Thursday, September 21, 2017
reStart (1 John 4:7-19)

First United Methodist Church

Glen Rose, Texas

September 4, 2011


Series: The Amazing Grace

"reStart”

(Jeremiah 1:5, John 6:44-45; John 12:32)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn

INTRODUCTION:

     God’s Grace is Amazing. Grace is God’s free gift of unconditional love for each and every one of us. It’s so amazing, so life changing, so life giving that I could preach a hundred sermons on Grace and never really explain all of its intricacies and yet at the same time it is so simple anyone can understand.  Grace is God’s free gift of unconditional love for each of us. It is a gift that takes a life time to unwrap. It’s a gift which empowers everything about our faith.

     The Amazing Grace of God is what set Wesley’s heart on fire and lights the fire in the hearts of every Christian who has accepted Jesus the Christ as Lord and Savior of their life. So, what should we know, what should we experience about this gift from God called Grace?

     That’s our focus for the next few weeks. The Amazing Grace. It will help us reStart, reNew, reFresh and reProduce as we seek to become Faithful Disciples.

PRAYER

     Grace by definition is the undeserved acceptance and love received by another. Through the teachings of Jesus we understand it as the saving activity of God through His Son Jesus and what Jesus did for us on the cross. It is foundational for us as Christians. And our emphasis on Grace is one of the distinctives whichs set United Methodist Theology apart from orthodox theologies, other protestant theologies, and especially Calvinism

I:  All of our discussions on grace have to go back to the garden and the fall. Whether you believe the story literally describes what happened or whether you believe it’s allegorical in nature, the result is the same. Through our sinfulness our relationship with God has been broken. That brokenness broke God’s heart because God poured out His love for us in Creation. Creating us in His own image.

     The issue then becomes, how far did we fall and how does God win us back and how do we get back into that loving relationship with God. We’re like runaway children. We wanted it our own way, we packed our bag and left. And now we’ve accumulated so much baggage that we can hardly move and we’ve forgotten how to get home. We are lost in the wilderness of sin. How do we get back. Is it works? Or is it grace? Obviously Protestants chose Grace.

     In Ephesians 2:8-10 (NRSV) the Apostle Paul writes;

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—  

[9] not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  

[10] For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.  

     In other words, it’s not what WE do but it’s what God does for us. Through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are given the ability to accept God’s Grace and reStart that relationship.

     But if, as Calvinism believes, that when we fell, we fell completely away from God, that we are “totally depraved” and in no part do we resemble God. The Image of God in which we were created was totally destroyed. If so, how do we hear God’s call to come home?

     Arminius argued that because there was good in the world, because there was love and beauty that there was still some modicum of God within us. Wesely argued that if we had fallen so far away from God that there was nothing of God left in us, how could we hear God’s call.

     The image of God WAS cracked and broken beyond human repair but sometimes, you could still see the image of God in us. That portion of the divine spark that lives in us is what allows us to do good and love and all those other attributes of God before we know God and before we have accepted Christ. But he was also clear that it is God’s doing not ours. It is God calling us. That’s what Jesus said,

     In John 6:44-45 (NRSV) Jesus said:

[44] No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.  

[45] It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.  

     And then in John 12:32 (NRSV) he says:

[32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."  

     What these two passages indicate is that God is constantly drawing us, calling us, leading us back home; back into that relationship with God. That’s why Christ came.

II:      In trying to understand how God’s grace works in our lives, Wesley came up with ways to describe the work of Grace in our lives. Grace is Grace, but there are aspects of Grace which help us understand how God is reaching out to us. The Grace we’re talking about today, the Grace which allows us to hear Gods call we call Prevenient Grace. That’s an old English term which has its roots in the word prevent and is seen as the Grace of God which is given to us so we can hear God’s call. It is the Grace which prevents us from falling so far away that we become deaf to God.

     You can also call it Preceding Grace. It’s the grace that goes before us preparing everything for us. If you remember Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." And later we read in Jeremiah 29:11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

     Here’s what I think that means. There is no where you can God that God hasn’t already been. God precede you and prepare the way for you. There’s no situation you can get into that God hasn’t already preceded you been prepared the way for you. God still allows us to make those choices but God has planned the best possible outcome if we but listen and follow.

     In the process of those plans and out of God’s great love for us, God through Christ, continues to draw us closer and closer to God. God continues to whisper God’s love for us and sing God’s love song for us. However you want to say it, God is reaching out to us. And God continues to call so we can answer that call. God is reaching out to us so we can reStart our relationship.

     That call continues even after we’ve accepted Christ because, let’s face it, sometimes we slip and fall backwards or we do a little backsliding as they used to say. In other words, we blow it again. But God continues to call. We’re like runaways who have forgotten the way home. But when we answer that call, when we wake up and hear the music of God’s love song for us, well, it’s like coming home to the family we never knew we had.

     If you have seen the movie Antwone Fisher starring Denzel Washington and Derek Luke, it’s based on an autobiographical account of the author. It’s the story of a young black sailor prone to violent outbursts who is sent to a Navy psychiatrist for help. Refusing at first to open up, the young man eventually breaks down and reveals a horrific childhood.

     He was born in a women’s prison, where his mother was an inmate. His father was shot and killed by an ex-girlfriend and he grew up in a foster home at the hands of an abusive foster mother.

     Through the guidance and eventual friendship of this doctor, he begins to confront his painful past and then, with the help of his girlfriend, he begins a quest to find the family he never knew. The one thing Antwone Fisher longed for the most was a real family. Someone to belong to. Someone who wouldn’t leave. Someplace and somebody where he was recognized, greeted, welcomed, loved and supported. What he longed for the most was home.

     I love the scene, toward the end of the movie, when after a long search, Antwone finds his family. Antwone walks into the house of his aunt, whom he just met earlier that day. He has no idea what awaits him. But as he opens the door, the room is filled with people. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces, they greet him and embrace him. Watch
III:    I love that, he is greeted by the matriarch of the family, she cresses his face and says one word - “Welcome.” The room erupts with joy.

     He was Home. Home, a place of welcome; Home, a place where we’re recognized, greeted, loved and supported. Home, a retreat to which a son or daughter can return in triumph or defeat, in victory or disgrace, and know they will be loved, no matter what. Home.

     Home where a feast is laid out to celebrate our return.

CONCLUSION:

     Today we are invited to God’s table. We’ve been away too long. Yet, in anticipation of our return, God has prepared a feast for us. A welcome feast, a homecoming feast. And here at Home with God at God’s Table we experience this you eat can Feast of God’s Grace; the Banquet of Salvation and Forgiveness. All of it has been prepared for you by God.

     You all received an invitation this morning, a card with RSVP printed on it, when you came in today. You can break the seal now and read along with me to this this invitation.

     My Child, Welcome! I have been waiting for you.

     I have been calling you by name. From the moment of your conception I have been whispering my love for you and singing a love song written just for you. A love song to remind you that “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

     You have never been alone. Wherever you have gone, I have been there. I went before you preparing everything for whatever decision you would make. I left those decisions to you but I wanted to prepare the way so I could continue to call to you; so I could be at your side no matter what.

     I am so thankful that you heard My call; My love song for you. I’m so glad you chose to come today. I have been preparing a place at my table just for you. And I’ve set out a feast of grace; a feast fit for a son or daughter of God. A feast fit for YOU, because that’s how I think of you. Created in My image and redeemed by My Son Jesus, you are MY son; you are MY daughter; you are an heir of My Kingdom. This table, filled with this glorious feast of My Grace, has been prepared just for you.

     Welcome! I have been waiting for you. Won’t you join Me?

     When you come to the table this morning, come with open hearts, and open hands to receive. There’s something sacred and holy about coming to God to receive what God has to offer, rather than reaching out ad taking what we want or what we think we deserve. This morning come and receive. Because what God offers is far greater than anything you could imagine or hold in your hand. Come and receive the bread and the wine, receive the welcome home, receive Grace upon Grace.

     God has been preparing the way for this moment in your life. Hear His welcome and feel his arms around you. ReStart your relationship today.

PRAYER

     Gracious God, we are all here for different reasons and from different places but we come because you have called. We come because we want to reStart our relationship with you. Some of us come as runaways who are coming home for the first time in a very long time and we’re nervous about how we will be received. Surround us with your love and hold us in Your hug of welcome.

     Some of us have come today because we’ve always come. It’s what we do. So fill us with your bread. Fill us with your wine. Throw your arms around us, too, because sometimes in the sameness of our faithfulness, we forget what it felt like to be embraced in Your strong arms, and we need to remember. Oh, how we need to remember.

     Some of us are here simply because we are hungry and thirsty and we have heard from others that this is the only place that can fill that hunger and quench that thirst. As we gather at Your table, please don’t let them be wrong.

     Some of us are here for the very first time and like the runaways and the hungry we don’t know what to expect; we don’t know if we’re welcome at Your table, so let us hear a warm welcome and a warm embrace. And while we might be reticent in sharing Your meal, when we do sit at your table fill us to overflowing.

     Reach out to us through this feast so we can experience the Grace of your unconditional love.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

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