Grace Part Three: God At Work On Our Hearts
Please pray with me. Beloved God, you gather us in. You gather us here. Please help us to better understand and experience your grace. May these words that I’m about to say be filled with your grace. Where these are my words only, I pray that no harm would be done. Amen.
We’re on week three of our conversation about grace. This three part sermon series is based upon John Wesley’s three part understanding of grace that he used to teach his followers in the early Methodist movement. We’ve talked about Prevenient Grace, the grace that invites us into relationship with God and with God’s beloved community. We’ve talked about Justifying Grace, the grace that forgives us and adopts us as one of God’s beloved children. Today we talk about Sanctifying Grace, this is the grace that forms us, teaches us, and shapes us over our lifetimes and helps us heal from the brokenness that we’ve experienced simply by living in a painful world.
John Wesley’s metaphor of the house can continue to instruct us this week. After the invitation of Prevenient Grace which invites and entices us into the house, and after we humbly accept that invitation - crossing the threshold and experiencing the forgiveness of Justifying Grace, now we are inside the house. As Jesus says, “My father’s house has many rooms.” (John 14:2)
John Wesley likened these many rooms to the many ways and places that God works on our hearts to heal us and help us learn to love as God loves. Let’s think about this from the perspective of a child at home. Every room in a house has some particular and some general lessons about love that parents try to pass along to their children. In the dining room, we learn to break bread together; have loving conversations that often include checking in about the day’s events; we learn to thank God, as well as one another, for the food we eat; we learn to listen and we learn the love of being listened to; we learn the care that our parents, both mortal and divine, have for us as they make sure that we are fed. All of this, and likely so much more, is taught to us around a dining room table. In the living room we are taught to read as our parents sit and read to and with us in our formative years - opening our imaginations to a world in which we are not the center. The living room may be a place where friends are also welcomed and we learn to navigate the joys and challenges of living together in community. A playdate in a living room can often be a child’s first experience of learning to share: a difficult learning experience for all of us no matter how young or old we are. A living room may also provide the comfy couch that the child can curl up on and get cuddles in times of sadness and sickness. We learn gentle, caring, healing love in these moments. Similarly, the bathroom… yup, we learn love there, too. From learning how to love ourselves through taught disciplines of hygiene, yes you need to brush your teeth everyday, to those moments when sickness has taken a firm hold and, whether or not we know it, our patient loving parent cleans up after us. (I remember a time in the last few years when one of my girls got sick in the middle of the night and … missed the easy-clean vomit-catcher toilet in the bathroom. Waking up to a sad and somewhat ashamed child in crisis and then seeing the bathroom floor… oh, Lord. After getting her tidied up and back to bed, I remember looking at that floor and saying out loud to the darkness “Isn’t there another mom around here somewhere who can clean this up. Do I have to be the mom right now? No? No, I guess not. I’m the mom. Here we go.” If caring for a sick kid in the middle of the night and cleaning up the sick off the floor isn’t love, I don’t know what is.)
I could go on and on about how we learn love in the household of our childhood. Now think about how that translates into the household of God. Unlike us mortal parents with limited energy and patience, our Divine Parent loves us, provides for us, and teaches us with infinite patience, energy, and wisdom. Every room in God’s house also has both general and specific lessons about love to be learned. One of the first and hardest is that it isn’t all about us. Like learning to share on that first playdate, we aren’t the center of the universe. Whether we naturally think we’re the hero or the victim, God teaches us that more often than not, it isn’t about us. Instead, God tries to help us heal from the disappointments of life and learn to love ourselves and others with a more infinite view of the universe.
One of the hardest things to reconcile, I think, for many of us, is that other people we meet in God’s beloved family aren’t always loving, or as loving as we think they should be. This is a time when God may be teaching us not to judge. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Right? But it could also be other lessons that are waiting to be learned: what is triggering us about an interaction with another person? What healing needs to take place within myself so that I can be in community with that person and have more patience and understanding?
Sometimes we need to be taught to love those who don’t look like us, or smell like us, or talk like us, or love like us. Sometimes we need to learn that love is messy and can be unpleasant, it can be uncomfortable and unsettling. As God heals us over time and helps us to become more loving, we are slowly, steadily, surely returning to the divine state that was our untended wholeness.
Sanctification is by far the grace that life-long Chrsitians spend the most time experiencing. As we learned last week, we are justified so that we can be sanctified. Adopted and forgiven so that we can learn and grow in God’s household. Humbled so that we can be taught. Taught love so that we can grow to love others.
Our mission statement in the United Methodist Church is “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It is the Wesleyan heritage of John Wesley’s Responsible Grace. We don’t “save souls” simply for the sake of saving souls. We are helping God save souls by making disciples so that the world will be transformed by those transformed souls!
And so our sanctification continues as we read in the scriptures:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
How are we doing in our sanctification process? How has God been working on your soul recently? What have you been learning? How have you been humbled? Have you gotten better at doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God? Are you getting better at loving your neighbors? Even the messy ones?
What is Jesus still teaching us through the words he spoke so long ago?
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Are you humble and poor in spirit? Have you loved so much that now you must mourn the loss of a loved one? Are you meek? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Are you merciful? Pure in heart? Are you a peacemaker?
The scriptures are one piece of our sanctification process. It is one of the personal holiness practices along with prayer, worship, accountability groups, and other spiritual disciplines. Wesley also taught that social holiness practices are equally sanctifying: visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, standing up for the oppressed, etc. I can’t cover them all in one sermon…. which is why we have sermons every week. Hopefully these shared learnings over time help to sanctify all of us.
For most of us here, the sanctification process has been going on for some years now. There may be some here who are only just beginning. If so, welcome to God’s household. Ours is a loving parent who teaches us throughout our lives and we are all struggling to learn as we go. This is the grace that keeps on giving! I’m not finished yet! Thank God that God is still working on me! I still have a long ways to go! Let’s continue the journey together! Amen.