First United Methodist Church
June 12, 2022
Rev. Dr. Byron Kaiser
Gracious Living - When We Know
How many ways can you say it?
My chains are gone
Walking the Way
Got new shoes
Got new cloths
Got new robes
Got my reward
Got my wings
Got my crown
Came to the light
Came to the altar
Taken to the River
Came to the water
Washed in water
Washed in the blood
Came to myself
Came to Jesus
Came to the Father
Cast off the devil
Made a friend
Love broke through
Love found a way
How many ways can you say, “Saved”?
We are talking about Grace, God’s Grace. Last week Candy shared with you about the Prevenient Grace. (adlib) Today, we are thinking about God’s Justifying Grace.
Before I launch into deep explanations, I want to introduce the word, “justify”. It is a printing term meaning to make the edges of text line up straight. If you use a word processing program like “Word” you have a justifying feature on the home paragraph settings. It’s an icon with four lines stack upon one another, all the same length or “justified.” Spiritually, to be justified, means we are lined up and square with God.
One more word to be sure we share a common understanding. “Grace” means unmerited favor. You get something for nothing. And you don’t even deserve it.
God offers us a relationship of unconditional love and grace that justifies us. In the beginning God created the world, the cosmos, and all things in it – including humans – and God saw that it was good (Genesis 1-2).
Wrong choices separate us from God and diminish our spiritual lives, you may think of the story of eating the fruit of tree of knowledge in the book of Genesis.
You may also consider the parable of the separation of the youngest son from the loving father in Luke 15:11-17. We commonly call the story, the Parable of the Prodigal Son; however, the parable would better be entitled the Parable of The Loving Father. The parable demonstrates that God’s gifts of love and grace exceed all our wrong choices (Luke 15:20-24).
Listen to Jesus telling the end of the story.
“So, he (the father’s youngest son) set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.”
L'chaim! To Life!
So, the story told by Jesus raises the question, what satisfies your soul? The younger son thought that money, sex, and booze would satisfy him. Because God created us in God’s image and designed us for a living relationship with God, these things, money, sex, or booze, cannot satisfy. Make your own list.
Jesus calls people to accept the relationship God offers them. Jesus says, “‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11:28.
Are worn out by bad choices? Are you worn down by regret? May the welcome of the Loving Father revive you?
God offers us a personal relationship of self-giving love, not a system of rules and regulations.
We muddy the clear waters of baptism. We create all kinds of add-ons and addendums. We don’t believe God seriously makes us such a simple offer. We add things like having to baptized with a set amount of water, or we must be baptized in a flowing stream, or we must wear western looking cloths, and speak a certain way. We say a person must attend church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. We demand that a dress code be followed, and our hair be short or long or shaved or never cut. We say that my sins may be forgiven but your sins are so bad they will never be forgiven, therefore, I can’t associate with you. So, if you don’t hold your mouth just right and recite just the right formula, we won’t let God be God. You get the idea about how we muddy the waters.
Listen to these words record in John’s first letter (1 John 4:7-12). John mixes no mud into God’s offer.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
John mixes no mud into God’s offer.
If you have a friend or a lover, you know what it means to say, “yes”, to a relationship. If you never have acknowledged the relationship and said, “yes, I want this person in my life” you would be friendless. You would be “lover-less.” Saying, “yes”, to an offer of love consummates the relationship.
Candy said, “yes,” to me on a February evening in front of a few of our friends and family and the First United Methodist Church of Hammond. At the church talent show, we just had finished a duet of Elvis Presly’s Love Me Tender. The church choir had slipped in behind us to continue the chorus of the song as I knelt. My daughters started to pass the Kleenex. Fortunate for me and the United Methodist Women who started to plan the wedding reception while watching us, Candy said, “Yes.” We shared our honeymoon with the dolphins.
Experiencing the love of God depends upon our acceptance of the love that God offers us. We may choose to accept a relationship with God. Saying, ‘’yes,” justifies us with God, sets us right with God, lines us up with God. The moment we say, “yes,” to the relationship God offers us in Christ everything changes.
Think with me again about the story of the prodigal son or the story of the loving father, the younger son turns away from his misery and returns home not knowing he is to receive the unconditional welcome and love of the father. Likewise, God restores us to an eternal relationship with the One who knows and loves us better than we know and love ourselves. (Luke 5:20-24).
When we accept God’s grace, we say, “yes,” to the One who has been wooing and pursuing us. We act in faith when we say, “yes”, to God’s offer.
We cannot do anything to merit a relationship with God. (Romans 3:21-28; Ephesians 2:8-9). Hear what the Apostle Paul has to say in his letter to the church in Rome,
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”
I was saved by grace, I am saved by grace, and I will be saved by grace. How many ways can you name the experience? Grace is unmerited favor with God. I can’t earn it. I can only accept it.
Conversion continues as we keep saying, “yes”, to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. You will hear more about this ongoing process of growing and living in Christ in talks coming up.
Here is what you need to know for now. You do not do good deeds to earn points with God. Years ago, in a place far away, I was privileged to escort a confirmation class to an Islamic Center. Being a Saturday, children of the congregation were attending religion classes. We were able to set in on a class. The instructor shared with his class an old fashion weight scale. He placed objects on one side and objects on other side to show how the heavier objects caused the scale to fall one way or the other. Then he explained that when we die, God places the good and bad deeds of our lives on either side of the scale. If good outweighs the bad, reward comes to us. The instructor gave to us a wonderful illustration how our Christian faith does not work.
God does not use a scale to judge us. God loves us. Period. All we do is say, “Yes!”
A simple thought, love always looks like Jesus. The Avett brothers, Scott and Seth, wrote, "The Ballad of Love And Hate". In the final words of the song, they capture what love looks like when Jesus wears love.
Love has been waiting, patient and kind.
Just wanting a phone call or some kind of sign,
That the one that she cares for, who's out of his mind,
Will make it back safe to her arms.
Hate stumbles forward and leans in the door.
Weary head hung down, eyes to the floor.
He says "Love, I'm sorry", and she says, "What for?"
"I'm yours and that's it, whatever.
I should not have been gone for so long.
I'm yours and that's it, forever."
You're mine and that's it, forever.
I hear Jesus saying, “You're mine and that's it, forever.”