So, earlier this week, on Monday evening, I was watching TV at home with the family after dinner.
Steph had gone for her walk, and I was going to take mine in a few minutes, when she turns to me and says “I want pizza,”
To which I replied: “okay, call it in, and I’ll go pick it up.”
So I did, she started eating her pizza, and I set out for my walk.
And I realized something that night:
My pace time was much better than it usually is.
Because, for most of my walk, all I could think about was that pile of crispy, cheesy, delicious goodness that is pizza, and how it was waiting for me at home when I would finish.
Apparently, all it takes is a little proper motivation to get one moving, am I right?
And I started thinking about how this is a metaphor for our spiritual lives.
John Wesley himself once wrote that “I want to know one thing- the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore.”
Isn’t that what we’re all after? Coming to know “the way to heaven?”
And this is where we pick up our Scripture text for this morning, which comes to us from John 1:1-16.
But first and foremost, I must give credit where credit is due.
As you might have guessed from the title, this sermon is more of a personal narrative, and I would like to share with you a few of the reasons as to why I am a Methodist, and why I affirm the Methodist movement as a whole.
First, and perhaps most importantly, I am a Methodist because I believe in what John Wesley called “Prevenient Grace,” or “the grace that goes before.”
Simply put, Prevenient grace means that God, even since the time of creation and the fall in Genesis has been working throughout time to bring us, his children, back into right relationship with Him.
In the Old Testament, He gave Moses the law- a code for the Jews to follow, a way for them to live out their faith in an orderly and clear way.
But in the New Testament, He sent His son Jesus Christ to come and teach us, to literally, “put on flesh and make his dwelling among us,” (John 1:14) so that we could learn how to connect with God in a new and personal way that would supersede what came in the Old Testament.
And God also gave us the Holy Spirit, the “inner witness” as John Wesley called it to serve as our guide in this life, and also as a primary way for God to communicate with us.
See, what I love about the idea of Prevenient Grace is that God initiated relationship with us- we were literally “dead in our trespasses and sins,” (Ephesians 2:5) and God came and initiated relationship with us to bring us back to Himself.
Since we were indeed spiritually dead people, it is this “prevenient grace,” that comes from God that seeks us out, and finds us, wherever we are in our lives, regardless of whether we are searching for or seeking God in our lives or not.
When I first heard about this idea, I struggled with it for a while, because it seemed odd to me that God would intentionally waste his grace on those who were not searching for it.
But at the same time, I needed to understand that we are all God’s beloved children, and as such, we are loved, whether we are seeking God in our lives or not.
Not one of us would ever be able to respond to God’s initiating act of love through Christ had it not been for this “grace that went before,” to gently, and slowly, and quietly, nudge us towards our Creator.
Also because this idea of “prevenience,” or “prevenient grace” speaks to the idea that God is and has been already at work in the world before we came into existence.
And that idea, in my view, follows logically from the Genesis narrative.
Because if God spoke everything into existence, isn’t that when God’s work begun?
It has less to do with our own efforts, and more to do with having “eyes to see, and ears to hear, and soft hearts to understand,” the ways in which God is already at work in the world.
Which leads us to the question of: “How is God already at work in our midst, and how can we partner with God in ministry with what has already come before?”
To take this a step further, while God initiates this relationship with us through “Prevenient Grace,” that we ourselves have a part, a role, if you will, in God’s grand scheme of things.
I think that anyone here this morning would agree with me when I say that we are capable of making our own decisions.
We have free will about everything in our lives, we can choose whether to do something or not, and that includes whether or not we respond to God.
How we respond to God will shape and affect how we encounter everything else in our lives.
Holiness & Discipleship
The second reason why I am a Methodist is because I believe in the importance of holiness and that we are called to be disciples.
See, when we accept Christ into our lives, we literally have “become new creatures,” (2 Cor. 5:17), the Apostle Paul boldly states, “The old has gone, and the new has come!”
We are indeed new creatures in Christ, but too many times, I believe that many believers stop there.
See, God is interested in completing our faith, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)
There is so much more to the Christian Life than just accepting Christ.
Jesus promises us that we will have life and “have it abundantly.”
We are called to go out and “make disciples of all nations,” (Great Commission, Matthew 28).
But we can’t do that if our own lives remain unchanged.
God, through the power of his Holy Spirit, gives grace to us to change us, to mold us, and shape us into the disciples he desires for us to be.
I believe that God does this through a variety of ways, but the three main ones are Scripture, Prayer, and Communion (which, are also known as the Means of Grace).
These three ways are essential to the heart of the Christian life .
As believers, we must start with Scripture.
The Bible is our primary source for learning about God, about salvation, and about how we are to live out our faith.
John Wesley wrote in the preface to his published sermons:
“I want to know one thing,—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.”
If we ever hope to have God begin to change our lives, we need to be faithful readers of Scripture, because that is one of the places we will find the ways to change.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
It is only through careful, thoughtful study of the Word that God can begin to change us.
In a similar way, Richard J. Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, wrote that “to pray is to change.”
The reason that we are called to pray, not only for ourselves, but for others, is because God hears prayer.
See, in this sense, our relationship with God is similar to our relationship with another person.
We cannot ever hope to change someone else’s mind about something if we are unwilling to engage them in conversation, right?
So, in the same way, we talk to God about the things that are going on in our lives, and in the lives of others, trusting that He can and will change them as He sees fit.
The third of these is Communion. Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” and so, when we eat the bread, and drink of the cup, we are, in a very real and physical sense, eating and drinking the grace of God into ourselves.
The third reason that I am a Methodist is because of our emphasis on worship.
Simply put, we sing what we believe!
For the longest time, I was one of those people who didn’t care for hymns .
They were old and stuffy and boring and used big words and didn’t have any electric guitars in them at all.
But as time has gone on, I have come to love and appreciate the rich theology that is present in each and every one of them.
Take, for example, “And Can it Be” or, one of my personal favorites “Amazing Grace:”
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see! ‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed!”
How beautiful, how poetic, how true of the Christian life.
I still remember to this day when I first experienced the presence of God in my life.
It was truly a thing of beauty.
There I was, a teenage kid, recognizing in some small way that I was sinful and in need of a Savior at summer camp in Junior High.
Did I know what I was getting myself into at the time?
Of course I didn’t, especially if you told me that I would eventually become a pastor.
But God calls us, regardless of what we think of ourselves.
Did I have any clue what it meant to be a disciple of Christ?
But you can be sure I knew that I had just become a part of something greater than myself, even if only in a small way.
See, for a long time, I thought that denominational churches were bad.
I thought that they were somehow all different kinds of cults, or they had really crazy beliefs, or that they were simply wrong in what they believed.
But once I experienced firsthand the Methodist tradition, I knew there was something more.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a few thoughts:
First and most importantly, is to know what you believe.
As Methodists, we should be people who are able to think through our faith.
We should have the ability to explain to someone in very plain language what we believe.
So in the coming weeks, I would challenge you to think about what you believe.
Be aware of those around us who want to ask questions about our faith, and then, when the time is right, speak, or act with conviction.
Let’s seek to represent Christ well in our lives, as we live faithfully into what God has called us to do, and who God has called us to be.
In the words of the Rev. Mr. John Wesley, let us, like he did: “Look upon all the world as Our Parish,” so that we may be ready, at any moment, to display the love and grace of God in our lives, made manifest through the redemption of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.