Reveal, Part 3: Gracious Hosts

Reveal, Part 3: Gracious Hosts
Ephesians 2:4-9

Reveal Sermon 3

January 21, 2018

So, I was doing some reading this past week about Steve Jobs.  Remember him?  Dropped out of college to start a little company called Apple.  Gave us Mac computers, Apple stores, and Pixar studios.  Not to mention iTunes, iPods, iPads and the iPhone.  A visionary genius who has been compared to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  He co-invented more than 340 patents.  Revolutionized six different industries.  And was named Fortune magazine’s CEO of the decade.  In 2011, The New Yorker did a cover tribute to Jobs.  It pictures him at the pearly gates, and Saint Peter is checking out the Book of Life, only the Book of Life has been upgraded to the iPad of Life.  John Ortberg writes, in the nineteenth century, the American dream was this: a boy born in a log cabin might grow up to be the President of the United States. But that is not the American dream now. Now the American dream is a kid starting a company that will change the world from his parents’ garage.  Steve Jobs.

Now I don’t know where you land on the existential question – iPhone or Android.  But in my family, I am basically considered a clueless half-wit for not having an apple product.  My kids are constantly telling me how inferior my Samsung is to their iPhone.  Just how much better the layout is.  And how superior the software.  In return, I tell them Jesus loves them anyway.  And that there is no way I would trade my Galaxy for their overpriced etch-a-sketch.

All kidding aside, Steve Jobs had an incredible talent.  He changed the way we think about computers, phones, music and movies.  And yet, with all due respect, as accomplished as he is, there is no iPhone, no Mac book, no patent nor technology that can come within in ten thousand miles of the power and significance of the blessing we have received.  Paul says that out of His great love for us, God has given to us His grace.  And that this grace is nothing less than life-changing.

I share that with you because we have been talking about what it means to be a disciple.  Reflecting on this idea of what makes us a church of disciples.  For the past 12 years, we have been on the move to make a difference.  And that vision has served us well.  It has inspired us to dig wells in Costa Rica and work with orphans in Naivasha, Kenya.  It has prompted us to feed the hungry in Orlando and repair homes in Georgia.  But now the time has come to move into a new era in our church’s history.  It’s time for a new vision.  As Jesus said, you don’t put new wine into old wine skins.  Lest they burst.

So, take your Bibles and turn with me to the New Testament letter of Ephesians, chapter 2.  We will start reading at verse 4 – 10.  Two weeks ago, we began with our church’s mission.  And we said that the WHY of FUMCWP is to make disciples. Everything we do.  Every worship service.  Every mission trip.  Every group that gathers.  And every class that is taught should be connected to making disciples of Jesus Christ – those we describe as lifelong learners of all that God does and what God says.  Last week we started unpacking our new vision, the HOW, the picture of who we want to be as we’re making disciples.  And we said that there are four movements with this new vision. The first part is to be a vibrant family.  Those disciples who invite, include, equip and cares for each other.  As followers of Jesus, we have a matching family outfits.  One that is modeled after Christ.  And unites us in our differences.

This morning we pick up the second of the four movements.  Which is to be gracious hosts.  And what we are going to find is that receiving God’s grace, this blessing of God, this favor of God, always translates into sharing God’s grace with others.  With that in mind, let’s read together.  Ephesians 2:4-10.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

When I was six years old, I witnessed an accident that left an indelible imprint on me and deeply impacted my family.  Here is what happened:  My mother decided to invite our neighbors over for some homemade donuts.  She set up a deep fryer on the kitchen table.  And then she and our neighbor lady started making the donuts.  At some point, mom turned around to wash something off in the sink.  And just as she did, my little sister climbed up on a chair and wanting to see, pulled the fryer closer and then over on herself.  And then she fell into the hot oil on the ground.  She was burned over 60% of her body.  Mostly on her legs and arms and face.

Even though I was pretty young, I clearly remember my sister screaming in pain.  The paramedics coming.  Visiting my sister in the hospital and having to wave to her at the end of the hall because we had germs that her damaged skin couldn’t protect her from.  And I remember in the years that followed, the number of surgeries my sister underwent to address the scar tissue.  Two in particular, which were quite painful, had to do with removing the webbing between her fingers.

My sister is a remarkable woman.  And I am happy to say that today, because she was so young, about three, most of her visible scars are gone.  At first glance, you wouldn’t know that she had been through any kind of trauma.  And yet, my sister carried internal scars long after the ones on her skin.  For most of her childhood, strangers would stare.  And kids would make fun.  And this changed the way she saw herself.  It changes her self-identity.  For years she struggled with feeling lovable.  And feeling loved.  This profoundly impacted her relationships with others – especially with my mother.

Where am I going with this?  Well, the things we experience in life have a way of shaping our sense of identity.  It molds our self-identity.  We may not have endured the same trauma as my sister.  But we all carry scars.  Scars from the rejection of a parent or spouse.  Scars from a broken dream.  Or an addiction.  Scars from unexpected violence.  Or an accident.  Most of us carry the scars of a poor decision or sinful behavior.  We all have these internal scars.

And yet, it’s critical that we don’t let these scars get in the way of seeing a broader and greater reality. Which is that you are favored by God.  You have received His grace. Verse 4:  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

BUT GOD!  Paul has just made a series of statements about our spiritual condition before God’s grace.  In verse 1 of chapter 2 he says, we were dead in our sins.  That is, we were in a state of moral and spiritual bondage.  And we were incapable of comprehending the things of God or of believing in Jesus.  To paraphrase John Piper, we weren’t just in the doghouse.  We were in the morgue.  And then Paul says – BUT GOD! But God out of his great love, saved us by grace.  Verse 2 – we followed the ways of this world.  And we gratified the cravings of our flesh.  Consequently, we were deserving of God’s wrath.  Verse 4:  BUT GOD who is rich in mercy.  And who loved us greatly, saved us by his grace.

My point is that no matter the scars.  No matter the brokenness.  Despite the sin.  We are favored by God.  As disciples we build our identity upon that favor.

Second, it’s not about being lovable enough.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Very powerful verse.  Paul says that every reason God has to love us – comes from within God!  Let me say that again:  Every reason God has to love us – comes from God!  And not from us.  Or to put it another way, God doesn’t love me because I am so loveable.  And God doesn’t love me because I am so deserving.  Just as God doesn’t love you because you are so loveable.  And God doesn’t love you because you are so deserving.  No offense.  Rather, God’s love is so great that He loves us even when we aren’t so loveable.  And even when we aren’t deserving.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a message I need to hear this morning.  In fact, it’s something I need to hear over and over again.  The driven, high achieving, make it happen, God helps those who help themselves guy, in my needs to be constantly reminded.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Specifically, I need to remember that the only thing we bring to the table so to speak, when it comes to God’s love is faith.  Not a faith that saves us.  Rather a faith that delivers the saving grace of God.  One commentator I read compared grace and faith to water flowing through a hose.  The water is the important part.  But it’s communicated through the hose.  The hose doesn’t quench our thirst, the water does.  The hose simply brings water to the place where we can benefit from it.  In the same way, the grace is the important part. The faith just delivers the faith.  Our faith brings God’s grace to the place where we can benefit from it. We are saved BY grace THROUGH faith.

In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that it is the grace of the gospel that confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, no sacrifice, no work of righteousness. He wants you alone…  I ask you this morning.  Are you confident in God’s favor for you?  Or are you trying to be lovable enough?  Every reason for God to love you comes from within God.

We are favored by God.  It’s not about being lovable enough.  We are called to share that favor with those in need.  10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Mark tells us that one day, so many people came to see Jesus that there wasn’t any room left in the house where he was staying.  Not even outside the door.  And that in the midst of the crowd some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  Since they could not get their friend to Jesus because of the size of the crowd, they tore an opening in the roof above Jesus and lowered the mat that the man was lying on (pic 3).  Remember that story? When Jesus saw THEIR faith, he was moved with compassion, he said to the paralyzed man, – son your sins are forgiven.   Now, get up take your mat and go home.  And the man did.  The paralyzed man took his mat and walked out in full view of them.  And Mark says that this amazed everyone and they praised God saying – we have never seen anything like it!

I love that story.  To me the story of the paralyzed man healed by Jesus is the verbal picture of who we are trying to be as a church.  It’s got all the elements.  It’s got our need for the healing of Christ.  Truthfully, I have spent time on the mat – crippled by destructive choices I have made.  And by sin and by fear and confusion and doubt.

And it’s got grace.  God showers his favor on the man and restores his ability to walk.  Even more importantly he restores the man’s relationship with God and his peace saying – son, your sins are forgiven.  It’s even got good works that result in the healing of another.  The man’s friends were faithful.  Mark says it was his friends that prompted Jesus to act.  Think about that for a moment.  Want to be a part of something significant?  Looking for a way to make a difference?  Feel compelled to do something about the brokenness all around us?  Mark says:  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

When we talk about being gracious hosts, this is what we mean.  Being Gracious Hosts isn’t so much making sure everyone feels at home so much as it is helping others find grace and healing in Christ.  Feeling at home certainly contributes to finding the grace and healing of Christ.  But ultimately what we are really interested in is inviting others into the next stage of their journey with Jesus.  That’s what it means to be gracious hosts.  That starts with us, doesn’t it?  And that begins with recognizing that God’s grace is on our life.  God’s grace is all around us.  As we prayed this morning, God’s grace is above us, beneath us and around us and talking to us, on our right and on our left.  It’s embracing the grace of God.  It’s recognizing that any identity we cling to is superseded by our identity in God and in his favor.

So, my challenge to you is to become better at recognizing God’s grace in your life.  To sharpen your vision of God’s grace.  Specifically, I challenge you to spend a few minutes each morning reflecting on where and how you have seen God’s grace.  And then to identify where you will share that grace in response.  Ask yourself, whose mat will I carry to Jesus?  How can I remove any barrier between my friend, my neighbor, my co-worker and God?  How will you be a gracious host?  To help you with this challenge, we have printed the little cards again.  On the front is the phrase – gracious hosts.  And on the back the question – how can I share God’s grace today?  I invite you to take it with you and put it in your wallet, put it in your phone case and pull it out to use it as a reminder.  A reminder that you are favored by God.  Every reason he has to love you comes from within. That it’s not about being lovable enough.  You are called to carry the mat of another.  To extend grace that you have received to others.

John Wesley was the founding father of the Methodist movement.  An Anglican priest, he began his ministry in Savannah, Georgia.  But it did not go well. And after three years he returned to England, discouraged and questioning his calling.  Long story short, he began to meet with a group of disciples.   He began to meet with colleagues and friends and his brother Charles and a number of others each morning to read the scripture and pray and take communion and serve others in need.  To feed the hungry and visit those in prison and so on.  They became so intentional and so devoted – so methodical in their morning meeting that others began to call them the Methodists.  Our spiritual roots come from the Methodical pursuit of God’s grace.  We are truly a people built on God’s grace.  We are a church that is built on God’s grace.

Anyway, one evening in 1738, Wesley attends a prayer service on Aldersgate street in London.  The priest is reading from Luther’s commentary on Romans 3.  As Luther describes the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, Wesley experiences a moment of the holy spirit being washed over with God’s grace.  Then he felt his heart strangely warmed.  He knew in that instance that he trusted in Christ and Christ alone for his salvation.  He had an assurance that his sins had been forgiven, even his.  He had been delivered from the law of sin and death.  He says, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

I ask you this morning – have you felt God’s grace wash over you?  Has your heart been strangely warmed?  If so, what are you doing in response?  The truth is we have been blessed.  And I’m not talking about the invention of the iPhone here.  I am talking about being favored by God.  We have received his life-saving grace.  So, I am going to look for the presence of His grace. I am going to share that grace. I am going to be a gracious host.

How about you?  How about you?