8.21.22 Sermon Transcript "Sufficient"
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, oh Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
Last week, we talked about Scripture as the word of God The Scriptures are sufficient for salvation. That there is nothing that is not contained in the Scripture that is necessary for salvation. The Scriptures are inspired God breathed and we talk about Jesus. The word made flesh We know that the Bible was written in time. Various authors inspired over thousands of years. The Bible does not preexist Christ. The Bible points our way to Christ. Christ is sufficient. Christ is the word of God. We're back into the idea that we wrestle with about one God manifest to us in creation and creator and the sun, the word, the light, and the holy spirit, wind, breath, God is larger than we can contain. God does not fit in our boxes.
And yet we are compelled to bear witness. souls cry out to try and share what we have experienced. The living water, the bread of life Christ with us God for us. We turn to the Scriptures to learn about God about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit, about ourselves We love because God first loved us God so loved the world. God gave his only son. that we might be saved through him So, we turn to the Scriptures and we learn that God is love. We know that God is love because God is relationship God creates us in love. We are an intentional act of a loving God, not a mistake Not as many other ancient near Eastern cultures describe the outcome of a battle between Gods. We know there is one God and this God intentionally creates. God creates that there might be the freedom to love. to be in reciprocal relationship To honor the other.
We're going to talk a bit about the apostle Paul today and his experience of God's grace and God's call We read an extensive passage from first Corinthians. about half the New Testament is written by the apostle Paul or attributed to him. We know that after he experienced the presence of the risen Christ, his world was transformed. He spent the rest of his life travelling around the ancient near East, going to community after community, sharing the good news for Jews and Gentiles. That he understood himself specifically as the apostle to the Gentiles. That word of God that the love of God was overflowing the boundaries, that all of creation was invited into this relationship of faith. and because he could not be everywhere at once as he traveled, he would receive news and letters from communities he had founded and very often they were in conflict because Paul is not the only teacher going around talking about what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be Christian, what it means to follow Christ.
There are different ideas of how the law is to be lived out. What it is required to be a member of the community and yet petite trouble in Corinth. It's the city that he wrote the most letters to. We, in New Testament, we have first and second Corinthians, scholars think that those are a compilation of at least four letters and that there's probably one more that is lost and we won't get into slicing and dicing and figuring that all out today but know that he was in frequent correspondence with the people of Corinth and the extended passage I had Deborah Reed today, he talks about himself as a fool. Why? Why would he cast himself as a fool? Well, we have one half of the conversation here. We have one half of a conversation with people who have written to Paul or visited him telling him about what others in the community are saying. There are people both in various Jewish factions and in various Christian factions, arguing that you still have to be circumcised, eat kosher, do all sorts of things according to the Jewish law before you can be a member of the church Paul even tries to uphold some of that but in general, he says, no. All that is required is that you have faith, that you've experienced the grace of God and many of these teachers proclaim their authority by what they can demand from the congregation.
And I'll admit this part's a little awkward because as you well know, my income comes from the donations to this congregation. but Paul has gone and he has not asked for money for himself. He has occasionally asked for a donation to the poor, to the mission in Jerusalem but he has supported himself as a tent maker in another ways. He is not required the congregation to feed him, house him, any of these kinds of things. Others have used that they have as a source of authority. See, clearly, I'm a good teacher because you're putting me up. You're my salary. Clearly, I'm a good teacher because I am a Hebrew. I am from Israel. I am a son of Abraham. I have all of these characteristics that prove authority. and Paul says, are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they an Israelite? So am I. Paul has those same qualifications but he has not lorded them over the congregation.
What he has preached is Christ and him crucified. When he is demonstrated is his own weakness. He has shared his story of shortcoming, of failure, of how he would once a persecutor. And he's been called foolish for that. He embraces it. He's, am I talking foolishly? Well, let me talk foolishly because all I will boast of is Christ and him crucified. All I will boast of is my own weakness. Multiple times in the New Testament, we are told of Paul's experience on the road to Damascus Paul is a young man as a highly-educated Pharisee, had set out to enforce the law or his understanding of it. He had set out to persecute this new Jewish faction of Christ followers and then, he experiences on the road to Damascus, the presence of the risen Christ. He is overwhelmed. His life is transformed.
One of my favorite stories in Scripture comes from Acts 9 after this revelation, after he experiences this light, this voice, he spends 3 days in darkness, blind, scales on his eyes, and he is dependent on this Christian community, the very community that he had set out to eradicate for shelter, for sustenance, and ultimately Ananias, is called by Christ to go and visit Paul. To lay his hands on Paul's eyes, to restore his sight, to baptize him into the community, that he might become, Christ tells Ananias, the apostle to the Gentiles, the messenger.
Paul is dependent on this help from this little known Christian figure. Paul spends several months, if not years, sorting this out, living with this community, wandering a bit in the wilderness. We're not told the stories of that. It's just a line in Acts. But ultimately, he comes back to Damascus and he begins teaching among this group. For all of the baggage he carries with him, he's become a respected leader but that stirs up trouble and the leader of Damascus, a king tries to put him to death, tries to stop the trouble by silencing him.
And again, we just have a couple of lines in Acts, but he escapes from Damascus. He's lowered in a basket by members of the Christian community at Damascus. And at this point, his journeys really begin. He goes from town to town proclaiming Christ and him crucified proclaiming the risen Christ, proclaiming grace and mercy, and inclusion not just of Jews but of Gentiles. A community of faith living out their faith in different ways, yet called together as one. He meets resistance Time and again, he is imprisoned As we heard in the reading from first Corinthians, he's beaten, arrested, both Jewish and Roman authorities distrust him About half the letters we have were written at least in part during various imprisonments. And interestingly, it's those letters that Paul's joy comes through most strongly. Power is made perfect in weakness.
He writes in 1 Corinthians about a thorn in his side, “to keep him from being too exuberant,” he has something wrong. Many scholars think he may have developed malaria and that may explain some of the layovers in his journey. We don't really know what this thorn in his side was. What this ailment or temptation was. But it was something that he prayed to God three times he says to remove. How many of us been in that situation. An illness, a sorrow, a challenge. Oh God, if you'll just remove this thing, then I'll be good. Then, I'll… you fill in the blanks. How often has God responded not by doing what we want but by showing us a way where we thought there was no way… and in this case, Paul prays for this thorn in his side to be taken away. This temptation or ailment or whatever it is, and God speaks to him. God says, “my grace is sufficient for you.” My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.
So, the Bible is sufficient. Christ is sufficient Grace is sufficient During the reformation as Luther and others broke away from the power and authority in the pope, one of the things that many of the reformers did is say, things like Sola Scripura. Scripture alone. And yet as they read the Scripture, the Scriptures would tell them that his faith alone or grace alone and so ultimately, the reformation up with five sola statements. Only this and these other four. We're not the first to wrestle. We're not the first as United Methodist to try and hold in that tension of both and Scriptures are sufficient and yet, we learn about Christ who is beyond Scripture in Scripture. Grace is sufficient and yet we learn about grace in Scripture. Grace is a gift.
And as United Methodist as Wesleyans, we and our other brothers and sisters in faith from that Wesleyan movement have kind of a unique take on grace. All Christians talk about grace. But most in nominations, talk about grace in terms of being let go from that you should be convicted of. That you are set free from sin, that you are no longer judged guilty. And there is an important understanding there. As United Methodist, we can embrace that understanding but our primary teaching about grace is grace as therapeutic. Grace as healing that which ails us. The sickness of sin being made well. the Desecration of what we were supposed to be The way that we are incomplete being made full Grace in a Wesleyan understanding surrounds us before we are even aware of it. We are utterly dependent on that grace and yet God gives us free will God gives us free will to say no even to God's grace and presence. Yet that grace surrounds us and the moment we catch wind of that. The moment we begin to realize that. We are convicted of our sin but we are set free. We are healed. and we would respond to that grace and as we respond to that grace just in little ways and for some of us, it takes a lot longer than others. Took me about 36 years before I started really responding. We're given more grace. We're made aware of our weaknesses and yet there is power There is hope. There is healing We are justified in Wesleyan understanding of grace. We are made right before God. We are made worthy of God's presence which was already there. God died for us while we were yet sinners. This proves God's love for us. and yet as we respond, we are justified and we realize it's not about us. It's about God. We're freed from our ego, our need to control and then we enter into the path that's called sanctifying grace.
The point is to be made like Christ, to have the mind of Christ and we can do that not on our own but because of the gift of grace, because of who God is, because of who Christ is, because of who the Holy Spirit is. Our culture teaches a very different model. We are taught self-sufficiency that we should contain everything we need in ourselves. If not ourselves, at least our family should be self-sufficient or our community. And yet we know we're not. As I was looking for graphics on this, this one made me chuckle. Self-sufficiently held up… by multiple hands. We don't do it ourselves.
We need each other. What is sufficient is to community What is sufficient is Scripture. What is sufficient is grace. What is sufficient ultimately is Christ through whom all things are made. Who holds all things together. When we recognize that when we respond, in grace, in love, then we become truly a part of the community. Our United Methodist beliefs holds Scripture as primary and yet we know that we cannot even approach Scripture without the influence of tradition, of our own experience, of reason, of God's gift. To encounter, to be made whole, Wesleyans know that Christ is sufficient, that we are held in the palm of the divine hand, that Christ gives us multiple metaphors, multiple ways of engaging for different seasons of our lives. For different needs, for different understandings, God tells us through Paul, through the inspiration of Scripture, that my grace is sufficient for you, that all we need is ultimately Christ's presence. I want to share with you a poem which I have hopefully not misplaced. (slight pause why Pastor located the missing document)
I promise that wasn't a setup just to make me look weak. but these things happen (laughter)
This Grace that Scorches Us by Jan Richardson
Here's one thing you must understand about this blessing:
it is not for you alone.
It is stubborn about this.
Do not even try to
lay hold of it if you are by yourself, thinking you can carry it on your own.
To bear this blessing,
you must first take yourself
to a place where everyone
does not look like you
or think like you,
a place where they do not
believe precisely as you believe,
where their thoughts
and ideas and gestures are not exact echoes of your own.
Bring your sorrow.
Bring your grief.
Bring your fear.
Bring your weariness,
your pain, your disgust at how broken the world is,
by its fighting,
its penchant for power,
its ceaseless repetition
of the history it refuses
to rise above.
I will not tell you this blessing will fix all that.
But in the place where you have gathered, Wait.
Lay aside your inability
to be surprised,
your resistance to what you
do not understand.
See then whether this blessing turns to flame on your tongue,
sets you to speaking
what you cannot fathom
or opens your ear
to a language
beyond your imagining
that comes as a knowing
in your bones,
a clarity in your heart
that tells you
This is the reason
we were made:
for this ache
that finally opens us,
for this struggle,
that scorches us
toward one another
the blazing day.
Paul experienced that kind of grace. Grace that doesn't just let us off the hook but refines us, burns away our impurities, opens us to new ways of seeing.
Sometimes, we erroneously talk about Paul's journey as a conversion. As if he left one faith and joined another but he doesn't. He worships the same God. But he worships the same God with a new understanding, with a new found love and grace and openness. A willingness to be weak. To be thought a fool. Even perhaps to be wrong. As he proclaims the truth that he has been given. The vision that he has received the God's love is greater than he could've imagined. That even his opponents are included in that grace.
Paul leads a revival over and over in the history of the church, we have had people that caught a glimpse of this kind of grace and led revivals. John Wesley was one of them. We as Methodist trace our origin to this 18th century theologian. Wesley believe that the living core of Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, a loomed by tradition, confirmed by reason, and made real and vital in personal experience, personal experience of Christ, personal experience of the beloved community, personal experience of learning from those we disagree with. grace.
Grace transformed Wesley's life. It led him to move out of his hope and into the world to preach in unusual places to ensure that even the working class and the poor were receiving the sacraments. Had opportunities for fellowship. The church was not a closed social society. The church was a living, breathing, beloved community of grace, of wholeness. Paul writes that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. That's really what Wesley did for the rest of his days. What Paul did for the rest of his days. Experiencing this grace that we cannot control or contain and sharing it with others. How do we know we're doing that right? Well, first of all, power is made perfect in weakness. We don't know in a way that we can certainly prove to others, but we do know in a sense of assurance and for me, one of the most valuable lessons in how we know, how we grow, how we serve, how we share, was taught to me by another United Methodist with whom I have significant disagreements. And yet, I owe him a large part of my path because he challenged me to memorize the Fruit the Spirit.
The fruit of the spirit, Paul writes in Galatians 5, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we are generating those things in ourselves and others, we're probably on the right path.
I want to invite you to say that with me. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
That has become almost a mantra for me You know, they advise counting to 10 when you're upset, when you need to think about. Very often, what I will do is recite love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and sometimes it's (angry voice) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…. (gentler, calmer voice)… gentleness. generosity gentleness, self-control. If I am in those places, I am probably doing the right thing. If I'm not in those places, well, I'm probably not about to do the right thing. I'm not living surrounded by Christ's grace. I am… however unintentionally… saying no. This and other writings in Scripture help me to ground myself. To have a mind like Christ. To recognize my weakness that I will often fall short. To try again and again to continue this journey of growing and sharing. to becoming each day a little more filled with God's grace. A little more aware of my weakness, my dependence on Christ and the community for all I am, for all I will be.
We United Methodist do not force one another to agree on a specific creed, on a specific understanding, and yet we hold in common our faith in Christ, our experience of grace, our approach to Scripture, and our commitment as members of this community, to share our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. And is what makes us strong. That's what I believe. Thanks be to God. Amen.