Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pentecost 17: Life in a Grace-shaped Church

We are going to spend the next 6 weeks at AMC focusing on Paul’s letter to the young Timothy under the “loose” heading of “Life in a Grace-Shaped Church” and our reading from the beginning of that letter has Paul making clear to Timothy that he (Paul) is only what he is and who he is……because of the grace of God.

Let’s hear the reading:

Perhaps the first point to make regarding life in a grace-shaped church is that we all recognize that it is only because of God’s Grace (perhaps we should define grace at this stage as “God’s undeserved love and mercy shown towards us”) that we gather here as a church in the first place.

We are not here primarily because 110 years ago some Methodist folk planted a church here.  We are not here because 25 years ago folk decided to build this particular building.  Now that is not to in any way belittle the work of the saints who have preceded us here in Alberton, but it is rather, in Paul’s words (verse 17) to give all the glory and honour for everything to the immortal, invisible, only God who is King eternal.

So, the first sign of life in a Grace-Shaped Church is that everything……everything……is about God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our midst, whose name we can whisper, or call, or shout, and He will be there, because He is given centre place in everything (from what we preach, to how we light up our sanctuary, how we care for our gardens, how we keep our financial books……God’s Way, not “our” way.)

This leads automatically to the second sign of life in a Grace-Shaped Church, which is that it ought to be full of people who are aware that they are, we are, in Paul’s words in verse 16, “the worst of sinners.”  That way, we all approach God, from the same point, and that way, no-one will ever walk through that door and have a sense that any of “us” are looking down on “them.”

This will lead us to the third sign of “life in a Grace-Shaped Church.”
A grace shaped church exists for those……who aren’t in it.
This is one of the most difficult elements of being a grace-filled and grace-shaped people……it’s no longer “about us.”

Listen to the gospel reading for today:
The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (who were “in”) freaked out because Jesus always had more time, more effort, more miracles, more teaching, …… for those who were “out.”  He had more time for those who didn’t yet know Him and His Kingdom, than for those who did.

The 100 sheep and the 10 coins in our parables represent the fullness of God’s today's language it represents the full number of those who God wants to see in His Son's church. For us Methodists, the full number is.....ALL people. (Remember, All people need to be saved and ALL people can be saved). So, what is the number of God’s beloved here in Alberton?........The answer is: whoever has woken up this morning, and whoever is breathing in Alberton right now, is God’s beloved.

According to Wikipedia, Alberton had a population of 202 202 in 2007.  That’s the flock, that’s the number of coins in Alberton.  And I don’t know how many of those aren’t worshipping God this morning (or ever), but what I do know is that the God who revealed Himself to us in Christ……in a sense leaves us here and……goes out looking for them!!!  And He expects His Church to be the same, as the same Spirit that filled Jesus, fills us.  And the religious hypocrites of Jesus’ day couldn’t handle that.  They especially didn’t like Jesus saying “I tell you, there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need to repent.”

A grace-shaped church is a church that has people and programmes in place that bring the unrepentant to repentance.

The next sign of life in a grace-shaped church is that it is filled with people who have come to discover, as Paul did (and as he reveals in these opening verses of his letter to Timothy), that our past makes us who we are.

I came across these comments by Scot McKnight which speak to this point: I was thinking of the apostle Paul and how his past, so far as we can know, prepared him for his life as an apostle.  God used his life in Tarsus to prepare Paul to be the great integrator, though it took an eye-twittering experience of seeing Jesus himself to accept the challenge.
There is an early Christian tradition, from the 4th Century Christian father Jerome, informing us that Paul’s family was originally from Gischala in Galilee. As a result of a war in Galilee with Rome the family later moved to Tarsus (perhaps as slaves). Paul spent a decade or more in Tarsus but as a young man moved back to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, to study Torah among Israel’s elite and sophisticated. Here is what Jerome said about Paul’s life:
 Paul, formerly called Saul, an apostle outside the number of the twelve apostles, was of the tribe of Benjamin and the town of Giscalis in Galilee. When this town was taken by the Romans he removed with his parents to Tarsus in Cilicia. Sent by them to Jerusalem to study law he was educated by Gamaliel a most learned man whom Luke mentions…. As Sergius Paulus Proconsul of Cyprus was the first to believe on his preaching, he, Saul/Paul took his name from him because he had subdued him to faith in Christ…. (From Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, chp 5.)
When Saul, the Jewish name by which he was then known, moved from Tarsus to Jerusalem as a young man his life shifted from seeing Gentiles all the time to seeing Gentiles far less frequently. A good Gentile for Saul was a proselyte. His move to Jerusalem meant the wall between observant Jews and Gentiles got thicker and taller and everything we read about him suggests he thickened and heightened those walls. The irony and the single most important sign of grace in Paul’s life was that this builder of walls between Jews and Gentiles became the wall destroyer. Everything in Paul’s three-decades of ministry was connected in some way to his driving ambition to rip down the wall of segregation between Jews and Gentiles in the One Family of God, the Body of Christ.
What Paul envisioned then was a church in which Jews were Jews and Gentiles were Gentiles, but they were with one another, a church in which slaves and free sat next to another, and a church where men and women were not defined by sex or sexuality but by unity in Christ and their giftedness. He wanted unity with diversity. He didn’t ask Jews to cease following Torah nor Gentiles to learn to speak Hebrew or Aramaic. He didn’t ask men to become women or women to become men. He asked them to transcend all distinctions with a unity of fellowship in Christ (sourced here). 

I want to suggest this morning that a grace shaped church is a church where walls are constantly broken down.....especially the walls which we have looked at over the previous weeks which the church is so good at building, walls which define "us" and "them".

So this brings us to the last sign of life in a grace-shaped Church that we will look at today: A grace-shaped church believes and incarnates (puts flesh onto the belief) that what unites us and makes us one, is always much bigger than what divides us. Gracious people let nothing come between them....they even love and want the best for their enemies!
A grace-shaped church believes and incarnates (puts flesh onto the belief) that what unites us and makes us one, is always much bigger than what divides us. And what or who is it that unites us …… Jesus, Jesus!  In Him……we are one.
Now, in a large church like AMC……you will not “get on” with everyone else in the church.  There will be things that divide us, from which rugby team we support, to who we think should be married to each other……etc. etc.
But in a grace-shaped church, none of these things, and not even all these things added together, is ever bigger than what unites us……Jesus, our faith in Him and our desire to see His Kingdom come and His Will be done.

This, in a grace-shaped church, is what we have in common and what unites us: wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever we’ve done, we are one in Christ and because He is in our midst, we know that we can
          Whisper His Name
                    Call out His Name
                              Shout out His Name
and He will come to us.

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