught in his own hometown synagogue a couple of years before. Everything had started out well, as he read the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[1]

When he had rolled up the scroll to teach, he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” But when the people asked him to give them some sign, he reminded them of the way God’s own people had rejected him, and how God had been merciful to people who were not even children of Abraham. This made the crowd angry, and they even tried to throw him off a cliff! Somehow, he got away. And now, here he was, teaching in our synagogue.

Suddenly, everything got quiet. Jesus had stood and was walking into the room, past all the men in front, through the women, and …. right to me. I was so embarrassed! Here I had tried so hard to slip in quietly so no one would notice me, and this stranger, this Jesus fellow, was calling out to me, making everyone look right at me.

 “Woman,” he said, “You are released from your sickness.” All at once, I felt the pain go away and my back loosen up. When I looked up, he was reaching out toward me, and the look on his face was so kind, so full of compassion. He wasn’t trying to embarrass me. He actually cared about me! Then he put his hands on my shoulders, and it was like a lightning bolt had struck. Such power in those hands! Such warmth and tenderness, too! My back straightened up for the first time in eighteen years, and I stood up! I stood straight up!

What else could I do? “Hallelujah!” I shouted. “Praise God! I have been set free by the power of the Almighty God! Praise the Lord!” The other women around me were astounded. A couple of them hurried over to help me, but I didn’t need any help! The room buzzed as we all began to realize what had just happened. This teacher, this Jesus, had healed me.

I didn’t ask him to do it. I wasn’t even hoping for healing. But he came to me, right where I was, and put his hands on me, and I stood up straight.  He touched me – something no one had ever done. They were all afraid that touching me would make them unclean, so – for eighteen years – people had been careful to stay away from me. No one wanted to risk being made unclean. But when Jesus touched me, it was as if he welcomed me back into life. He made it okay for others to touch me, too. He made me clean again, after eighteen years.

Of course, the ruler of the synagogue wasn’t too happy. He started yelling at the crowd, “There are six days in the week for work, come get healed on those days!” He didn’t yell at Jesus – that would have been rude, since he was probably the one who had invited Jesus to teach that day. But it seemed so silly for him to be ranting about when it was okay to be healed, as if such a miracle could be bothered with checking to see what day it was!

To be fair, it’s his job to make sure the Sabbath is kept holy. He’s the one responsible for making sure we all follow the rules, and if you start making exceptions for miracles, pretty soon you find yourself making exceptions for other things, and before you know it, the Sabbath isn’t set apart for rest anymore. But still…. no one had asked Jesus to work a miracle. He just did it.

I wonder if the synagogue ruler was more worried about losing his own position of importance. I mean, no one had ever seen him heal anyone! If this visiting rabbi Jesus was going to be a better teacher and go around healing people, it stood to reason people would start following him instead of the local rabbi, right? I wonder if he was a little jealous of Jesus. But he had to be careful not to show it, for that would be breaking the tenth commandment. So he lashed out at the crowd about the fourth commandment, instead of facing Jesus directly.

But Jesus knew his heart.

Even though the rabbi would not talk directly to Jesus, Jesus spoke directly to him. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Don’t each of you untie your donkey and lead it to water on the sabbath? Isn’t this woman worth more than a donkey? Shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?

When Jesus called the rabbi a hypocrite, or “actor,” the crowd gasped. But, as I thought about it later, I began to see what he meant. The rabbi was worried about sticking to the letter of the law, but he really wasn’t concerned with fulfilling the spirit of the law. Sabbath rest is supposed to give us rest and refreshment, to renew life after a hard week of work. Healing a poor old woman’s bent back certainly does that.

Some people think my story is strange. Some people think I made it up. But I know what happened that day in the synagogue, and I’m standing here in front of you as living proof that my back is straight, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. I don’t know why Jesus decided to walk into a huddle of unimportant women and put his hands on my back, but I do know that I cannot stop giving thanks to God that he did. I will praise the Lord my whole life long, for he came to me and touched me. He released me from the pain and humiliation of my poor, stooped back, and set me free. Praise God! Hallelujah!

So, if you don’t mind my asking, what is Jesus calling out to you to do? How is Jesus calling you to stand up straight, to be released from your bound up spirit?

And what is your response to such grace?

You don’t even need to ask him – Jesus is already working among you. Jesus is calling out to you, inviting you into his presence, inviting you into his grace. Jesus is reaching out to touch each one here, to heal you and to include you in his love.

How will you respond? Will you keep acting out your traditions and rules, like the synagogue leader? Or will you stand up and join me in heartfelt praise?

Are you willing to applaud the One who made you? Will you sing and pray and give thanks with joyful abandon? Will you bow the knees of your heart and humbly adore the God who reigns over heaven and earth? Will you live a life that oozes joy out of every pore of your being, a life that makes others turn and say, “That one is a child of God!”

For Jesus is walking toward you, reaching out to touch you, ready to heal you of your brokenness, to restore you to wholeness, to claim you as his own.

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!


[1] Luke 4:16-21

Hoarding God

We used a prayer of confession yesterday in worship that comes straight out of The Covenant Hymnal. I should probably mention that we do not, as a rule, include a prayer of confession in the order of worship. Confession might be part of the monthly Communion liturgy, or a regular feature of Lent, but it isn’t a weekly element of worship in our church. Sometimes I wish we did, but we don’t.

We added it this week, because the preaching text was Isaiah 6:1-8, in which the prophet Isaiah had a vision of God in his temple, and Isaiah’s reaction to this experience is to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips…” A seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal from the altar, and the passage concludes with God asking “Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah answers, “Here am I! Send me!” Pastor Ryan wanted to draw a parallel between our order of worship and Isaiah’s worship vision, which moves from praise/adoration to confession, then forgiveness, and finally commissioning. It was good worship, and many people commented on how well it flowed, how meaningful it was to them, and how all the elements worked together.

But there was one line in that prayer, #909 in the hymnal, that stuck with me through both services, and I’m still grappling with it as I prepare an early Thanksgiving feast for my son (who will not be with us on Thursday, when we travel to his grandmother’s house).

Consider this:

“O Lord, we have conserved the bounty of your love as though it could be exhausted, and we have wasted the bounty of your universe as though its resources were imperishable.”

We have conserved the bounty of your love as though it could be exhausted. Conserved, saved, put away in a dark cupboard like jam and jelly … hoarded. And I realized, to my dismay, that this was true. I have been trying to hoard God.

Just like those folks wandering in the desert who thought they’d better collect a little extra manna “just in case, you know, we run out or something,” I try to save a little extra experience of God’s love for some time when I don’t feel so loved. And just like those folks wandering in the desert, I find that whatever I thought I was saving cannot be held in reserve. God isn’t something you save for a rainy day. God is here and now.

When the Apostle Paul was feeling sorry for himself, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  There is no need to hoard that grace. It is sufficient.

How do you hoard God? What will it take to let go, and depend on that all-sufficient grace he so willingly offers?