January 22, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan
View, print or save PDF: Sermon.01.22.17.GraceJustified
“(Re) Discovering Grace: A Wesleyan Perspective” Sermon Series
January 22, 2017
Rev. Melanie Homan
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I was talking with a clergy friend of mine, Donna Dempewolf, and she was telling me about a Methodist episode from the show King of the Hill. You can still find King of the Hill on Netflix, although it’s final season was in 2010. I’m always interested in shows that reference Methodism, whether in a positive or negative light, because it’s so interesting to see how it’s portrayed.
In the way of background, King of the Hill is a television show about the Hill family that lives in Arlen, Texas. Hank Hill is a propane sales man, his wife Peggy, is a substitute schoolteacher, and their son, Bobby, is an awkward boy who enjoys comedy. From week to week, Hank learns that Bobby has his own unique gifts and graces, as odd and awkward as they might be.
The episode was called, “Won’t You Pimai Neighbor.” Pimai is the name of the Laotian New Year. In this episode, the Hill’s neighbors, the Khan’s, who are from Laos,
were hosting a Laotian New Year’s party. Several monks who were looking for a reincarnated Buddhist lama attended. Bobby was intrigued by the monks (and the Khan’s daughter, on whom he had a crush), and began to explore Buddhist spirituality. He started to meditate in his bedroom in the evenings, and then to resolve conflicts in the neighborhood during the day. Hank sees Bobby meditating and is appalled. He says to Bobby, “There will be no enlightenment in this house. Do you think we go to church just for fun! We’re good Methodists.” Bobby asks, “Dad, what’s a Methodist?”
And his father stammers, “Well, I don’t know.”
So Hank takes Bobby to see their pastor, who happens to be a woman. She is wearing a cross necklace, and there are a couple of posters in her office that say “peace” and “love.”
Hank starts the conversation, “Reverend, what’s Methodism?” She replies, matter-of-fact, “A response to Calvinism.” Then she asks Bobby, “How is your spirit?” “My spirit’s fine,” he says, “I’m a Buddhist lama, and I love Jesus.” She then encourages Hank to allow Bobby to explore his spirituality. As Hank leaves, she says, “By the way we are serving meals at the homeless shelter on Thursday. See you then.”
As much as King of the Hill may have been trying to poke fun at Methodism or religion in general, they actually summed up Methodist theology pretty well.
You can find my sermon from last week on the church website if you want to listen to it or read it. But, one of the things I talked about last week was this great conflict
that Wesley had with the Calvinists of his day. What’s a Methodist? Wesley’s response to Calvinism.
The Calvinists at the time believed in the doctrine of double predestination, or the belief from all eternity God had already decided who was going to be saved and who was out of luck. If you were predestined to be saved you couldn’t resist God’s grace. It was irresistible and you had no say in the matter.
Wesley, in contrast, preached that God’s grace is available to everyone. We are not predestined to be saved or to be damned; Rather, we are free to turn toward God because God first turned toward us. “We love,” as the author of John’s first epistle writes, “because God first loved us.”
Even though Wesley held strong convictions, he acknowledged that those who disagreed with him could also be authentic Christians. “Even though we may not think alike, may we not love alike?” Wesley said. “Without a doubt, we are all children of God.”
The Pastor asked Bobby, “How is it with your spirit?” John Wesley often asked, “How is it with your soul?” She also said to Hank, “We are serving meals at the homeless shelter on Thursday. See you then.” For Wesley, and for Methodists, the inward and the outward spiritual life are both equally important. It’s important to stay in tune with your soul, your spirit. At the same time, it’s important to put your faith into action.
Faith can’t exist just in our heads and hearts – it must be lived out with our hands and feet. You can’t have one or the other… we need both.
That’s why this cartoon show hits the Methodism nail right on the head. It’s Methodism 101…. courtesy of King of the Hill! We talk about how it is with our souls, and where we’ve experienced God, in the same breath that we’re talking about plans for the next Feed My Starving Children food packing night or a Wesley Meal that we’re serving in downtown Minneapolis. Faith in action is why many Methodists found themselves marching yesterday. Head, heart, hands, feet – all working together.
Hank seems anxious about Bobby’s exploration and questions about faith. The pastor doesn’t squelch it. On the contrary, she encourages it….which is also very Methodist.
Our beliefs and faith are strengthened when we ask hard questions and live into the answers.
For the next month or so, we’re going to keep discovering or rediscovering John Wesley’s understanding of grace. Last week we talked about prevenient grace, today we’re focusing on justifying grace, and next week is sanctifying grace. These are big words that don’t really mean much, unless we dive a bit deeper into what they are.
For Wesley, grace is “The love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.”
The image I left you with last week was the image of a home with a front porch.
Theodore Runyon wrote, “Wesley likened the process of salvation to a house. Prevenient grace serves as the porch, justifying grace as the door, and sanctifying grace as the rooms of the house where we are called to dwell.”
Prevenient grace is the porch. It’s the love of God that greets you, welcomes you, embraces you… before you’ve had a chance to even make it to the door. Even if you don’t make it in the door, the Spirit has placed a chair on that porch beckoning you to have a seat, where you can know God’s love and mercy. It’s there for everyone.
Justifying grace is the door. If you think about a word document in a computer,
and how you can choose to have your words aligned so that they are left justified, centered, or right justified – it comes from the same word. To be justified means that God “realigns humanity – restoring us to the relationship with God for which we were created.”
Look at the world around us. It’s a broken world. Just like it was a broken world 50 years ago, 150 years ago, 2000 years ago. We hurt one another. We make some really questionable choices. We SIN.
My favorite murder mystery writer, Nevada Barr, writes about faith and this is what she says about sin:
“Sin is like drinking from a faucet with a Water Not Potable sign over it. You can do it.
It’s not illegal. God won’t strike you down. But odds are you’ll get sick.”
It’s a broken world, and we’re broken people. We do things that we know are not good for us or others. We do things that intentionally or unintentionally harm ourselves and others. Addiction. Hurtful words. Selfishness. These are just a few examples.
There is individual sin, but there is also communal sin. If individual sin is like drinking from a faucet with a Water Not Potable sign over it (drinking the water when we know we shouldn’t), then communal sin is like MAKING water not potable… and then TAKING AWAY the warning sign.
A good example of this that comes to my mind is Flint, Michigan. People there unknowingly drank water that harmed their health and safety. That’s communal sin.
Causing harm and then trying to hide it or deny it – that’s sin. Deceiving people – that’s sin.
Sin exists. So, we name it when we see it, and we own our part in it. Then, we work towards reconciliation. That’s what justifying grace is about.
Through justifying grace, God works to restore us to a right relationship with God.
God does this through Christ. “Christ IS the source of our new relationship to God.”
This was quite the discovery for Wesley, because he was so darn hard on himself. He felt he was filled with the most unforgivable inadequacies. He spent all his time reading and studying and praying and serving and doing everything he could to make himself good enough for God.
I’m paraphrasing one of his sermons (because all of the thees and thys and thous make it hard to understand), but he basically said, “Whoever desires to be forgiven and reconciled to God, do not say in your heart, ‘I must first do this: I must conquer sin, stay away from every evil word and action, and do ALL good to ALL people…or I must first go to church, hear more sermons, say more prayers…STOP IT. Do not say in your heart,
‘I can’t be accepted yet because I am not good enough.’ Christ reconciles us to God.
Christ reconciles all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth so that “God may be all in all”.
That is the door. That is the door of justifying grace – it is unlocked and open and you don’t need a special key to get in. You don’t need to be perfect. All you need is to desire God, to desire to be reconciled with God and your neighbor, and Christ becomes the source of our reconciliation.
Justifying grace is super important, but it doesn’t end there. God doesn’t leave us at the door! God desires for us to make our way through the many rooms of the house, where we are called to dwell. We’ll get to that next week!
In the meantime…do not lose heart. We are Methodists! We will keep asking one another important questions, like – “How is it with your spirit?” “How is it with your soul?” “Where are you experiencing God?” And, we’ll also keep inviting you to put your faith into action (like serving meals at the homeless shelter), because our faith calls us to care for the least, the lost, and the left out – no matter what.
Thanks be to God!