Family Values: Grace
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
Oct. 1, 2017
This month of October, we are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It all started on Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, seeking to reform what he saw as corruption within the Roman Catholic Church, nailed 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In so doing, he ignited a movement that transformed Christianity forever, and eventually led to the emergence of the Protestant denominations that exist today.
Reformers, like Luther and John Calvin, were convinced that the Roman catholic church had drifted away from the original teachings of Jesus and the early church, especially concerning salvation, that is, how people can be saved from sin.
Luther’s 95 Theses contain the seeds of the most important beliefs of the Protestant movement. Five Latin phrases that begin with “Sola” or “only” emerged during the Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ convictions of essentials of Christianity. They became the slogan of the Reformation:
1. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved by the grace of God received by faith alone.
3. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord and Savior.
5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.
You will see the 5 Solas pictured on the front of your bulletin cover, which illustrates our church which is Reformed and always Reforming. The 5 Solas are in black and white—they are the pillars of the church and are not changing. But, we are also reforming, that is we are open to how God’s Spirit can move us to new ways of thinking and doing. We can add our own interpretations. So, there are crayons in the pews, if you want to color during worship or take it home to color in the week.
I will preach on each of these topics throughout this month, in a sermon series called “Family Values,” to explore the things that our church family values the most about our Reformed faith.
Today we will focus on Grace. Grace is defined as mercy, forgiveness, pardon, favor, goodwill.
In the 16th century, the church was threatening eternal punishment for those who did not do good works of service, and selling indulgences, so that people could buy their way into heaven, and also so the church could build a cathedral on earth.
Luther, said, no, according to Scripture, it is by grace alone that we are saved.
According to St. Paul (in our reading from Ephesians for today), “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
We are not saved by our own merits or good works. As humans, we inherited a sinful nature. We cannot save ourselves; only Christ can do that. Despite our sin, and through no good works of our own, God forgives us and grants us salvation.
Forgiveness is a gift. Salvation is a gift. Not something we can earn or buy or sell or trade or deny. It is a gift of God’s grace. It’s free. For everyone.
What is grace?
When a person works an 8-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time, that is a wage.
When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize.
When a person receives appropriate recognition for her long service or high achievements, that is an award.
But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award—yet receives such a gift anyway—that is a good picture of God’s unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God.
What does grace look/feel like for us?
Grace is like when you disobeyed your parents and you deserved the punishment you received: to have your phone taken away for a month. After an excruciating week, as you are writing a letter of apology, your parents knock on your door, give you a hug, say, “We think you learned your lesson,” and they give your phone back. That’s grace.
Grace is like when you got an overdue bill with a late fee, that you cannot afford to pay. You spent the money on something you didn’t need. And now you are short. You fret and worry and pray. The next day you find in your mailbox cash for the exact amount you owe. That’s grace.
Grace is like when you cheated on your spouse and you deserve the anger and judgment and humiliation that you know he will punish you with. But, to your surprise, your spouse says “I forgive you. And I will forget this ever happened. Let’s go forward together.” That’s grace.
Grace is like when you are sprinting through the airport to catch your plane, so that you can go see your mother for the last time before she dies. You have not been faithful to her and have not spoken to her for 2 years after a fight. But you have to see her and say to her before she dies, “I am sorry. I love you.” But you stayed out too late drinking, you slept in, and tried to stop by the office on your way. And now you are late—very late. You hear the last call for boarding of the plane and that the door is being shut. You arrive at the gate, breathless and bewildered. The gate agent says, “We waited for you. Come on in.” That’s grace.
In the Alphabet of Grace, Frederick Buechner writes:
“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day's chalking.”
Grace is like when on the night before Jesus died, the night he was betrayed and abandoned by his friends, he took bread, and even though they did not deserve it, he gave it to them, and said, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it. This is my body which I give to you.” After supper, he took the cup, saying, “This is the cup of my blood, which I willingly pour out for you. In these gifts, remember how much I love you.” That’s grace.
Amazing grace…how sweet the sound.