Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived it: The Necessity of Grace
Rev. Sandy Johnson
June 25, 2017
This morning we are continuing on our journey, learning about our founder, John Wesley. The first three weeks of this series we focused a little more on his life and personal faith journey. Today we dive into some of his most memorable teachings. This morning we will unpack Wesley’s Grace teachings, really one of the foundational tenets of our United Methodist Faith. After today we have two more weeks to finish the series and will end on July 9th, our first Sunday at the Smith Building.
Let’s begin with a prayer: Lord God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
I never dreamed that taking a child to Disney World could be so difficult — or that such a trip could teach so much about God’s outrageous grace. I learned about a family this week, whose middle daughter had been previously adopted by another family. The couple who originally adopted her had the best of intentions, but they never quite integrated the adopted child into their family of biological children. After a couple of rough years, they dissolved the adoption, and a new family ended up welcoming a rejected, eight-year-old girl into their home.
For one reason or another, whenever this daughter’s previous family vacationed at Disney World, they took their biological children with them, but they left their adopted daughter with a family friend. Usually — at least in the child’s mind — this happened because she did something wrong that precluded her presence on the trip. And so, by the time she was adopted this young girl had seen many pictures of Disney World and had heard about the rides and the characters and the parades. But when it came to passing through the gates of the Magic Kingdom, she had always been the one left on the outside. Once the new adoptive father found out about this history, he made plans to take her to Disney World the next time a speaking engagement took their family to the southeastern United States.
He thought he had mastered the Disney World drill. He knew from previous experiences that the prospect of seeing cast members in freakishly over-sized mouse and duck costumes, somehow turns children into squirming bundles of emotional instability. What he didn’t expect was that the prospect of visiting this dream world, would produce a stream of downright devilish behavior from their newest daughter. In the month leading up to the trip to the Magic Kingdom, she stole food when a simple request would have gained her a snack. She lied when it would have been easier to tell the truth. She whispered insults that were carefully crafted to hurt her older sister as deeply as possible — and, as the days on the calendar moved closer to the trip, her mutinies multiplied.
A couple of days before the family headed to Florida, the father pulled his daughter into his lap to talk through her latest escapade. “I know what you’re going to do,” she stated flatly. “You’re not going to take me to Disney World, are you?” The thought hadn’t actually crossed his mind, but her downward spiral suddenly started to make some sense. She knew she couldn’t earn her way into the Magic Kingdom — she had tried and failed that test several times before — so she was living in a way that placed her as far as possible from the most magical place on earth. In retrospect, the father was embarrassed to admit that, in that moment, he was tempted to turn her fear to his own advantage. The easiest response would have been, “If you don’t start behaving better, you’re right, we won’t take you” — but, by God’s grace, he didn’t say that.
Instead, he asked her, “Is this trip something we’re doing as a family?” She nodded, brown eyes wide and tear-rimmed. “Are you part of this family?” She nodded again. “Then you’re going with us” the father said, “Sure, there may be some consequences to help you remember what’s right and what’s wrong — but you’re a part of our family, and we’re not leaving you behind.”
I’d like to tell you that her behavior grew better after that moment but they didn’t. Her choices pretty much spiraled out of control at every hotel and rest stop all the way. Still, they headed to Disney World on the day they had promised, and it was a typical Disney day. Overpriced tickets, overpriced meals, and lots of long lines, mingled with just enough manufactured magic to consider maybe going again someday. (Or maybe not!)
In their hotel room that evening, a very different child emerged. She was exhausted, pensive, and a little weepy at times, but her month-long facade of rebellion had faded. When bedtime rolled around, the father prayed with her, held her, and asked, “So how was your first day at Disney World?” The little girl closed her eyes and snuggled down into her stuffed unicorn. After a few moments, she opened her eyes ever so slightly. “Daddy,” she said, “I finally got to go to Disney World. But it wasn’t because I was good; it’s because I’m yours.”
It wasn’t because I was good; it’s because I’m yours.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
Grace is the gift we are offered from God, not because we have done or not done something, but it comes to us as gifts do, given freely with no strings attached. Grace is fundamental to the Christian faith. When we study the New Testament, we learn that grace has two distinct meanings. “The first meaning of grace is as a quality of God’s character whereby God loves, blesses, and forgives humanity despite our sin. The second meaning of grace as God’s active work by the Spirit to draw us to God and to restore us to what God created us to be.”
Some of us grew up in an environment where “God was an angry judge or judgmental parent who can never be satisfied, one who sees our sins and shortcomings and is constantly disappointed with us.” With Jesus we learn that God is loving and kind. “God is a shepherd who searches for lost sheep. God is a father who runs to meet his prodigal child. God is a friend of drunkards, prostitutes, and every other kind of sinner. God is gracious and merciful. God feels compassion and great love for God’s children.” Jesus came to live among us so that we could receive his grace-laden message rather than the guilt-laden one that had been previously preached.
The second part of Paul’s letters demonstrates God’s active influence by the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. Through this second type of grace, “God draws us closer in, and when we accept it, God forgives us and justifies our faith. This same grace is constantly at work in our lives to sanctify us, to form and shape us, and to restore us to become the people God created humanity to be.”
Wesley divided this type of grace into three forms: prevenient grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. Prevenient grace is “God’s work in us before we even know to reach out to God. It is God’s influence in our lives before we come to faith – God wooing us, beckoning us, drawing us to God. Prevenient grace is not irresistible. It does not overrun our free will. It is often only in hindsight that we can see this form of grace at work in our lives.”
The next form of grace described by Wesley is called justifying grace. That is the moment in time when you turn from sin to grace, from a life without Christ, to a life with Christ, it is the surrendering of self to God’s glorious ways. Although I was raised in the church and was baptized as an infant, confirmed in my teenage years, it wasn’t until I was in my late thirties before I fully experienced this justifying grace. In the midst of a life crisis and feeling God’s call to ministry, (which is a crisis of its own!) I surrendered myself fully and completely to God’s will for my life. It was after that experience that I felt the peace that continues to be my countenance today.
Once God has wooed us through prevenient grace, accepted us through justifying grace we begin to live our Christian lives mirroring Christ and allowing God to “guide us, shape us, restore us, lead us, and use us across the course of our lives, until that day when our life on earth is completed and we are welcomed into the eternal kingdom. God’s work in us after we are born again, helping us mature and grow and become what we were meant to be, is achieved through the Holy Spirit.” This is God’s sanctifying grace.
Like the other two forms of grace, we can choose to ignore or resist this season of sanctifying grace. There are times when we may pull back from our walk with God and head out on our own. Sometimes we think that we know best, that somehow God isn’t doing the trick, so we take a leave from our relationship with Christ and step back from our community of faith. At these times, God goes back to wooing us and inviting us to rejoin the family again. God goes looking for his lost sheep.
“Wesley said that sanctification means we finally, fully love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we love others as we love ourselves. Paul described the goal of sanctification this way in Ephesians 2:10: “We are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
Sanctification is a lifelong process that incorporates what Wesley called “the Means of Grace” as part of our process. The means of grace are those religious practices that brings us closer to Christ, and in which “God’s grace is communicated and conveyed in our lives: prayer, Scripture reading, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper.” The means of grace also includes worship, preaching, fasting, study, mission projects, contemplative exercises and small group experiences which continue to build us up as the body of Christ.
The key to sanctification is that we pay attention to the God-voice within us, feeling the leading of the Holy Spirit and to not be bashful or afraid to be bold in our faith. We are called to demonstrate radical hospitality and share the love of Christ in all that we do. Our new mission statement captures this beautifully, “We see, nurture and send Christian Disciples into the world.”
We were all once spiritual infants, newly come to faith, or perhaps not new to faith, but hesitant to dive deep into the waters of grace and you’ve been waiting by the shore, unsure how to proceed. “At some point, we’re meant to understand the need for God’s grace and accept salvation. We’re meant to say, “Here’s my life, Lord. I give it to you. I accept your love and grace and your acceptance of me. I’m yours!” And then, sisters and brothers, we’re meant to go deeper in our faith, and to become what God created us to be. We’re meant to pray, “Please restore me and make me the person you want me to be.” Amen.
 Adopted from https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/grace/ Accessed June 24, 2017
 Ephesians 2:8
 Hamilton, Adam. Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2014. Page 80
 Ibid, 81
 Ibid, 84
 Ibid 87