4/2/2000, Lent 4 Year B
Grace through Faith
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- not the result of works..." (v. 8-9, NRSV).
She came to see the real thing after watching our service on television for a few months. She said that there was something spiritually special about our great old church, and then she added, "You know, I was saved here many years ago!"
We don't hear folks talking too much anymore about being saved. Our founder, John Wesley, talked about it all the time for it had meant the world to him. He had been reared in a rather stiff liturgical environment; however, his parents had known there was something more about their faith that they should have been getting out of it, and many years later this longing found it's flowering in the faith of their son John. He described the moment of experience in his Journal by saying, "I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust Christ for salvation..." Salvation for early Methodists was an emotional experience that brought them into a friendship with God through Christ: "By Grace through Faith."
My wife's family claims that their forefather, George Wishart, was the actual founder of The Church of Scotland, Presbyterian, because he was the one who led John Knox to the experience of salvation by grace through personal faith. Similar to the Wesley's, Wishart's evangelical preaching drew thousands into an experience of salvation. In fact, Mr. Wishart's fervor so shook the religious authorities that that he was burned at the stake in St. Andrews, Scotland, and was the first chronicled in Fox's Book of Martyrs. His public execution, through which he witnesses to his personal faith led to a great new religious movement in Scotland that still continues to this day, around the world.
Actually, Grace becomes operative in our lives way before we respond to it. Prevenient Grace, is that working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, drawing us closer into the family of God. Certainly, God's foreknowledge knows how things will eventually work out, and He just doesn't sit back and hope that we will somehow stumble into grace totally on our own.
As a preacher's kid, I had the unique opportunity to spend time with some of the greatest traveling evangelists of all time, as they would stay in our parsonage during the two two week revivals my Dad used to always schedule each year. One that comes to mind as I write is the famous Dr. John R. Church of the Western North Carolina Conference of The Methodist Church. He was something of a rebel in those days, holding out for the fearless preaching of the whole counsel of God; and my could reach into our hearts and minds. But I also got to know him as a person around the supper table. Then there was his brother Forrest Church, who was just a little bit more subdued, but became a wonderful mentor to a little boy. One of my mother's best friends, and an informally designated "godmother" of mine, was Nettie Miller, with flaming red hair and a dynamic personality, and fire and brimstone sermons, she was one of the most unforgettable characters that I ever met. I forget now what she actually said in her revival sermons, but I will never forget what she meant in my life. These folks were used by the Spirit of God to reach thousands, and they meant the world to me.
I am certain that you can name persons, and events, that were used by God to bring you to the doorway of faith. But like the paratrooper who trains on the ground for many weeks prior to his first parachute jump form an airplane, there comes a time when it's time to make that step of faith, not knowing for sure if the parachute will open.
Saving Grace only occurs when we, relying upon Grace, exercise His Gift of Faith, and act on the invitation of Grace. It is much like the process of falling in love. There is that initial interest sparked in our minds, often times folks describe their experience as being "Love at First Sight." However, for most it takes a while to realize that we are actually gripped by the powerful force of being "in love." When I interview prospective brides and grooms for the first time in my Study, I always ask the question, "When did you two realize that you were in love?" Usually the bride looks over at the groom to see how he is going to answer, and he always comes through with a definite answer. He knows for sure that this is the girl of his dreams and that he plans to live with her forever. If human beings can know that, certainly we can know if we are in love with Jesus Christ.
Many of you here today share something of the same story as did our visitor last Sunday who was, "saved in this Sanctuary." Maybe you remember the time when it came to you like a flash, or dawned on you out of the blue, that you were numbered among the saved, a true disciple of Christ.
My predecessor, Dr. Pierce Harris, used to give out the Altar Flowers to the children after the great Sunday night evangelistic services. I can't tell you how many adults have told me how much that personal touch has meant to them throughout their lives. One older gentleman told me that that was the thing that God used to bring him to know that he was in the Family of God's Children. How was it for you?
Beyond Saving Grace, there is the ongoing gift of Enabling Grace which is the thing that keeps us in the fold. It is the power of God that we tap into in times of uncertainty and stress. It is the guidance of God that gets us through those college years of temptation, and those struggling years of young adulthood and marriage. We know that it was God's enabling ability that helped rear your children. All along the way it was Him that walked with us. Looking back, we see that He has never failed us and this gives us the assurance that He will never fail us in the future either. Life is often compared to a long road, a bumpy road, a narrow road, or a treacherous road; but, all along the roadway of life, Jesus is always there.
Every week, as your Pastor, I see God at work in your lives. I have wondered over the years how folks would have made it without the Lord. And some do not make it. Often tragedy occurs because of our own bad choices. Folks sometimes get on the wrong road.
Pulling our popup camper through 48 states, over eight long summer vacations, our family sometimes got on the wrong road; but, with good maps, and the help of a lot of friendly gas station attendants, we found out that we could find our way back to the right road, and eventually back home. It's that way in life when we realize that we are lost--- we can be found again.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor