4-28-19 “Grace That Transforms” - Rev. Danny Dahl
Scripture: Galatians 1:13-24
Each and every one of us has a story to tell. We are all unique in all the Universe, no two of us are alike, not in our DNA and certainly not in how we view our relationship with Christ.
When Pastor Jay asked me to come speak this morning, he casually informed me that there was to be a theme, given by the Bishop, from which I would need to work.
So, as I would normally do, I followed directions….. I looked up what the Bishop had in mind, and found it was something which has always been a part of how I view the ministry….. It was about Grace…Today’s theme is “Grace that Transforms.”
Now, several months ago, I preached here for several weeks about Grace, God’s grace. I am certain all of you remember everything I had said…. But, for those of you who might not have been present, I will follow the directive of the Bishop….graciously..
As I said a few moments ago, each and every one of us has a story to tell; we are all unique in who we are and in our place within, not only the universe, but also in the Kingdom of God. So, I appreciate where we are starting this series; in Galatians, one of my favorite Books in all scripture.
Here we find a bit of the Story of Paul; what happened to him after the encounter he had with Christ on the Damascus Road; we read how he spent three years trying to understand what had happened to him; we get part of the story of how he spent time and learned about who Christ was and what the ministry was all about. Then, when he had learned what was needed, he began to preach and teach…Folks immediately brought up that this was the man who had persecuted the very church he was now trying to support and expand…. Paul had begun to understand the need for God’s grace in the lives of those around him; he had experienced it first hand and knew of its power in his own life; and yet, folks just wouldn’t forget the horrible things he had done before….funny isn’t it, that our stories usually end up with someone doubting our motives.
Recently, at Livingston Church, we finished an Adam Hamilton study on Simon Peter. We learned how flawed Simon was, how he could never quite get his spirituality right; and because of that, people questioned his motives and he had to really learn about forgiveness, tolerance and especially, Grace.
I believe that this is the story of the New Testament; that, we fail, we falter, but the redeeming Grace of God brings us back into contact with the one who loves us and gave Himself for us.
As I got to thinking about what the scripture was today, I began to see some parallels between Peter and Paul…they were men who didn’t understand how God was going to use them.
Paul abetted the murder of Stephen; Peter denied the Lord. Paul threw Christians into prison; Peter called Jesus a liar when Jesus said he had to die. We do have interesting role models within the Christian faith, don’t we?
I continue to believe that these stories of failure, hate and murder are absolutely necessary for you and me to read about and hear; for you see, our stories are just as problematic as those of the giants of the faith. Sometimes our lives are worse, and yet, if Peter and Paul received the grace of God and were transformed by it, who are we to say it cannot happen to us?
We each have our own stories of the transforming power…of grace.
If we are to discuss “Grace which Transforms”, we need to understand that the only way we can possibly BE transformed is through the power of Grace. It seems to me that Peter and Paul both understood this. They took lives which had been shattered, lives which had not surrendered to Christ and were transformed by the action of a God who forgave them even when they appeared to be unforgivable. And THAT , my friends, is transforming Grace.
It’s nothing we do for ourselves, it’s nothing we can do by ourselves; this transforming grace has to come from God alone; it has to come from the love, compassion and forgiveness which Christ has to offer; and it is offered without cost to each and every one of us..because the price has already been paid, on the Cross and with the revelation of the empty tomb.
It continues to amaze me that some still believe that we can, somehow, legislate morality; that somehow we can determine whom God accepts or rejects just because we think we KNOW what God wants. It baffles me, because scripture tells us that God chooses the least of us to confound the rest of us. He uses those who are weak to show those who believe they have the ‘right way’ to heaven that they just might be wrong (Pharisees maybe?);
When we all know, or should know, that the right way to heaven is to ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and THOU SHALL BE SAVED’, I see no reason to attempt to improve upon that, it makes sense as it is…
I believe it is as simple and as complicated as that… It is by grace we have been saved though faith, and even that faith isn’t generated by us, it is a gift of God; that way no one can brag that they have done it on their own… As my friend Julia used to say, “It’s all grace”… and that is the story of transformation.
I have spoken of my initial encounter with our Master, Jesus on many occasions. But, to be true to the Bishop, let me just put this out there again. I was 18 and heading toward Ohio University to just party and have a good time. My then girlfriend, talked me into going to a service where there was going to be a “gospel band”. Not wanting to miss a good band, I went; it wasn’t what I thought it would be; young folks banded together to speak of the gospel, and in that moment, Jesus called my name. I came forward, and my heart was changed; but, it took years for me to fully begin to understand what that transformation was; it took me years to understand that God had granted me a new life, not by anything I did or deserved, but just because He wanted to share His grace with someone like me; who didn’t deserve the grace, but received it anyway. I am still on the journey of learning about his grace; but I know it is always out there and always is mine, if I want it to be.
My story is ongoing, and so is yours if you have taken the time to listen to the whispers in your soul; and have said you are willing to receive the free grace of God.
I cannot move away from this today without commenting on where the United Methodist Church is today.
I have heard the rhetoric; I have seen the anger; I have observed how folks are hurting and sad….and it hurts my heart.
I don’t want anyone to think that I do not stand with reconciliation, or reconciling ministries….I am there, it took me years to get there, but here it is…and here I am; I stand with the Grace of God which transforms those who accept it….ALL who accept it..
You see, Grace and reconciliation is just that; and it must be for everyone, not just a few. Our brothers and sisters who have hurt, and continue to hurt, others with words and deeds and have put forward a regression, a regression to the thoughts and habits of a bygone time. Yet those who have done this are also hurting and have been hurt. I think, it might be up to us to stand tall, not to relent to the regressive thoughts and actions, but to stand tall with this lesson in Grace. “If Grace isn’t for everyone, then it is for no one.”
John Wesley spoke deeply of grace; he went to places where the Anglican Church would not go. The Anglican Church of Wesley’s time condoned child labor in coal mines which were deadly and murderous; but Wesley’s call was to change this and reform the church so that it would protect these little ones. Wesley’s call was for holiness, but he said there was “no holiness apart from social holiness”. Wesley was a reformer because it was necessary, it was a part of who he was because it was part of who Christ was; but he was also a person of Grace… I have read what he has said, ‘Dost thou believe in Christ? If so, take my hand for we are brothers.’ This is a lesson in Grace which transforms, “whosoever will may come”, the scripture says…and believe me when I say, I hold myself to this scriptural basis. To reject, or to not accept those whom Jesus calls is dangerous; it is deadly.
I cannot reject those whom God has personally called into the grace of His love. And, if Peter can curse and swear, reject and say that he didn’t know who Jesus was; and If Paul can stand by while Stephen is stoned to death AND STILL be forgiven and called back into the fold, who are we to reject anyone who says they have been called by God, and have been saved by His grace? To do so is to put ourselves at risk…at risk of opposing God Himself…this puts us in peril, and it shouldn’t be so, not in the Wesleyan tradition, and especially not in the eyes of Christ.
To not acknowledge that God has done something in someone’s life is to reject the very call of Grace and love of Christ Himself; it is to reject the core of the Gospel and the very soul of each and every person with whom we may disagree; it is to reject the basis of His ministry; it is to reject the stories, the happenings and the revelation of the Word of God, who John says is Jesus the Christ Himself. We cannot show God’s grace if we do not believe His grace is for everyone; we can only show God’s wrath, anger and punishment…and this I cannot accept; not as a United Methodist, nor as a Christian called to be like Him.
So, today, with all that is before us, and all that has come from behind us, we need to take a look at what is going on with Paul, and with Peter… Grace is ALWAYS there for us; we have a gracious and loving God who accepts us, warts and all, and is trying to move us from where we are, and take us to where He wants us to be. Grace is for us; Christ is always for us…and for anyone and everyone, who calls on His name and seeks His forgiveness.
This, my friends, is the Grace which Transforms.