Grace Part Two: Saying “Yes” To The Invitation
Bible Text: Matthew 4:12-23 | Preacher: Pastor Rae | Series: Three Part Grace | Father God, Mother God, Holy Parent, I pray that you bless these words and form them into a word from you. Where these are mine and go astray, I pray that no harm would be done. Amen.
“Follow me,” says Jesus. He called them and they followed. They didn’t say “yes” and continue their daily tasks, they didn’t say anything according to this passage. They simply got up and followed. They said “yes” with their whole selves.
“the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” quotes Matthew, lifting the words from the Prophet Isaiah. What darkness were the people sitting in? What is the region and shadow of death?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” announces Jesus.
Repent is how the greek word “metanoia” is translated, and it literally means “turn around.”
Here’s what I find myself imagining when I read this passage. Imagine that you are in a cave or a tunnel. It is very dark. It is scary. It is lonely. It is confining. You think you are getting somewhere, maybe getting closer to escaping, but you keep bumping into the walls, obstacles on the ground or ceiling, and generally just staying stuck, or worse, heading downward toward rock-bottom. But then, you hear a whisper… “turn around.” You are confused, maybe also scared because you thought you were alone – but in fact, you were never really alone. So cautiously, carefully, you turn around. And you see a light. Why hadn’t you thought to look that way before? You’re not sure, maybe in your wanderings you passed a tunnel off-shoot that went unnoticed. Maybe you really had to get to that rock-bottom place before you would even let yourself hear the voice or see the light. But it doesn’t matter now. You see it. You see the light. And as small as it seems right now, it is great! It is a great light and you try to rush towards it – stumbling and tripping along the way – but you are definitely getting closer to it! And then you emerge into the fullness of the light and it is blinding in its brilliance! It hurts your eyes and you have to close them, slowly, carefully adjusting your eyes from the darkness to the light. It is a process, but you are willing to submit to it because of the relief that you feel having escaped this darkness.
What is this metaphorical cave or tunnel in your life? Addiction? Loneliness? Despair? Confusion? Meaninglessness? Anger? Paranoia? The list can go on and on. We have all been in the darkness at some point in our lives. It is a scary place.
The 12 steppers work their way out of darkness beginning with these three steps:
We admitted we were powerless… —that our lives had become unmanageable.
We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
I don’t know a better process than the 12 steps to getting our lives in line with God’s will for us and our world. It is a process worth exploring for all of us, for truly, we all have addictions of some kind.
Today we are talking about Justifying Grace. Last week we talked about Prevenient Grace – the grace of God that we experience before we ever knew God; it comes before we do anything; like a whispered invitation enticing us into relationship with God and with God’s beloved community. Today we are talking about the second part of Grace, as Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, taught. Justifying Grace is the experience of being forgiven and adopted into God’s family. Next week we will talk about Sanctifying Grace – the process of God working on our souls and teaching us to love as God loves.
Last week I introduced Wesley’s metaphor of the house. Prevenient Grace invites us into the house – perhaps it looks warmer inside or maybe there is the smell of a meal to be shared or perhaps someone has actually invited you inside. Justifying Grace is the moment that you walk into the house. In this moment, we are forgiven and adopted into the family of God – each of us, God’s children – the beloved of God. And then Sanctifying Grace is the living in the house – each room a new experience and way to learn to love – and we’ll explore this further next week.
Today we are crossing the threshold.
Repent, turn around, see the light, follow me…. The whispers of Prevenient Grace entice us out of the darkness and cold and invite us into something brilliant! Like in the metaphor of the cave, our eyes may need to adjust to the change in temperature and light, it might even sting a bit. Change is never without its losses. It is not a step to be taken lightly… so to speak. And some can’t stick with it – they enter and then immediately leave again. Some, I swear, are like cats, never really happy on either side of the door so in and out they go, trying each side of the door, but never really satisfied. Some of us settle happily inside for a long time, but then feel the need to remember what it was like out there and take a few tentative steps outside before turning around again and being like “Wait! Nope! Let me back in, this was a terrible idea!” And I believe that all of us, from time to time, need to return to the doorway to recommit our hearts to the family that we’ve joined – much like we did in our baptism remembrance a few weeks ago.
Justifying Grace. Some talk about it as being “saved” or “born again.” These are good scriptural metaphors, but often we forget that it isn’t a one-time moment or prayer. God didn’t offer us a special password to learn and recite so that we could live in the after-life of heaven. No. God offers us, perpetually offers us an invitation into the household of God. When we enter in, we are forgiven and adopted, we are saved from all that we left outside, but we are also “born again” – born into the family of God – where God teaches us and shapes us into a part of the Kingdom of God that is right here and now on earth in this present age. Wesley taught that we are justified – adopted – so that we can be sanctified.
When we repent and seek entry into the household of God, we do so with our hearts on our sleeves, our humility on full display, and our confessions that we have fallen short – so far short – of God’s hope for us. It is only with humility – like the kneeling and unladen camel going through the gate of the eye of the needle, like the prodigal son hoping for only the servant’s quarter, like the woman with the alabaster jar who wept and bathed Jesus’ feet with ointment and her tears, like the tax collector who beat his breast in anguish – it is this humility that allows us to step into God’s house and be forgiven and adopted. If you, like me, have wrestled with arrogance and your own ego, that submission is a painful one and we often need to return to the door to resubmit our wills to Our Heavenly Parent.
When I was a teenager, just 15 years old, I submitted my life to Christ’s sanctifying grace for the first time. I say, for the first time, because I have been back to that door many times in my life. But I had experienced the invitation over and over and by 15 I was in a dark place. I saw a glimpse of the light and I knew I craved it more than anything else. In my anguish and longing I knelt and prayed for God to use me, to use my life, for God’s purposes. I remember praying and confessing that I was a broken vessel, but with God working on, in, and through my life I might still be a useful vessel. That only with God working through me would I amount to much of anything. God use me. God help me be yours. I don’t know what I have to offer, but here I am. Help me be your person and help me to help others.
Hold Me Now
If you have not yet walked through the door into the household of God, God invites you in. You truly are welcome. Repent. Turn around. See the light in the doorway? God is just on the other side longing to hold you, to teach you, to heal you, to transform you into kingdom workers who help God transform our world. I’m not saying it will be easy – nothing worthwhile ever is – but, ah, it is wonderful. Come on in, beloved of God, you are welcome here.