Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
What a word it is.
Many of us were taught to say grace at meal time. When a dancer or figure skater performs in a wonderfully artistic way we say she (or he) performed with grace.
On the other hand, when we seem to have trouble staying on our feet and find ourselves hitting the ground – we are often told, or tell ourselves, “Okay Grace…”
Or “Just call me Grace…”
Graceful people are magnets. We love to be around them. They exude a calmness, a peace, a graciousness that is like a drink of clear and cold water in the middle of a desert.
But this morning, as we prepare for Communion, I want to spend a few moments walking through two different texts of scripture, both from the New Testament, in which God’s grace is noted. His grace is vital and essential for us in two ways that we will note in each passage.
The first way is the way of salvation because as we shall read in moment, “it is by grace that we are saved through faith.”
Let us turn to Ephesians 2:1-10 and read some very important things about God’s great grace for us.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In the early part of this letter to the church in the city of Ephesus Paul reminds the believers of several important things…
First, he reminds them that they were spiritually dead, that their relationship to God was nonexistent because of the state of their soul.
you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath
Paul is reminding his audience that at one point in their lives, they were dead, unresponsive, and incapable of realizing, God’s great grace and salvation. Instead they followed and gave into their warped human nature, what Paul calls the flesh, as they let it guide them into satisfying sinful and self-centered desires and thoughts. The result was a condition in which experiencing God’s wrath was a very real possibility.
“Thank goodness Pastor we are not like that!”
This is true for all of us. None of us were born perfect. (Sorry to have burst your bubble this morning.) None of us have the perfection of God. None of us are God.
We too have lived with a focus on satisfying our own desires and thoughts without regard to what God’s thinks or desires for us. We too, have given little thought to God’s grace.
“Gee pastor, I was hoping for some good news today! If I wanted bad news I would stayed home have read more of the paper this morning! There is enough in there to fill my day with gloom and doom. Tell me something good.”
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3 (NIV)
Isn’t this the newspaper? Stories about conflict and selfishness and “not getting my way?”
Isn’t this life in school? Jealousy and envy Competition in areas of life where cooperation should be the norm?
Isn’t this the workplace? Scratching and clawing our way up to get more money, more power?
Isn’t this home life? We argue and fight to get the most of something – food, attention, money, control?
Our inner life, our motives, thoughts, attitudes, and priorities they are the battleground for the control of our souls and life. They are where Satan comes to influence us; tempt us, to put ourselves first. “Really, did God say that?”
Impatience, pride, jealousy, envy, rage, fear, lust, self-righteousness, greed, – these are the weapons of war which knows no geographic boundaries or racial boundaries or any other kind of boundaries. These are both the signs to and the paths we take to satisfying our own warped desires. They are both tools that we used to wound others and which wound us.
It is not a pleasant picture is it?
But there is more to the passage!
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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
There is one of those marvelous and longed for transitional words – BUT!
You people were a mess… BUT!
God is really angry at what you have been doing… BUT!
You are full of sin and far from God… 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.”
Love, mercy, grace.
Three wonderful words. Three powerful words. Three redemptive words.
But it is by God’s grace that salvation, a deep change, a necessary change within us, is made possible. We cannot earn it. There is no college degree program available to earn it. There is no work training program possible to obtain it.
Grace comes as we have faith in, as we believe in Jesus Christ and His work of salvation on the cross. It is God’s gift to us. He wants us to have it.
Dr Barry Callen says it well about this wonderful grace and what it means for us today:
“The grace offered is intended for all people. In a fast-paced and lonely culture of self-centered striving, the presence of divine grace that is unmerited and without price is really good news.”
“Apart from such grace…” says Callen who then goes on to quote Thomas Oden who says, “the task of personal growth turns into a frantic search for innovative strategies….
We have tried to manufacture spiritual growth while missing the very grace that would enable it. We have wanted to produce results without a readiness to receive help through the available means of grace – prayer, scripture study, sacrament (another name from Communion), and actively serving love.”
In the church mail box, in my home mail box, in my email inbox, and in my social media stream, there are so many offers coming at me for the next greatest and latest way to grow spiritually that it is overwhelming. The trash can and the delete button get quite the workout. Here Dr Oden names four easily accessible ways to grow and be sustained in God’s grace all of which costs little or nothing. We do not have to go bankrupt in the seeking of God’s grace in our lives. It is present for us today, right now. We just have to ask God for it!
Callen also notes something else about God’s grace that bears noting this morning. Something that I think many of us in this sanctuary need to hear and be reminded of. He says this:
“We who are ravaged by guilt, despair, anger, anxiety, and inadequacy are candidates for a wholly unmerited grace from God…Divine grace,’ he continues, “is more than a means for our forgiveness and a hope for our future.
It is the way we frail humans can be sustained in our troubled presents.”
I think that some of us needed to hear that this morning.
Grace is not just about our saving from sin, death, and hell. It is also about the divine strength, available for the asking, to help us in our daily lives. We experience a lot of troubled “presents.”
And this leads me to our second passage this morning. 2 Corinthians 12:1-10:
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In the previous chapter, chapter 11, and throughout his ministry Paul addresses the conflict he has with “false prophets” those people who Paul believes are taking advantage of people with their smooth talk and ways. I think Paul is saying, “Okay, you want to boast about your commitment and spiritual maturity? Fine. Bring it.”
And then he goes on to list all of the things he has suffered through in his ministry. The beatings, the imprisonments, and the shipwrecks he has encountered in his missionary journeys. And he does not slow down when he gets into chapter 12. He keeps boasting and he speaks of some deep spiritual experiences that he is not able, in fact is prevented from, talking about.
In other words, and Paul says it himself, “… in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Paul just admitted to the temptation of conceit.
Pride is about to go full blossom in Paul. “Hey critics, you want to know what being spiritual truly is? Well, try and top this…” But God intervenes and Paul is stopped from letting pride and conceit taking root in his life. And he starts arguing with God.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Here’s my point. Grace is a counterpoint to pride, self-pity, and all the comparison we do in this life. Paul was in danger of getting off track and letting his missionary work become all consuming and all important. He was tired of dealing with critics who spoke better than he did and had more polish that he did. So he is going to show who the more spiritual person was. But God stepped in. Why? Because it was not about Paul and what he did it was about Christ and what He did!
And whatever this thorn in the flesh was, we really don’t know, it was placed there to keep Paul from boasting about the wrong thing – himself and his success and his spiritual maturity. Instead his boasting, if you will, is about the gracious work of Christ in his life and ministry.
Grace is present here! Grace thrives in our weaknesses.
When we deal with the fear that comes as we stand for the Lord… God’s grace helps us stand.
When we deal with our character weaknesses, like conceit, and we all have them, God’s grace is there to help us overcome them and to be confident in the Lord.
When we feel emotionally, relationally, financially, or occupationally shipwrecked, God’s grace is there to help us walk through those times.
Being a Christian is not an easy task. It is hard at times. Our faith gets stretched thin.
So this morning as we prepare for communion let us be thankful that God’s grace is present not just at our moment of salvation but every moment of our lives no matter what is going on within us and around us.
His grace is sufficient for us! For when we are weak, in Him, through His grace, we are strong!