Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Crazy little thing called Grace

A sermon based on pie AND grace?  Why not?!  The season of Lent continues with a message that I shared with Trinity United Methodist Church on March 15, 2015.  (please forgive the punctuation - I write for the ear)

Ephesians 2:8-10

8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

Luke 15:1-7

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.

It was just about this time of year – 11 years ago – when I was in my first year as a pastor when we had this hair brained idea to take a group of kids from our church on a mission trip. A seminary classmate up in Wisconsin had formed a team to do Hurricane relief work on the outer banks of North Carolina and they had some openings – all we’d have to do is come up with $300 a piece and we’d be able to tag along.

Before long we had our team…only problem was, I had never been on a mission trip before myself. Sure I had done lots of service projects – but never a full blown get on a bus – traipse across the country with a group of young people and adults mission trip…

And then, there was the money – the community was rural, agricultural and, quite honestly – folks were barely scraping by. There was no way the families could afford $300 to send their kids on a mission trip! We’d have to get organized and do some fundraising – and quick!

Our first step was to pray – and then, we took stock of our resources – thankfully we had a secret weapon – Lola…and we had 13 young people eager to work hard. Yards were raked, garages were cleaned out…and then..don’t forget Lola…

Lola was the most sought after baker in the area – she made pies…pies so good that at the home basketball games, when there would be a cake auction – the first thing to go was Lola’s pie – before ANY of the cakes!

Lola was a member of Apple River United Methodist Church – and she volunteered to help us make pies to sell – all we had to do was take the orders…so, the tradition of baking pies for fundraisers was born – that first Easter we baked well over 100 pies…at $10 each, with donated ingredients, that’s a great fundraiser!

Before we knew it we had met our goal and we were on our way to Cedar Island, North Carolina.

We traveled with a group from two other churches – and while the kids were working in the neighborhood, helping the residents of the fishing village recover for the storm the year before, I was watching and learning from Josh and Stan as they lead the group.

Each day we’d have a hearty breakfast, pack our lunches, go out in the community and work in groups. We’d have a devotion during lunch break, go back to work and then return to the church in the afternoon for some R&R before supper and worship together.

Much of how we did mission trips the next three years in Apple River and then two years in Spirit Lake are modeled after what I learned from Josh and Stan. They were both musicians – so we had a band a long – the work was meaningful, the worship was great and I soaked up lots of good ideas – along with an idea of some things to avoid – all in all – it was such a blessing and a launching pad for some terrific experiences for youth as well as adults over the next 6 years.

I wish I had some pictures, but truth is – these adventures were before Facebook – and digital cameras.

But let’s go back to pie…yes pie.

What I didn’t realize is that the greatest gift – the biggest take away wasn’t the work we did on the mission trips….it was the pie – the experience of working together to bake pies, Lola patiently teaching us how to make them – so they would be perfect – and delicious and worthy of being called Lola’s pies…

the excitement of the pie baking days was great energy for our church – and those who bought them were actually really appreciative – they loved not only the pies – they liked being a part of our fundraiser! By the way, the tradition continues – and this year they made nearly 300 pies the week before Thanksgiving!

And….i learned HOW to make pies…something I had failed at miserably for my 42 years prior to my appointment to Apple River United Methodist Church. Don’t get me wrong – I love pie…

But, my mom - well she couldn't make a pie crust that was worth eating.  Harsh words, for sure - but true none the less.  And MY poor pie baking skills?  Well, I based that on a genetic defect, thanks Mom.

Under Lola’s tutelage, I learned how to make a darn good pie crust.

And I have shared the recipe with others…the recipe has been emailed, copied, posted on Facebook – and even projected on the screen during worship!

It’s not a secret – but a gift – to share…

Sorta like grace.

Our lesson this morning from Ephesians is all about Grace…

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

Adam Hamilton in his book, Revival: Living Faith as Wesley Lived it, expands on this with what I believe is the best definition of Grace that I have heard or read…and this is saying something, because I have asked people for years for a definition of grace that speaks to the simplicity and yet the awesome wonder of this word…

Hamilton writes:

Grace, as Paul uses it, is an act of kindness, an expression of selfless love that is completely undeserved and is given without any expectation of repayment.

We are never more like God than when we are giving selflessly to others. Because God created us to live in this way, we seldom feel more alive and joyful than when we are serving, blessing, and helping someone else.

That is grace.

How amazing is Grace! In Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we have been given the greatest gift – Satan does not have the last word – death does not have the last word – sin does not have the last word – they were defeated by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross – and It is a gift of God’s love and forgiveness – poured out lavishly for you – and for me.

Last week we left Wesley at Aldersgate, where his heart was strangely warmed by the realization that God loved even him. God’s forgiveness was a gift for him too – how he missed it, we will never know – but he finally had the assurance that he needed to be able to live more fully as God’s beloved son. Charles Wesley captured this sense of gratitude in the hymn And Can It Be that I Should Gain – we will sing it as our closing hymn this morning…

What happened next is faith in action – or grace – grace upon grace even…

John and his brother Charles were compelled to share their story of how God was working in their lives with everyone they met – their passionate embrace of God’s grace took them out of the comfort of the University – a pretty safe place to be – and out to the world.

The message they shared is the message that Paul was getting at – First – that grace is a quality of God’s character whereby God loves, blesses, and forgives humanity despite our sin.

In other words, God loves us and doesn’t give up on us…God’s forgiveness is extended to each and every one of us…thanks be to God!

And second – Grace is God, actively working by the power of the Holy Spirit, to draw us closer to God and to restore us to what God created us to be.

You are beloved – you are beautiful – you are precious in God’s sight…we each have unique characteristics – and yet we are bound together by virtue of our baptism into the family of God – a great big beautiful, messy and altogether wonderful family…

Are you owning the gift? Do you appreciate the radical nature of what God is telling us?

That’s the difference, I believe, between an Old Testament understanding of God – and a New Testament understanding of God… At just the right moment in history, God came to earth – to set the record straight…God revealed himself through the life of Jesus.

Jesus in his life here on earth sought out the least and the lost – because they seemed to get it…we would know them as the sinners and tax collectors – and the Pharisees were pretty unhappy with Jesus – they wanted him to conform to their rules and image of what the messiah was supposed to be all about – but Jesus would have none of it…

The more ‘unsavory folk’ were used to the harsh realities of life – and so Jesus’ stories resonated with them –

he taught them with stories about lost sheep and the prodigal son and missing coins…to help them see that each person – every one of us- is beloved…unique…and necessary for the health of the whole body!

With these examples and definitions of Grace in mind, let’s take a few minutes – share with someone nearby and experience you had this past week that was an act of kindness, an expression of selfless love that is completely undeserved and is given without any expectation of repayment.  (pause for conversation)

With these images in mind – can you see how what we need more of is the hope that comes from following Christ – and less on the things of this world?

One more story – and then a challenge…

Wesley amp’d it up at his society meetings – he and his friends got busy visiting those in prison and sharing what they had with widows and orphans – but everything changed when his buddy, George Whitefield – sent an invitation for John to join him in Bristol – to preach and teach the workers there…

At first John refused the invitation – he was an ordained Anglican priest – he didn’t have a pulpit in Bristol…what Whitefield was proposing was preaching out in fields for heavens sake! but when a poster came in the mail – advertising that the Rev. John Wesley would be preaching – well, what else could he do…?

And the rest, is history

Wesley shared his story – how he experienced the transformative grace of God.  How his heart was 'strangely warmed' and in the midst of this, lives were transformed by his powerful witness.

We each have a story of God's grace.  We each know someone who could perhaps benefit from hearing our stories.  How will you share your story this week? Who will you share it with? How will you go about sharing yourself selflessly so as to honor God?

We can only do so by the power of the Holy Spirit – and so this will be my prayer for each and every one of us… that we tune in to God this week - and seek out ways to share God's love with others in new ways!

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment