The Nourishing Place

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Sermon, Sunday June 13, 2021


Ephesians 1: 3-14 

Today I want to address the important topic of grace.  By definition grace means “unmerited assistance, or unearned mercy (favor). God offers us grace for our regeneration or spiritual growth. 

Many of us know the story of John Newton, a slave trader.  With a full ship of slaves from the African Continent, Captain Newton’s ship was caught in a terrible hurricane like storm and almost capsized.  The ship was off the coast of Ireland at this time.  Needless to say, fear was the predominate emotion of the captain, the crew, and the slaves.  Years later Captain Newton told friends that near death experience was the reason he converted to Christianity.  Here is the conundrum.  Even after this conversion he still maintained a slave trade for 6 or 7 more years.  Then another 7 years went by and at that time he became ordained in the Church of England.  He completely renounced slavery as a corruption and a sin.  That was when he wrote these words: “I once was lost, but now am found.  Was blind but now I see.” 

So my question this morning is, was Captain John Newton’s life a success or a failure?  We might ponder that question for a moment. While Newton was a slave trader he enslaved and sold people for years...many of whom died en-route to the new world.  He was solely responsible for those actions.  Yet in later years, he was so remorseful he wrote a powerful hymn that has touched thousands and thousands of lives, encouraging others to turn away from sin and into a life of grace...goodness. 

Which one of Captain Newton’s legacy is more prominent, more lasting, and more effective? 

How would you respond?  Do you condemn him or forgive him? 

There is a Biblical person who lived a similar life to Captain Newton’s.  That was Saul of Tarsus who became Paul, a Christian evangelist.  As Saul, he committed hundreds of murders, horrible acts of cruelty, and as a Pharisaic soldier he participated in the crucifixion of Jesus.  Yet after his conversion he became a completely dedicated man reaching as many people as he could to tell them about the redemption Christ offers to all believers.  He gathered people into groups who became churches and he preached the gospel of love, forgiveness, and compassion. 

So I ask you the same question:  which legacy of Saul/Paul is more prominent, more lasting, and more effective​ ? Do you condemn him or forgive him? 

And if you forgive him, why is it easier to forgive him than to forgive Captain Newton? 

These are important questions for all of us because each and every one of us has failed is some way to live into the life of love, forgiveness, and compassion Jesus exemplifies. I have failed in huge ways and small ways. I know God forgive me when I ask for forgiveness.  However, the difficult part is forgiving myself, not dwelling on the bad experiences, but moving on in faith, redemption, and God’s gracious grace. 

As sinners, we all deserve punishment for our sins.  But God doesn’t punish us...our choices punish us.  God forgives easily and in that grace God hopes we learn the lesson to not repeat sinful ways, but go along the path of rightness for his sake and ours.  I have experienced God’s grace and I am utterly and completely thankful for it.   And what about your own legacy?  How many of you still live with regrets instead of grace and forgiveness?  How many still cling to the wrong you have done instead of accepting God’s grace and forgiveness?  And how many of you have truly forgiven yourselves so that your path forward is clear? 

I think those questions I asked have two answers.  One answer would be the way we as humans would answer them.  And they are probably not the answers we hope they would be.  People do cling to the wrong that was done; they do want revenge; they do want all wrongs made right in their favor.  However, God would answer those questions in a different way.  According to scripture God looks at each of us with grace, with unmerited, unearned favor.  Grace is everywhere if we choose to see it, acknowledge it and use it in all of our relationships.  Because we are believers, we are children of this gracious God, and we are forgiven, enabling us to live lives of purity, harmony, peace, and goodwill to all people...even those who have hurt us the most! 

Hard lessons?  Yes.  Necessary lessons?  Yes...that is yes if we truly desire to be instruments of God’s love and grace on this planet and during our time here.  I pray we all seek this way to be: believers in the grace of God.