April 25, 2021   Grace. Period: Love In Action And Truth, by Pastor David

1 John 3:16-24  We know love by this, that Christ laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before God whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from God whatever we ask, because we obey God’s commandments and do what pleases God. And this is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey God’s commandments abide in him, and God abides in them. And by this we know that God abides in us, by the Spirit that God has given us.

We take a moment to breathe and listen, opening ourselves to God’s word in our hearing and in our hearts, in music, in words, and in breath.

April 25, 2021  Grace. period: Love in Action and Truth

Grace beneath us. Grace behind us. Grace before us. Grace above us. Grace. period. We are a people blessed by grace, and blessed to know it - at least some of the time. I love our Sunday services and my morning meditations - because they are times when I get reminded of God’s love and grace, always and all-surrounding. And then this morning, I come out of my house and the car parked in front of mine has a sign on it that says “Love is the whole dam point.” and I think, “we don’t have a monopoly on the understanding of grace.”

Last week, we talked about John Wesley, the founder of United Methodism and his understanding of grace as having three parts. Last week we talked about prevenient grace - which is the grace God gives to us from the beginning - original blessing, the blessing of being alive and being able to accept and know every other kind of grace.

Today we are considering the second kind of grace - justification -which is also available to everyone when we accept God’s forgiveness and the love of God through Jesus. Next week we’ll talk about sanctification, or sanctifying grace, which is the end of the journey of faith, the full acceptance of grace and acting as a child of God. 

I know these are big words and I don’t mean to get too ‘teach-y’ about all this, but if you really want to get bored, try reading one of Wesley’s sermons about this. Believe me, I’m giving you the abridged version. 
So, justification, justifying grace - that’s the kind of grace that we most often think about when we think about Christianity. Amazing grace that saves a wretch like me. Justifying grace is forgiveness. Wesley calls it pardon or salvation. It might help you to think about Justification as the same as what happens on your computer. When you justify a line, it puts it all into order. You can justify the lines to the left or the right, or even make them even on both sides. 

God’s love is a gift that takes all the chaos of our lives and brings us back into connection, back into some kind of order- God’s order. When I was growing up - I’ll tell you the truth - I got kind of turned off by the Christians around me who would ask, “Have you been saved? When were you saved?” (Is that how you grew up?) It was amazing to me how fervent some people were and how strong the feeling was that they had been saved on a particular day and a particular time and from then on, everything was ok, that all their sins were forgiven. It seemed like a beautiful thing & I understood why they wanted everybody to experience it. 

It really helped me when a pastor/mentor/friend told me that whenever somebody asked if he was saved, he always answered, “yes, many times.” Art Brandenberg felt God’s love as continuous, a constant forgiveness, constantly renewed, and that he needed that ongoing and renewed blessing. I think John Wesley leaned toward the once and for all kind of justifying grace, but he understood that grace continued in our lives, as we’ll talk about next week, and that we are always realizing grace in new ways. more of a ‘saved many times’ Christian, but I just hope we all get to experience forgiveness, grace and renewal in some transformative and life saving way. 

Now, as long as I’m being a little contrary, let me mention another important point about grace. Grace is a particularly Christian word. We like it a lot, and some of us assume that grace is only available to those who believe in Jesus, because that’s the way we were taught. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” it says in John 14. That verse though, is for Christians, and we can still recognize there are other communities that know different paths. The word grace and the idea of grace appears often in the New Testament, but you don’t find it much in the Hebrew scriptures.

I have to say though, that God’s grace is available to everyone, and sometimes comes in different forms with different words. The Hebrew scriptures, or what Christians somewhat dismissively calls the Old Testament, talks a lot about “hesed” which gets translated as “steadfast love.” We Christians learned and can still learn a lot about grace from this Hebrew concept of steadfast love or hesed

Many sects and groups teach that their own way is the best and that everybody else is deluded or damned. That helps people feel really special and in the ‘in-group.’ It can give them special motivation too, so there are advantages to that way of thinking. Here at St. Luke, when we say grace.period, we mean that God’s grace is for everyone, period. 

God’s love comes to us in a particular way, as our scripture says this morning, “Christ laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” This is a very concise statement and invites us to accept the grace that is forgiveness. This grace allows us to renew our commitment and call to be God’s people, no matter what the circumstance or sacrifice. 

John’s community, from which this letter comes, is totally clear that our response to grace does not come in words but how we act. As our reading for this morning says, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.“ John Wesley believed this too, and sometimes other theologians were suspicious of him, afraid that Methodists might be saying that you have to do something or be a certain way to gain God’s salvation or justification. But Wesley was really clear. God’s grace is freely given, from the very beginning - to all people. And we receive God’s liberating love simply by accepting it. 
He also felt that we respond to that love and accept it by giving ourselves to others.

My preaching teacher, the brilliant preacher Dr. James Forbes, came from a Black evangelical tradition. He ends every sermon with a kind of altar call. In his and many traditions, that altar call is a time to accept the love and saving grace of the Living God in Christ. Dr. Forbes was always open to that experience and so am I. But Dr. Forbes always ends his sermon with a different kind of altar call - a call to accept God’s love and put it into action in our time, in our particular context.

Let me just point out here at the end one thing that maybe you can go away with. I wish for all of us to know God’s personal and communal grace and forgiveness. Whether that comes in a one-time experience or in many experiences, I invite you to know it today, to know that God loves you as you are

  And I want you to know that I’m really proud of you - of all of you in this congregation, that you are brave enough to respond to God’s call, to God’s grace. I just want you to notice that during this particular Grace period, God is giving us a lot of opportunities to respond to that love, that forgiveness, that grace. 

Today we respond by taking a vote to merge with folks from Radnor United Methodist Church - our parent church. We make that decision knowing that it’s going to require something of us. To be God’s grace-filled community, we will love these people from Radnor as they are -giving them God’s grace and love as they come to us. They come wounded, grieving the loss of their building and a little worried about their future. We will let them know that we welcome them and we will offer them the love of the Living God in this place. 
We are creating lots of opportunities for grace and for the living out of God’s gifts. Loving the Radnor folks is just one of them. We get to love the folks from the Main Line Muslim Society and the Narberth Havurah - and we get to care about the local schools and our friends in POWER. This is a rich period of grace. I thank you for rising to it. I thank God for the grace which allows us to meet the challenge.

We sing about that grace in this song from 1791, a little after the Radnor church was founded. Listen particularly for the line about justification: “Let the sweet tokens of pardoning grace, bring joy to my desolate heart.” 

Responsive Hymn 518 O Thou, in Whose Presence