First United Methodist Church
Glen Rose, Texas
September 18, 2011
Series: The Amazing Grace
(Titus 3:3-7, Romans 5:1-9)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Iris was somewhere between 30 and 35. She was a very attractive woman. The first couple of times she came to worship, she always sat off by herself, as if she were unsure about being there. She came in late and left early during the closing hymn. The pastor and greeters didn’t get to meet her.
Then one day she came into the church office and asked the secretary if she could talk to the pastor. He welcomed her into his office but noticed right away that she was the most nervous, anxious, uncertain type person he’d ever met. She slumped in her chair, eyes down and only glanced at the pastor occasionally.
Unconsciously she clenched and unclenched her hands. She spoke haltingly in jerky phrases, but managed to communicate the fact that she’d heard about the church's mission emphasis, particularly there work in Mexico, and she wanted to be a part of it. If she couldn't participate in a personal way, she wanted to make a monthly contribution.
When she mentioned the amount, it was so astronomical in relation to what she appeared to be earning, that the pastor thought, we’ll never see that money. That was the beginning. While it was sporadic, and not nearly as much as she promised, Iris did give to support missions.
She started attending worship regularly, eventually joined and started coming on time and mingling with the other member. When she joined the church and got involved, she threw herself into service like she’d been launched from a circus cannon. There was an intensity and determination about her service that few could keep up with. She always wanted to do more, try harder, give more.
She wanted to start a preschool for the economically deprived. She wanted to work in the tutoring program in the Hispanic/American community. She wanted to make sure that every child was immunized both here and in their mission church. And what about the plight of the elderly?
She pursued good works and service with a ferocity that almost seemed to dare God not to accept her. She was driven. But drive not so much by a passion as by some frenetic need to prove her worth to herself, to the church and especially to God. It was obvious that she believed she needed to do good in order to be good and to be accepted.
While her energy and her work were amazing, there was something missing. She still slumped. She was still nervous and uncertain. Something in Iris’ life and faith seemed just a little off kilter. You could see it when she smiled. It wasn’t one of those deep, deep joyous smiles but a surface smile, genuine but tentative as if that joy might slip through her fingers or get blown away in the wind.
One day she came to visit the pastor, again. He thought it was probably about another ministry opportunity she wanted to take part in. But when she walked in the door, he knew he was wrong. She was standing straight. She entered the office with a kind of bounce in her step. She looked at the pastor with a confident smile. There was a glow on her face, and she began to talk freely.
She realized she had been trying to do good so God would accept her. She never felt holy enough or righteous enough. She worked so hard so she could feel comfortable when she prayed. Everything in her faith was a strain and an effort as she tried to make everything right between her and God.
This reNewed version of Iris came into being because of the words of pardon during the prayer of confession before Communion. “Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, died for us while we were yet sinners. In the name of Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven.” Who would have thought that those simple words, spoken often by rote, could change someone’s life? But they did.
What was the difference? What changed? What changed Iris? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Can any of you identify with Iris’s story? You see, we get caught in that trap. But what we discover, or what God wants us to discover is that this idea earning your own salvation or proving your worthiness to God is a dead end. It’s a scam to keep your heart enslaved in doubt and fear instead of giving your heart to God and allowing yourself to be reNewed though The Amazing Grace of God. That’s what the passage from Titus tells us: Titus 3:3-7 (NRSV)
 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures,passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.
 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Luckily, Iris learned that God loved her and accepted her just as she was. She didn't earn that love. She couldn’t. She couldn't buy it or ever deserve it. Yet she was loved and accepted. She was justified not by her works of righteousness but by the grace of Christ.
For so many years she had been trying to pry open the window in order to get into the house, when all the time the door was open and all she had to do was walk in. And when she did, her life was reNewed. And everyone knew it because you could see the light of Christ shining through the glow on her face. She had become “an heir according to the hope of eternal life.”
A. Two weeks ago we talked about how God’s love is pursuing us, wooing us, calling us to reStart the broken relationship that we have with God. If you remember, Wesley called this particular work of Grace, Prevenient Grace. We might think of it as God’s Preceding Grace or God’s Nudging Grace; the Grace which goes before us and prepares the way for us but also the grace which allows us to hear God’s call.
Today we’re talking about God’s reNewing grace or the grace which allows us to answer that call. We call this Justifying Grace.
Let’s compare it to courtship and marriage. consider Prevenient Grace as the courtship period, the wooing period in our relationship; the time when God is telling us and reminding us how much God loves us then. The culmination of the courtship is engagement. If you think about that scenario, then every encounter with Christ becomes His proposing to us.
Over and over again we have heard God’s call telling us of God’s unconditional love for us. He’s already expressed his deep and undying love for us in both the cross and the empty tomb. And now He is on his knees asking us to be his forever. Justifying Grace is that moment when we say yes to God.
B. You might think of it in terms of the NCAA draft. The best athletes get wooed and courted by all the big schools. They promise all kinds of perks and benefits. They can tell him how much of an asset he will be to the team and how much he will play but until that athlete says yes to one of those schools and makes a commitment, he’s still on his own. But the minute he says Yes, everything changes.
We reNew our spirits and well as our relationship with God when we say Yes. Justifying Grace is that moment it all becomes clear and we make our commitment. It’s when we walk through the door, it’s when we accept the proposal.
There’s a new movie coming out later this month titled Machine Gun Preacher. It’s the true story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who underwent an astonishing transformation through God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who’ve been kidnapped from their homes and forced to become soldiers.
Called by God to build an orphanage in Sudan, everyone thought he was nuts. He sold his construction company and sent the money to Africa. He went and built the orphanage and when it was complete he began to lead missions to rescue children from the rebel militia.
Tales grew and the villagers began calling him ‘The Machine Gun Preacher.”
This clip shows that moment when Sam accepted Christ’s proposal. It shows that moment when he said “Yes” to God and was Justified. WATCH
I think that’s a perfect illustration of the action of God’s grace in one person’s life. It also illustrates the Romans passage: Romans 5:1-9 (NRSV)
 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.
Prevenient Grace is God reaching down to us. Justifying Grace is us reaching up to God. Our Call is to say “Yes” to God so that we can reNew our spirits, reNew our relationship, reNew the image of ourselves to the one which God holds: “heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
A. The Good News is that when we say “Yes” to God, we are given the Assurance of our Salvation. That’s what Wesley felt when he wrote about his experience at Aldersgate in 1738. “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in 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.”
While Wesley had been courted by God through Christ, his relationship was more like that of a promise ring. But on that night he surrendered his heart completely and reached up to Christ as Christ reached down to him.
That same assurance is promised to each of us. In Romans 8:15-17 Paul writes: “When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ . . .”
That assurance is there for each of us. All we have to do is put our hand in His. As he reaches down and we need to do is reach up. When we do we are filled with the Assurance that our sins are forgiven.
B. A friend of mine describes it like this.
When we are justified by grace through faith in the eyes of Christ, it is “just if I’d” never done whatever it was that I did. The slate is wiped clean. The delete button has been hit and the Recycle Bin has been emptied. But we forget that sometimes.
We begin listening to the voice of the world instead of the voice of God and the world continues to whisper our doubts back to us. If we listen long enough to the world and not enough to Christ, suddenly we’re afraid that what we believe is wrong. Maybe our sins aren’t forgiven. Or maybe, we’re not really good enough for God to love. We fall back into the pattern of the world.
Each of you should have received a little rubber bug or insect as you came in this morning. They’re small just like most of the bugs that we see. But that little rubber bug is more than meets the eye, it’s an eraser. And it’s a symbol of God’s Assurance that our sins are forgiven.
Here’s what I want you to do with your bug. Hold it in your hand and think about all those things that bug you about your faith. Think about all those areas where you still have doubts about whether God has forgiven you for that action. Hold that bug in your hand and let it represent everything that bugs you about forgiveness. Then remember that it’s an eraser. It’s an eraser just like the one God used to wipe your slate clean instead of cleaning your plow.
This little things that bug us and nibble away at our Assurance need to be tossed and erased. Now put it in your pocket or your purse; set on the dashboard of your car; stick it on the shelf of the medicine cabinet you use every morning; or on the base of the lamp on your desk. But put it somewhere as a constant reminder that Your Sins are forgiven, that you have nothing to doubt because you are “heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Put it someplace visible and let it bug you in a different way. Look at it everyday. Remind yourself of God’s unconditional love for you. Remind yourself that you ARE forgiven. Remindyourself that Christ has “taken away YOUR sins, even YOURS, and saved YOU from the law of sin and death.” Then make the conscious effort to reach up and take God’s hand while God reaches down to take yours.
That’s what Justifying Grace is all about, reNewing our lives through the reStarting of our relationship with God through Christ.
God’s not asking you to become a Machine Gun Preacher, God just wants you to know that the door is wide open, the lights are on and all you have to do is come in. God is reaching down to you so you can give up all those things that bug God and all those things that bug you. Let God erase them.
This morning as we pause for our time of reflection ask yourself about those things in your life which continually bug you about your relationship with God. Where is God reaching down to you to change? Where do you need to reach up to God for reNewal? Give it over to Him. Flick it off your shoulder like the bug that it is. And remember God loves you.
And during these moments, if your heart has been touched by God’s presence, if you have felt the Holy Spirit move and would like to spend time in prayer at the altar or make a public profession of your faith in Christ and join the fellowship of our church, then come forward as we sing our Hymn of Invitation.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.