Sermon: Grace Full Life: Becoming What We Already Are
Scripture: Ephesians 2:1-7
Date: October 22, 2017
This is the third week of our church wide study on the Grace of God. In the first week we talked about Prevenient Grace and said that was the Grace that is inside each one of us from the moment of our creation working in us and through us, often without us even being aware of it. Going before us into the worldly situations of our life. And in those times when we are lost or hidden, it is the grace that calls us home. And then last week we talked about the justifying grace of God, that was offered to each of us when Jesus took our sins and transgressions to the cross and made all of us unworthy people to be worthy. It is the grace that offers forgiveness, and restoration and reconciliation and finally salvation. A lot of big words to say that it is justifying grace that enables us to be “all right” with God again, no matter where we’ve been hiding, or wandering, no matter what we’ve done or become, God always welcomes us home because Jesus came down and took the evil that is within us to the Cross as the ultimate sacrifice. Because of that we can stand justified before God. Not sinless certainly but forgiven and restored through God’s grace. Now before we start talking about a third type of grace this morning, the Sanctifying Grace of God, I need to step back and say that when I talk about types of grace, I am not talking about different kinds of grace as much as the activity of grace in our lives. It is all God’s grace, but at different seasons of our life, it manifests in different ways.
When our daughter was just a little girl, I would sometimes get to be the one that put her to bed. Oh I knew that she preferred that her mother do that. But on occasion the “duty” fell to me. It mostly consisted of reading a book or two, answering her endless barrage of questions (which I knew were a stalling tactic but that was ok by me), saying our prayers and then singing a little song in her ear as she finally drifted off. Now I’m sure that she now has nightmares about me singing her to sleep but it seemed okay with her then.
Now as I remember it, one of the books was always Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish.” No matter how hard I tried to get her to want a different book, every night it was the same. Sometimes she wanted me to read it through more than once. It got to the point that I didn’t really need the book, I pretty much knew it by heart. And so did she. And then there was the song.
I always sang in her ear a little chorus by John Michael Talbot.
Sometimes even after my wife had drawn the bedtime duty, I would slip in after and sing that in her heart. Now, here’s the thing. I did not imagine that my little girl, at the age of 2 or 3 had anything but a “clean heart” at that point in her life, but I knew that there would be times as she was growing up and into adulthood when that would be tested. So for me that song became a prayer that as she was growing that she would always become that which she already was.
Carl Jech explains this grace that makes us become what we already are when he writes:
In the last few years we have all had to get used to the more accurate transliteration of the name for God in the Hebrew scriptures. (They were always trying to get God to tell them His name.) In the familiar story of the burning bush, Moses is asking what God’s name is, and the voice from the bush answers “I am”, Yahweh. (But in more recent times) Scholars have been intently studying this interesting name for God, and many are convinced that a more accurate translation of (Yahweh) is “I will become who I will become.” This forward-moving, future-oriented name fits in remarkably well with the description of the Holy Spirit as the one who leads us forward into all the truth. It suggests that all of life is a process of becoming, of creating, of growing in grace and love.
And then Jech goes on to say:
God sees us as already saints. Yet Sanctification reminds us that much remains to be done. Sanctification is the process of “becoming what we already are.”
A couple of weeks ago, when thinking about prevenient grace, I said that there have been times in my life when I thought I was searching for God, but the truth is that God searches for us until we find ourselves. Who we were created to be. The great mathematician and philosopher Blaise Paschal expressed it this way when he said, “I would not be searching for God unless God had already found me.”
Jech concludes his description of how sanctifying grace works in our lives like this.
The book of Genesis tells us that as human beings we are made in the divine image. (But who of us could be described as divine.) God’s name means “I will become who I will become.” To believe in God, to see oneself as made in God’s image . . . is simply to embrace with faith the exciting process of becoming what you are.
In other words, God created us in perfection, in His image, but in sin we essentially deny who we are and through His sanctifying grace working within us, we are constantly becoming who we were created to be. It is God’s grace working within us that allows us to “become what we already are.” When I sang “Create in me a clean heart, O God” to my daughter when she was a little girl just starting to make her way in the world, it was both an acknowledgement that God was already working in her life, shaping her heart and character through his prevenient grace as well as a prayer that He would continue to work in her through all her life – shaping her heart and character, sometimes searching for her when she would wander away, sometimes calling her back, sometimes forgiving her for the choices that she had made, but always working in her life so that in all things and all her days she would continue “becoming what she already was at that moment, a precious, loved, dare I say, perfect child of God.” That is what the Sanctifying grace of God does in us. And though my daughter has gotten too old to really appreciate my singing, I still pray that same prayer for her, and for me, and for those whom I love, and for the whole church. “Create in us a clean heart O God by your sanctifying grace. Help us to truly become what we already are – what You created us to be. Let us be like you in all our ways.”
So in the time we have left, I want us to think about how the Sanctifying Grace of God helps us to “become what we already are.” First of all it is through His Sanctifying Grace that God continues to shape us and mold us. Think again about how Genesis describes creation. God creates the Heavens and the earth. The seas and the land. Light and dark. The birds and the animals. And then, in the words of the great poem by James Weldon Johnson, God thought “I’ll make me a man. And up from the bed of the river God scooped the clay, and by the bank of the river he knelt down toiling over a lump of clay until He shaped it in His own image” and when God breathed life into His creation, He breathed His Grace into mankind. And from that moment to this one, God has never stopped toiling over, never stopped shaping His creation. Sanctifying grace is that grace which continues to shape you and I to be the image of God. Now if you have done any gardening, you have no doubt encountered Kentucky Clay and know that it is very hard to work in and with clay. It is hard and dense, much like many of us, and makes planting and growing very hard. It is almost like concrete when it is dry. When it is wet, it is much easier to work with. But God continues to shape and mold us, even in the dry seasons of our lives. One writer describes the work of Sanctification this way:
Sanctification is all about keeping your soul wet, keeping your “clay” moist, keeping your life of faith pliable to the Potter’s touch. It is not enough just to believe and offer your life to the master potter. For if you dry up and your clay becomes hard and brittle, no creative shaping of your life is possible. Sanctification is a life long commitment to keeping your clay moist, staying receptive to God’s shaping and reshaping. Sanctification is an ongoing spinning on the potter’s wheel. Your first commitment to God has already been made. You are justified, you have accepted your status (as a broken vessel made of) clay – (but) as a life that can be used and utilized by the divine. Sanctification begins the moment of justification, the moment you have submitted to God’s potter’s wheel.”
Now I love pottery. If you come to our house, you will see pieces of pottery everywhere.
Some that My wife has made herself. Some that was made down the road in Madison County at a little crossroads called Bybee. Did you know that there is Methodist Church at Bybee, next to where for years Bybee Pottery was made? I always thought that was such a great place for a church. A built in metaphor for the work of the master potter as He shapes us into the beautiful creations we already are. But I digress. Some of our pottery was drawn from the clay silt at the bottom of Lake Junaluska, a Methodist Retreat in North Carolina that is dedicated to being an avenue for God to reshape souls for the work of the church. In fact, I am planning on going down there in a couple of weeks to get some work done, some reshaping through continuing education and Bible Study.
But no matter where it comes from,
I am always in awe as I consider the potter taking a lump of clay and shaping it into a thing of beauty like this. But you know, I suspect that rarely happens on the first try. That in the creative process there are many starts and stops and restarts, as the creation gets broken or misshapen and the potter begins the creative process again. Probably many times for some pieces. A potter must have a lot of patience and perseverance and grace, to shape a lump of clay into a beautiful piece such as this. Well, our lives are like that. At the moment of creation, God shapes us into a person of great beauty, but sometimes we get broken or misshapen by life, and through His grace, our loving God continues to work on us in order to recreate us to be what we already are in His eyes. That’s sanctifying grace working within us. And it is through the waters of Baptism we keep our souls wet so God can continue to shape us to be what we already are – a beautiful child of God.
And then secondly, the sanctifying grace of God calls us to “come out” from wherever we are. A couple of weeks ago we talked about how the prevenient grace of God calls us to “come home” from wherever we have been hiding – from wandering whatever wrong and difficult paths we have chosen – from whomever we have become. And then last week we said that justifying grace was all about God “coming down” to meet us wherever we are and show us the way home. And that ultimately God “came down” in the person of Jesus Christ to show us the way to forgiveness, and restoration, and reconciliation and, ultimately salvation. Well, it is through sanctifying grace that God calls us to come out and “be who we already are.” In the Gospels we find the story of Lazarus. Remember Jesus and the Disciples are on their way to Jerusalem for the last time. The Cross awaits Jesus arrival. And while on the road, they receive word that their friend Lazarus is very sick and near death in Bethany, which is less than a day away. But for some reason they are delayed in going to him and by the time they finally arrive, they are greeted with the news that Lazarus had died four days before. If only you would have come when you first heard, you could have saved him, his sisters tell him. But Jesus says, I have the last word when it comes to life and death and I have yet to speak it in the case of Lazarus. Take me to him. And so they lead him to the cemetery where the mourners are singing the songs of lament and grief and Lazarus is four days in the tomb. And in the midst of all of that, Jesus speaks these words of grace. He simply says, “Lazarus, come out.” Through his sanctifying grace, God calls each one of us to come out from our tombs made of sin and disobedience and even apathy – so that we can have the life that he has intended for us all along. So that we can truly be what we already are.
Which brings us to the final thing that we need to know about Sanctifying Grace. Sanctification is the process of being alive again. Born again. When Adam was hiding in the Garden, God came down and called him out. “Adam, where are you.” When a Jewish Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night and asked what He needed to do to live forever with God, Jesus said to Him you must “come out” of your darkness and be recreated to be who you already are. A child of God. When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he says to them that “when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you were walking, Jesus called you out, and He made you alive again.” And in those times when I have been dead in my sin and faithlessness, God has always called me out, and restored me to who I already was, because of His sanctifying grace working in my life. As we have talked about these manifestations of Grace the last few weeks, I have referred to the story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told, I think in part to show us how grace works in the lives of a child of God. It was prevenient grace that made the son “come to his senses” and “get up from the depths to which he had sunk” and turn back to his father and home; and it was because of justifying grace working in him that the father ran to meet him where he was and led him to a place of forgiveness, and restoration, and reconciliation and salvation. Well, Jesus ends the story on a note of Sanctifying Grace. When the oldest brother questions and objects to the Grace-full way the prodigal has been treated, the father says this to him. “We have to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost but now is found.” It is Sanctifying Grace that restores our life and we become what we already are.” And when that happens all of creation celebrates.
We can celebrate because sanctifying grace working within us makes us new. It enables us to cast aside all that has separated us from God and and be renewed. Paul describes it this way.
From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. If anyone is in Christ (and Christ is in you), you are a new creation; the old you is gone, a new you has come. All through the work of God (His grace working within you), who reconciled us to Himself through Christ. God has reconciled the world to Himself by sending Christ down, and has placed this message of grace and reconciliation in your heart.
His sanctifying grace makes all things new. All things become what they already are; what God created them to be. This work of making us new begins when we are Baptized. When God claims us as His forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, restored, saved, and renewed daughters and sons, and calls us to be who we already are, who we were created to be. I love how the baptismal liturgy describes the beginning of the work of sanctifying Grace in our lives.
Pour out your Holy Spirit, and by this gift of water call to our remembrance the grace declared to us in our baptism. For you have washed away our sins, and you clothe us with righteousness throughout our lives, that dying and rising with Christ we may share in His final victory.
This morning come to this altar and remember and celebrate God’s sanctifying work in you. Come and be renewed once more and reclaim for yourself what you already are, the Son or Daughter of God that you were created to be. Dip your hand in the waters of Baptism and feel it’s cleansing power again and again and again. Remember your Baptism and be thankful for all God has done, but even better, what He is doing, and will do. Come and claim that which you already are. We’re in no hurry. And if you have never been Baptized but are ready for God to make you new, you come this morning and talk with me about that. You come this morning and stay here as long as you like. You come as we sing. Oh God create in us clean hearts, and make us like you in all our ways. Amen.