A Gift of Grace, A New Identity (Living Stones – Part II)

Sermon Title: A Gift of Grace, A New Identity

Good News Statement: God renews us by His free gift of grace

Preached: Sunday, October 09, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie UMC & Seed Chapel UMC

Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.

 

Scripture (NKJV): Ephesians 2:11-19 Today’s scripture reading comes from the words of Paul from his epistle to the people of Ephesus. We will be reading from Ephesians chapter two verses eleven thru nineteen. Listen to the words of Paul and God’s grace…

 

Brought Near by His Blood

11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Christ Our Peace

14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

Christ Our Cornerstone

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, “Thanks be to God.”

 

Introduction:

A man decided to skip Mass one Sunday and head to the hills to do some bear hunting. As he rounded the corner on a perilous twist in the trail, he and a bear collided, sending him and his rifle tumbling down the mountainside. Before he knew it, his rifle went one way and he went the other, landing on a rock and breaking both his legs. That was the good news. The bad news was the ferocious bear charging at him from a distance, and he couldn’t move. “Oh, Lord,” the man prayed, “I’m so sorry for skipping Mass today to come out here and hunt. Please forgive me and grant me just one wish . . . Please make a Christian out of that bear that’s coming at me. Please, Lord!” That very instant, the bear skidded to a halt, fell to its knees, clasped its paws together and began to pray aloud right at the man’s feet. “Dear God” the bear said, “Bless this food I am about to receive.”

Last week, we were introduced to the first living stone of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the people of Ephesus. Towards the end of Chapter One, Paul gives to us a prayer of thanksgiving by which he challenges us, you and me and the church of today and tomorrow, to think about what it means to truly pray to God. When we truly pray to God, set aside the distractions and busyness of our lives and focus on the words and emotions of our heart, we obtain a moment in time where we find ourselves simply having a conversation with God. This is how Richard Foster defines prayer in his book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, prayer is a conversation with God that reflects the worries and joys of the heart. In his book, Foster quotes Theophan the Recluse by stating, “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and…to stand before the face of the Lord…” Prayer is more than a collection of words: prayer is the reflection of the heart that comes to life in the presence of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

Paul reminded us last week, that when we pray, when we “devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2) as we converse with God with the worries, concerns, and joys of our heart, we may be given “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17). By the spirit of wisdom and revelation we not only learn to “pray continually” as the author of 1 Thessalonians (5:17) invites us to do, but we become living examples of how powerful and effective prayer can be: we gain the wisdom to confess our sins and we receive the revelation—the revealing of healing—that this world needs in order to experience the presence and power of God in its life. The author of James 5:16 states, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective.”

When we pray, when we communicate to God, when we confess our sins to Jesus Christ, we are able to change the world through prayer. Through prayer we stand before the face of the Lord seeking to be healed, saved, and given the words to help heal and save others in our life. So, I ask you, “When was the last time you truly prayed to God? And when was the last time you prayed because God needed you to pray instead of praying because that is what you have been taught to do as a Christian?”

Today, we gain another living stone in our life. Through the words of Paul, we are told that grace is a free gift bestowed upon us by God by which helps us to renew our identity and to be made new in his sight. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we may walk in them.” God has given each of you a free gift and this gift is grace; and this grace is what will build you up, hold your hand, and guide you towards eternal salvation. God renews us by His grace.

Opening Prayer:

            Let us pray… Dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I pray that you bless this message with your love and grace as we journey together to receive the hope of your Holy Spirit in our life. Lord, help us to glean new insight into the grace that you have freely bestowed upon us as we strive to be made new in your kingdom. May my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In Your name we pray, Amen.

 

Body:

In The United Methodist Book of Discipline, grace is defined in this way: “Grace pervades our understanding of Christian faith and life. By grace we mean, the undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit” (pg. 51). Grace is undeserved. Grace is unmerited. Grace is love in action through the Holy Spirit. And grace is a free gift bestowed upon each and everyone us, without works, by God. Through grace we are saved.

From time to time, we sing about this life-saving, ever-praising, and free-gifted grace. It was December 1772, in Olney England. At the age of 47, John Newton, began the writing of a hymn that would grow increasingly more popular over the next 250 years. In his song, “Amazing Grace,” Newton writes about a grace that is immense; he writes about an amazing grace that saved him out of his wretchedness that found him when he was lost, and that made him aware that he was blind to his own sins. We are the same as Newton; living a life that is sometimes weighed down so much by worldly treasures that we become lost and blind to the saving word of Jesus Christ. Newton experienced what we all have inside of us: we all have the life-saving, life-preserving, and life-working grace of Jesus Christ within our heart and we don’t even have to do anything to receive it. Grace is a gift to you from God.

Newton grew up with both his mother and father; however, his mother died while his father was away at sea. Newton’s father remarried and the couple had another child. Following in his father’s footsteps, Newton began his life’s career by searching throughout the African coast for slaves to capture and eventually to sell for profit. On one journey, Newton and his crew encountered a storm that swept some of his men overboard and left others with the likelihood of drowning. With both hands fastened onto the wheel of the boat, Newton cried out to God saying, “Lord, have mercy on us.” After eleven hours of steering, the remainder of the crew found safety with the calming of the storm. From then on, Newton dated March 21 as a day set aside for a time of humiliation, prayer, and praise.

According to geneva.edu (which is a hymnology website sponsored by Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania), “The song ‘Amazing Grace,’ although originated in England, appeared in the colonies later accompanied with a different tune, more commonly known as ‘New British.’” Abby Forton, the author of this particular blog wrote, “This song grew in popularity, but not because it was a catchy tune, but because the words that Newton wrote related to every human being who encountered the saving grace of Jesus Christ.” This song touched many people at various stages of their spiritual walks. The song “Amazing Grace” is an account of one person’s conversion story almost 250 years ago; however no matter the amount of time that has gone by, the meaning in this hymn is truth for people all over the world: God’s amazing grace sets people free, even a “wretch like me.”

God’s grace is so amazing that it can save a wretch like me. God’s grace is so amazing it can heal the broken hearted. God’s grace is so amazing it can seek and save the lost. God’s grace is so amazing it can motivate the faintest of heart to find refuge in Jesus Christ. And God’s grace is so powerful it can tear down walls and bring people from all over the world together to worship together, to pray together, and to sing His unending praises of amazing grace. But sometimes we miss out on how powerful God’s grace is in our life. We are often so busy, disbelieving, or cynical that we fail to notice the grace in our life. Being busy or disbelieving or cynical or “baffled” as my niece likes to say are the only ways we miss out on grace though. One of the greatest ways we miss grace is by refusing to believe for ourselves the “unearned” part. We assume we are too messy, too bad, too unworthy, too unlovable, too something, for God to offer great things to us and for God’s love to be truly available and permanent. We believe because we aren’t “perfect” that we can’t receive God’s divine grace in our life: we can’t receive God’s restorative care. If that’s true, then we certainly haven’t been listening to the word of Jesus Christ because we have the grace of God inside of us.

Just because you aren’t perfect or feel unworthy or say that you are too messy, doesn’t exclude from experiencing the grace of Christ. Paul writes in verses 13-16, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

In Jesus Christ we become one body, one new humanity, and one act of grace. In Jesus Christ, God looks upon the multitudes and has compassion for them in Mark 6, and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon the Gentile, and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon the stranger, and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon children, and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon the prodigal son of Luke 15 and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon us, you and me, in all of our conditions, and says, “You are included.” You are included because you have the grace of Christ residing in your heart and it’s not going to go away.

We are included by grace in the kingdom of God, and the visible sign of this inclusion is the cross of Jesus Christ. It is a reminder that nothing can separate us from his love. It is a reminder that we were bought with a price. It is a reminder that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is a reminder that God’s love and grace is expressed to us in the miraculously good news that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 RSV). Not only are we included in the kingdom of God through the cross, but we belong to Him. Paul reminds us at the beginning of his letter to the people of Ephesus, that we are blessed, that we have been chosen, that we are a child of God, that we are favored, that we can be forgiven, that we are included in God’s plan, that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. You have been given the gift of a life time; and this gift, to quote Dr. Seuss, came without “ribbons, tags, packages, boxes, or bags.” This gift lives within your heart. This gift is grace; and this grace is here to lift you up and to make you new and to build you up. Everyone has grace!

In one of his books, Rabbi Harold Kushner tells a story about going to the beach for vacation. While sitting on the beach one beautiful summer day, he watched two children playing in the sand. They worked hard building an elaborate sandcastle by the water’s edge. The sandcastle had gates, towers, and even a moat. When they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand. Rabbi Kushner expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work. But they surprised him. Instead of crying, they held each other’s hand, laughed a big belly laugh, and sat down to build another sandcastle.

Rabbi Kushner said he learned an important lesson from those children that day. All the things in our lives, all the complicated structures we spent so much time and energy creating, are built on sand. Sooner or later a wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up. And when that happens, only the person who has somebody’s hand to hold will be able to laugh and rebuild.

In life, we have all experienced moments of defeat. Something doesn’t go the way we intended, so we give up. Something that we worked so hard on comes crumbling down, so we give up. Someone in our life, no matter how hard we pray, always seems to go the other direction, so we give up. Someone challenges us, tempts us, raises our blood pressure, so we give up. We forget in those moments that God is there to save us, to offer us His hand of grace. Although we want to give up, God is there to save us by His grace. Although we can’t perfectly articulate our faith, God is there to save us by His grace. Although our faith may grow dim and our works disorderly, God is there to save us by His grace. Although we may lose our way, do terrible things, and become blinded by our own sin, God is there to save us by His grace. God wants to include us in His kingdom and He certainly wants to make sure that we are saved by grace.

As we allow ourselves to lean into the saving work of God’s unmerited grace in our lives and hold His hand, we begin to experience a sense of renewal, repurpose, and redirection for our life. Our scripture reading from today reminds us of how powerful it is to made and created by the grace of God and Jesus Christ. Verses 11-13 remind us that, through our new identity, we are united with God’s people in hopes of proclaiming and sharing the gospel wherever we go. Verses 14-16 remind us that our new identity in Christ eliminates all our reasons for hostility and hate. Verses 17-19 remind us that our new identity gives us full access to God. Lastly, verses 20-22 remind us that our new identity makes us a unique part of God’s creation. And our newness comes from the grace of God through Jesus Christ. With this grace, we can be made new!

Even though we may feel like that sand castle that go destroyed by the waves, we must do our best to act like the children in Rabbi Kushner’s story and laugh and start again. With God’s grace in our life, we, too, can be put back together; we, too, can laugh and enjoy life even when it seems tough to do so; we, too, can be saved by God and included in His kingdom yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Through our new identity, by the saving work of God’s grace, we can experience of life of new beginnings.

Conclusion:

Grace is powerful. Grace is alive within you. Grace is life-saving, life-preserving, and life-changing. Grace is a means of being included in God’s kingdom. Grace is a sense of renewal in your life. Grace is a gift freely given to you by God, through the cross of Jesus Christ, by the works of the Holy Spirit. Grace is an act of celebration that comes from the hands of God. Grace is what gives you the strength to overcome times of doubt and uncertainty. Grace is inside each and every one of you. You all have the grace of God in your heart. Rest assured because that grace is what brings a smile to your face, leads others to Christ, and gives you access to God whenever and wherever you need Him. I would hate to see what life is like without God’s grace in my life.

I leave you with these words from Theologian and author Oswald Chambers: “The grace you had yesterday will not be sufficient for today. Grace is the overflowing favor of God, and you can always count on it being available to draw upon as needed. Are you failing to rely on the grace of God in your life? Are you saying to yourself, ‘Oh well, I won’t count this time’? It is not a question of praying and asking God to help you— it is taking the grace of God now….Don’t say, ‘I will endure this until I can get away and pray.’ Pray now — draw on the grace of God in your moment of need.  Draw on His grace now, not later…. Let circumstances take you where they will, but keep drawing on the grace of God in whatever condition you may find yourself.” You are God’s living proof of grace: use it, cherish it, and let it give you a new identity and power to face tomorrow.

Closing Prayer:

Let Us Pray… Dear God of Grace, guide us towards your grace, help us to live out your grace, nourish hearts with your grace, make us new by your grace, and remind us that today is the day to live our life knowing that we have been given a gift that can never be taken away from us. We have been given your amazing grace, and this grace is what makes us one in your kingdom here on earth. In your name we pray, Amen.

Benediction:

As you find yourself this week seeking to be renewed, remember that you have the grace of God down in your heart. And with this grace, you have full access to God whenever and wherever you need Him. Because God has gifted you His grace, He knows you will do great things in this world. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit go transforming lives as you live well and wisely in God’s world. And all God’s people said, Amen. Amen. Amen.


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