The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
AMAZING GRACE IS MORE THAN A SONG
Third Sunday during Lent, March 24, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Can we talk?
During this season of Lent, we ponder our spiritual lives and focus on our relationship with God.
I especially value this season of Lent because life gets busy. It can be easy to drift or slip spiritually.
You are wonderful people, but even you need a season that focuses you on your relationship with God.
Although my calling from God to pastoral ministry involves congregational leadership – guiding you, pastoral care, preaching, teaching, equipping people for ministry in daily life, counseling, outreach, assimilation, stewardship, connecting us with our community, helping St. John’s fulfill God’s mission, etc., my primary calling from God is to pay attention to the spiritual formation of God’s people. I want you to know the assurance that comes into your life when you know God is pleased with you.
This is the topic of today’s message: How can you know God is pleased with you?
Megan and Danielle grew up in different places and attended college three states apart. They met last year at a party here in Charlotte and became fast friends. Each was active in the church until they went off to college. Now in their late twenties, settling into their jobs and liking the Queen City, they are missing a spiritual home. One evening, after the sudden death of a friend’s father, Danielle asked Megan, “Do you think God is pleased with you?” Megan responded with her own question: “How would I know?”
Jesus’ tells you how to be sure God is pleased with you.
Imagine Jesus and his disciples sitting around watching the NCAA basketball tournament. After the games, the news comes on showing footage from floods in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri. One family tells how they lost everything in the rising waters. The room which had been noisy with yells during the games now falls silent as the discipleship group listens and sees evidence of suffering and grief.
Jesus knew what the disciples were thinking. So Jesus asks, “ do you think these families were worse sinners than other people in the Midwest? Is this why their suffering is so much worse?” Then, Jesus leans forward in the recliner and says, “No, I tell you; no! Do you also think the thousands who were killed by cyclones in Mozambique this week or those who were murdered by the terrorist in New Zealand last week died because God is punishing them? Do you think everyone who dies of disease is being punished? Do you think the death of a child occurs because God wants to punish their family? No, I tell you; no! If this were true, all our efforts to rescue people, reduce violence, heal disease, alleviate the suffering of the poor, and feed those who are starving would be working against God.”
Then Jesus continued, “However, let me tell you unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Isn’t that just like Jesus; to take a question about other people and turn it to be about YOU?
While you are wanting to discuss the tragic news stories of today and explore over-arching theological questions, Jesus points to a spot of sin in YOUR life and calls YOU to repent. When you must deal with death, you are confronted with core questions about life. Let me explain.
Most of you are carrying family pictures in your wallets or purses today. And, you are also carrying pictures of God in your mind. Your pictures of God shape how you relate to God.
Your God pictures suggest how you relate with God. Some pictures portray God to be like:
- an ice cream truck driver who dishes out your requests for sweet favors;
- a secret agent sneaking around to catch you in wrongdoing;
- a judge with gavel held high ready to pronounce you guilty in every moment;
- a compassionate person holding a tissue ready to wipe your tears of grief;
- a co-dependent parent holding a mop and broom to clean up messes you make;
- a companion with a suitcase ready to go with you wherever you decide to go; or
- a distant deity who is completely beyond you, removed from all your endeavors.
There are many ‘Christian deists;’ people who go by the name, ‘Christian,’ but have no prayer life, no commitment to discipleship or spiritual growth, no ethical conscience beyond what is best for them and those they love, and no commitment to please God by following the teachings of Jesus. For them, God is a distant deity, but is not involved in their lives to bring about change. They do not care if God is pleased with them.
This is why Jesus tells his story of the fruitless fig tree. The only purpose of a fig tree is to bear figs. The only purpose of a human committed to God is to bear the fruit of God’s Spirit. Jesus is pointing out, ‘Just as people can be surprised by immediate death, so you will be surprised by death if you do not bear the fruit of God’s Spirit.’
When I was a middle schooler, my father was a pastor leading a church through racial integration in Kansas City, Missouri. One man was so upset by this effort that he cornered my dad as he left the church building one Sunday evening to verbally berate him. When dad finally took his seat behind the wheel, he sat quietly for a moment. Then, he said, “Dennis, there are some people who die a long time before their heart stops beating.”
Jesus offers you the way to be pleasing to God by reminding you to repent; “Unless you repent, you too will perish.” He was speaking to his circle of disciples; people like you and me. Jesus was calling people to turn away from self-centeredness by changing your actions to obey the teachings of Jesus. You may carry many burdens; but you do not need to burdened by your guilt and shame.
On one occasion, Jesus said, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one person who repents than over ninety-nine persons who do not need to repent.” It is as if Jesus teaches, ‘While you folks are discussing war, floods, politics and the stock market, the real news is going on inside of your life. Stay clean with God so you will not become a fruitless fig tree.’ Your picture of God must include a God who requires ongoing repentance. When you repent, you reset your relationship with God and The Living God is pleased.
When I was a boy, I played baseball all summer. In one game, we were in the bottom of the last inning and were tied. Somehow I was stood on second base. Our best hitter was batting behind me and he hit a ball over the head of the shortstop into left field. As I rounded third, I saw my dad standing by the fence waving his arm. It was as if he was saying, “Come home, son; come all the way home.”
This season of Lent began with ashes three weeks ago, reminding us of our mortality.
When you must deal with death, you are confronted with core questions about life.
Beloved, The Living God is pleased that you are in worship today; that you do churchly things and desire a good reputation. It’s as if you have put yourself on second base.
Yet, it is God’s amazing grace that provides all you need to make heaven break out in a party. When you repent of the sin in your life, God is pleased with you. And a picture of God appears in your mind showing God waving and saying, “Come on home, my child, come all the way home!”
God’s gift of repentance is amazing grace; and it is more than a song! It leads you home!
“Through many dangers, toils and snares, you have already come;
Tis grace hath brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home.” Amen and AMEN!