February 5, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan
View, print or save PDF: Sermon.02.05.17.Sanctifying Grace
(Re)Discovering Grace: A Wesleyan Perspective Sermon Series
February 5, 2017
Rev. Melanie Homan
Philippians 2:12-13; 3:10-14
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
After one of my last sermons on grace, a member of the church sent me this video clip from Seinfeld. I decided I absolutely had to share it with you, because it’s all about grace!!!!!
So, depending on how you look at it, Elaine had either the worst or the best job interview ever. The person interviewing her is clearly talking about grace – as in simple elegance or refinement – like Jackie O. was “graceful”. But, if we listen to their conversation from the lens of grace we’ve been talking about – as John Wesley understood it, “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.” – it takes on a whole new level of humor.
“Not many people have grace.” – As I’ve shared before, Wesley had this expansive understanding of God’s grace – it was available to everyone. This was in tension at the time with those who said that God’s grace was only available to some people –
God decided, and there wasn’t a thing you could do if you weren’t one of God’s chosen. So, the interviewer says, “Not many people have grace.” Elaine agrees – “grace is a tough one. I’d like to think I have a little grace.” (This is very Methodist of her!)
It’s very Calvinist of the interviewer to respond, “No. You can’t have a little grace. You either have it or you don’t. You can’t pick it up at the market.”
FINE. Elaine is not one of the chosen. Her interview would have gone better with a Methodist. A Methodist would say, “Every single person has a little grace, even if they don’t “say” grace. They just need to embrace it. If you embrace it, well, it grows and grows and grows, and with time, you could EVEN have as much grace as Jackie O. Or John Wesley. Or Paul.”
The past few sermons on grace have built on each other, so I’d encourage you to check them out on our website.
This photo should look familiar:
Theodore Runyon wrote, “Wesley likened the process of salvation to a house. (I hope you never look at a porch the same way again after this sermon series!)
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.”[i]
We’ve talked about the porch and the door. Today, we’re looking at the rooms of the house, where we are called to dwell…sanctifying grace.
In his sermon On God’s Vineyard, Wesley says that just as a person is born and they grow larger and stronger with age… in baptism, there is a spiritual birth, from which we gradually increase in stature and strength over time.[ii] Wesley didn’t want people to accept God’s grace, to choose faith, and then sit on their rear ends thinking their work was done!
When you receive God’s grace – Gods love – your work is just beginning. God has more in store for us! By communing with God, and with others, we can become more healthy and whole. We become what God desires for us to become.
Wesley was a bit controversial in his explanation of this because he used the word “perfection”. He said we should all be working towards Christian perfection. But, he meant something different than what we think of when we hear the word “perfect”.
Our gut reaction is to say “no one is perfect.” Many of us who have an inclination towards perfection suffer for it. The idea of Christian perfection doesn’t seem like a very good idea!
But, what Wesley was trying to get at was this: He said, “When God has enabled you to love him with all your heart and all your soul, think not of resting there. That is impossible. You cannot stand still! You must rise or fall – rise higher or fall lower.
Therefore, the voice of God to the children of Israel – to the children of God – is to ‘GO FORWARD’. Forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forward unto those that are before, press on to the mark, for the prize of your high calling of God in Jesus Christ!” [iii]
That’s how Wesley understood our scripture passage that Paul wrote to the Philippians. Go forward, until your actions reflect, more and more, the love of God. If you fall lower, that’s okay. Keep going forward, keep living out of love. If you rise higher, don’t stop. Either way, don’t stand still. Keep going forward. If faith is the mark of justifying grace, then love is the mark of sanctifying grace.
This past week was the national day of prayer. I’ll be honest with you…the national day of prayer is a challenge for me. Every year it is a challenge, because I don’t like the way religion is co-opted for agendas that don’t reflect the foundations of our faith. Then, I have these little conversations in my head about what I would say
if I had the opportunity to speak my mind to a captive audience of politicians…I wasted a good amount of time getting all worked up about that this week! Based on most of what I would have said, I would have been falling lower. If what you’re going to say is going to cause you to fall lower – don’t say it; If what you’re going to do is going to cause you to fall lower – don’t do it.
When it comes right down to it, I wouldn’t go on a rant. There are enough people ranting. But, I would be tempted! I’d probably end up telling them the same thing I’m telling you today. We never fully arrive. Our transformation is never fully complete. There is always room for us to grow deeper in our love of God and our neighbor. I know I need to take a good, hard look at how I’m doing that in my own life. Then, I need to do whatever I can to transform the world WITH God. Each of us has our own work to do in that. We also have communal work to do as we ask ourselves if we are rising higher or falling lower in our love of God and others.
We can’t get stuck where we are at right now. We have to keep going forward, and do our best to rise higher in loving actions.
These are the five solas in Latin from the Reformation. I’d pronounce it in Latin for you, but my Latin is awful. In English, it means:
Saved by grace alone
Through faith alone
In Christ alone
According to scripture alone
For the glory of God alone.
Wesley took these five solae and narrowed it down to one – Sola caritas – any guesses as to what that means? LOVE ALONE.
We love, because God first loved us. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters and neighbors and strangers, also. A life of service that is grounded in love – that’s the work of sanctifying grace.
I took some time this past week to learn more about Frederick Douglass. He was a leading American abolitionist and former slave back in the 1800’s. What I didn’t know was that he was a Methodist and active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church! He was a prolific writer, and there is one statement he wrote that has stuck with me all week: “Between the Christianity of this land the Christianity of Christ,
I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.” Ouch.
Which Christianity are we part of? May each of us, and our church community, rise higher in our love of God and our love of the other as we seek Christ.
[i] Runyon, Theodore, The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today, Abingdon Press, 1998, page 27.
[ii] Runyon, page 82, Wesley’s sermon “On God’s Vineyard”.
[iii] Runyon, page 84, Wesley’s sermon “On Faith”.