The Three Rivers of Grace, Part 3
September 24, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
30They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." 32But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
Who is Greatest?
33They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."
36He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Weíve been talking together these weeks about one of the most important and beloved words in a Christianís vocabulary. That word is grace. ďAmazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now I see.Ē Oh, this concept of grace has been beloved by Christians since the very start, and itís beloved by us today, too.
Weíre examining this week exactly why it is so beloved. First of all, what is grace? If someone were to ask you that, what would you say? In a word or two, what is grace? Grace is Godís love, plain and simple. Itís the extraordinary love that comes from God, not love that we have to earn or merit, but love thatís just there, like presents under a Christmas tree. Itís love thatís there, not because of anything weíve done or not done, but love thatís there because of who God is. Itís Godís free gift.
John Wesley, our founder, loved to talk about the idea of grace in three forms. I like to call them three rivers. Weíve been studying them the past two Sundays, and today weíre talking about the third. The first, remember, is prevenient grace, which is like a mountain stream that feeds and nourishes us. Itís there tomorrow even before we are. Itís the grace of the future.
We talked about justifying grace, which is like the Jordan River. Weíll talk some more about that in a minute. And today weíre going to talk about sanctifying grace. Thatís the third kind. Prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace.
Now I have to bless this congregation, because this congregation has encouraged me to preach on topics I have never preached on before. Iím so grateful for that.
Sanctifying grace is what weíre talking about today. Hang in there with me for a minute. I want to give you a dictionary definition. I donít usually do this, but I want to point out what weíre hanging our hat on. According to The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible, sanctification is this: ďthe realization or progressive attainment of likeness to God, or Godís intentions for a person.Ē So, sanctification, which is Ďto make holyí, is to make us like God, to make us more like Jesus. We sing, ďLord, I want to be more holy, in my heart, in my heart. Lord, I want to be more holy, in my heart. In my heart, in my heart, Lord I want to be more holy in my heart.Ē
What does it mean? Sanctifying grace means to become more like God, more and more like what God has put inside of us, to realize more and more of our potential. Thatís what sanctifying grace does. To become more holy simply means this: to become more complete, to become more completely and fully who you are, to realize the potential that God has put in your heart. Isnít that exciting? We donít stay in one place as Christians. We are constantly growing and developing through the grace and love of God. Itís what God is encouraging us to do; itís what God is nudging us to do. I had a conversation with a woman after the first service who was very enthusiastic about this idea. She said, ďIíve always believed that when God puts something in your heart, youíve got to listen and heed it and follow it.Ē Yes, it is God encouraging us to rise up to all we can be.
I found a product this summer that I am very enthusiastic about. Iíd like to tell you what it is. Itís got a great name. Itís got a theological name, a religious name. But you can buy it at Home Depot. What is it? Itís called Miracle-Groģ. Youíve heard of Miracle-Gro, havenít you? Thatís a religious name, isnít it Ė Miracle and Grow? I tell you, itís amazing stuff. I have just become interested in planting and growing in the last few years. I bought some of this Miracle-Gro and put it on my houseplants. Philodendrons are my specialty, by the way. Wow! Did they blossom! The leaves get really green; the plants get really big. Theyíre really strong. I canít grow vegetables yet, but Iím working on herbs Ė basil and rosemary and thyme, very useful stuff. You just sprinkle some Miracle-Gro on the soil and water it and the plants grow! Flowers, too! Have you noticed what theyíve done for flowers? They grow so big and rich.
I tell you, Iíve become so enthusiastic about Miracle-Gro. I have a neighbor, and he has some potted plants that I didnít think were doing too well. So I said to him, ďWould you mind terribly if I sprinkled some of my Miracle-Gro on your plants and watered them? Would that be okay?Ē
He said, ďSure, go ahead.Ē Well, I did, and his plants are growing great.
Think of it Ė Godís love, in the form of sanctifying grace, is Miracle-Gro for us. Itís the part of Godís love that doesnít want us to stay where we are. Itís the part of Godís love that wants us to grow and to develop and to become truly awesome people.
You know, in this morningís Gospel, we heard the story of Jesus walking along the road with his disciples. Theyíre wandering along the road and arguing about something. Jesus knew what it was about. But when they got to their destination, He didnít reprimand them. That isnít Jesusís way to discipline. Jesusís way to discipline is to ask questions. Have you noticed that? He said to the disciples, in Mark chapter 9, verse 33, ďWhat were you arguing about?Ē
They were ashamed, because they were arguing about who was the greatest. They were trying to develop themselves by saying they were better than the others. But Jesus said, ďThatís not the way.Ē Our wonderful secretary Jill has a phrase that I love: ďComparisons are odious.Ē Donít you agree? I think thatís quite so.
Jesus said, ďThatís not the way.Ē He said, ďWatch this.Ē He took a little child and said, ďSee this little child? Welcome the child. If you welcome the child, you welcome me. And not only do you welcome me; you welcome the Heavenly Father when you welcome the child.Ē
I believe He had two thoughts in mind here, my friend. He was talking about welcoming children, yes. Welcome children. Give them a great Sunday School. Welcome children to church and encourage them when they light the candles and bring the cross and help with the offering and read the Daily Word. Yes, encourage children. Let them know they have a special place among the people of God.
But also, I believe that He was saying, donít compare yourselves to other people. Welcome the child within you. Welcome the part of you that is full of potential. Welcome the part of you that hasnít learned to be self-critical yet. Welcome the part of you that has yet to learn to say, ĎI canít.í Welcome the part of you that is ready to blossom and ready to grow. Thatís what makes you great. Become an awesome person by letting Godís sanctifying grace blossom in you.
Do you know awesome people? Who are the awesome people that you know? Can you think of them now? Iíd be willing to bet that theyíre not the people that you hear about on the evening news. Iíd be willing to bet that theyíre not the celebrities that you hear about. Iíd be willing to bet that the people you consider awesome are not famous people.
Iíll bet awesome people are people you know. Theyíre people like my mom, who left this world to be with the Lord like a firework, growing and developing to her final days, as a spiritual person, as a lover of people, as an encourager, as a blessed one. She was awesome. Who is awesome? Joel Nystrom, founding member of this church, was awesome. He was 98 years young when he left us to be with the Lord. He had fine-tuned the art of encouragement and the art of loving the Lord and the art of generosity. He was awesome. Who are the awesome people you know?
The good news is that the sanctifying grace of God can make us better and better and better. [singing] ďGetting better all the time, better, better, better.Ē Thatís what sanctifying grace does. Thatís what God wants to do for you. He doesnít want you to stay in the ordinary. He doesnít want you to stay just where you are. He doesnít want you to stay Ďgood enough.í God wants you to blossom, and thatís what sanctifying grace is all about.
Someone who doesnít know the Lord yet may have a feeling that ďthereís something to this God stuff. I think Iím going to check it out.Ē Thatís prevenient grace.
A person makes a decision and says, ďI am going to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Lord, I repent of my sin. I invite you into my heart to be my Lord and Savior. Be with me forever.Ē Youíre justified. Youíre born again. Youíve got justifying grace.
But we donít stay just born again. We need to blossom and grow, and thatís where sanctifying grace comes in. Itís like a waterfall of Godís love thatís encouraging you to become all you can be. Whatís it going to be for you? Where do you need to grow? Where do you need to become a truly awesome person? Think of a spiritual gift Ė love, joy, peace, patience. Do you need to become more loving? Is God calling you to become a more loving person? His sanctifying grace can help you. Do you need to become a more joyful person? Do you need to let go of some of the anger in your heart and let Godís joy fill you? God will help you do it. Do you need to become more patient? I need to become more patient Ė and I want it to happen right now! But God can give me the grace to let go, and to let His goodness flow in its own time.
How about for you? Where do you need to grow? Godís going to help you this week. Accept His sanctifying grace to become more and more the awesome person He has created you to be. Friend, may you know the prevenient grace of God, the love that meets you around the next corner and gives you courage for the future. May you know the justifying grace of God that sets you free, through the power of Jesus Christís cross. And may you know the sanctifying grace of God that helps you to grow and become better and better and better, into the awesome person He has created you to be. God will help you do it, because He loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski