First United Methodist Church
June 5, 2022 Pentecost Sunday
Rev. Candy Kaiser
A few years ago, Byron and I took a vacation in Mexico, and on that trip I was able to do something that had been a long-time dream of mine – one of those “bucket list” items - we got to swim with dolphins! It was SO exciting! First, we were told to get into the water and just “be still” and let the dolphins get used to us being there. So, there we floated as these beautiful creatures swam around, oblivious to our presence. Then, the guides began to toss fish into the water for the dolphins to eat – again cautioning us not to reach out or approach the dolphins in any way, but just to allow them to be around us as they pleased. The guides tossed the fish closer and closer to us so that the dolphins would come close to us and see that we were not a “threat” of any kind. Finally, we were allowed to reach out and stroke them as they swam close – and they liked that, and came back for more, until finally we were able to put our arms around them, and yes, even hold onto their fins and have them pull us through the water.
Reflecting on that experience, I can’t help but make a comparison to the way it is for God our Creator as he watches over humanity, waiting patiently for us to be willing to join in a relationship with him. He is there from the moment of our creation, longing to be in relationship with us and waiting for us even when we are oblivious to his presence. And as he waits, he reaches out to us in love – “wooing” us and attempting to draw us closer so that we might experience his grace and love.
The word “grace” comes from the Greek word “charis” – and it’s root meaning is GIFT. God, in Jesus Christ offers us the gift of a relationship that includes salvation, reconciliation, and eternal life. In Ephesians, chapter 2, we are told
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved….In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is in grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God…..
God’s grace is a wonderful gift. God’s grace is one grace – but it is one with many facets, like a precious jewel. The different terms for grace relate to the various ways we experience God during different stages in our personal spiritual journey.
The nature of grace (one grace experienced in different ways) is similar in some ways to the mystery of the Trinity (one God in three persons). Within God’s grace we find both unity and diversity.
Prevenient grace means that God is present with us throughout our lives. This grace is most clearly at work from our conception to our conversion – or from the moment we come into being until the time we accept for ourselves the relationship God offers to us. (Next week)
The term “prevenient” comes from the Latin word praevenire, which means “to come before.” So prevenient grace is the grace that comes before any decision we make as human beings. It is at work long before we are in any way aware of it.
It is the love of God wooing us – like a bridegroom courting his bride.
It is the will of God drawing us towards him. In the 6th chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus tells us No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. Through the gift of Jesus Christ, God draws us closer to him.
Prevenient grace is the desire of God pursuing us throughout our lives. A love that will not let us go. God loves us so much that he never gives up on us.
It is the gift of God freeing us so that we can have the opportunity to respond to God’s offer of a relationship and place our trust in Jesus. As we read in 1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Because God first loved us, and Jesus paid the price for our sins, we are forgiven and free to live in relationship with God in Christ. But that’s not all…
Prevenient grace is the activity of God empowering us by giving us spiritual strength – even when we are oblivious to the activity that is going on!
In the book of Genesis, we read about creation. That in the beginning God created the world, the cosmos, all everything in it – and he said that it was….GOOD. God created male and female in God’s own image and likeness, and the relationship between humanity and divinity was deep and meaningful. Like Adam and Eve, each one of us is a unique and beloved child of God. And because God is love, each of us has the capacity to love and to be loved. Love creates and maintains relationships, and is the motivating power behind all relationships – whether that love is losing yourself in another’s arms or another’s company, or in suffering for all who suffer. If there is no love, there is no relationship.
Because we are created in the image and likeness of God, the deepest and most essential part of us longs for a relationship with God. And to lose ourselves in the love of God is really to find ourselves - this is what love is all about. All of this is good news – right?
The bad news is, we (that is, humanity) blew the relationship. Adam and Eve made wrong choices that cost them their place in the Garden of Eden – and yet, God provided for them. We also have made, and will make choices that separate us from God and diminish our spiritual lives – and yet, God provides for us. Do you hear that? Even when we separate ourselves from God by our own choices, his grace is there – waiting patiently to draw us back to him.
Now, I mentioned earlier that the Greek word for grace means “gift.” The Hebrew term for grace meant “to bend, to stoop, condescending favor.” Kind of like when we offer a child a cookie from a plate, or when we put things on a lower shelf so our grandchildren can reach them.
God stoops and puts the “cookies” – in this case his gift of grace – on the lower shelf for us. God offers us a relationship that is powered by God’s love. The nature of this relationship is that of a covenant.
A covenant is the strongest form of relationship identified in the Bible. Three examples stand out in the Old Testament - With Noah, God made the covenant of life. With Abraham, the covenant of blessing. With Moses came the covenant of law. All of these were relationships powered by the love of God. Then, in the New Testament, we have Jesus, the gift of love through which we have the covenant of grace.
Jesus is God stooping down to love us – putting love and grace down where humanity could reach. Jesus is God loving us before we know it, and God calling us before we know Him. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks us, and God watching over us. Jesus is God’s gift of grace.
Prevenient grace is the “courtship” period of our relationship with God, during which God “woos” us into this relationship of grace. God takes the initiative to reach out and get our attention in many different ways. Sometimes it is through specific events in our lives – positive and/or negative - that we experience God extending his love and strength. Sometimes God uses other people who embody God’s love to reach out to us in caring ways, showing us the kind of love God offers us – these might be family members or friends – persons who showed us love as we were growing and learning, or who walked with us and held us up during difficult times in our lives. God’s prevenient grace can also be experienced through the body of believers – the church, which helps us experience God’s grace and presence through corporate worship, prayer, sacraments, and small groups.
We experience God’s grace through the Holy Spirit awakening our conscience and convincing us that we will never “earn” a place in God’s family – it is given to us freely – a gift from our Creator. But remember that God is a gentleman, and the Holy Spirit “courts us” – it is our choice to enter into the relationship – God will never force us. Prevenient grace is God loving us into relationship with him.
The critical question for each one of us is whether we will open our hearts to God and accept the relationship God offers. I’m sure many here have already taken that step. Hopefully then, in doing so, we will allow God to work through us – through our words, attitudes and actions to help others to open their hearts to the prevenient grace of God.
God’s grace is a gift freely given, unconditionally, with no strings attached. What you do with this gift is up to you. My personal prayer is that you will take God’s hand and continue to grab onto what God is offering you -- and hold on tight, because it may be quite a ride!