Who needs grace?

given on Sunday, July 25, 2010

Have you ever listened to a song and realize that it says exactly what you feel?  When I started looking for today’s hymns, I stumbled into the one, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,”  which is number 340 if you would like to follow along.

Words for this hymn were written in 1739 and not put to music until 1835.  The words from Joseph Hart were first published as a poem, at a time when John Wesley was still a young man in England and long before those at the base of the Statue of Liberty—“give me your poor, your weary, and your downtrodden”–were written.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,

weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,

full of pity, love, and power.

As I look at the descriptors in these words, I see pictures of people who are right here in our community who need to know God’s love.  I have met them.  I have taught them.  I sit in the waiting rooms with them.  I am one of them.

In my own life, being raised in a Christian home, I experienced times when I know that I could be described by each one of those adjectives.  I make mistakes, so I am a sinner.  I have seen my budget destroyed and had no idea how to pay the bills.  At times my personal resolve has not been strong enough to say no.  I have experienced physical pain and had to heal.

Fortunately, though, I knew Jesus.  My parents, my extended family, and even my friends were people who knew God’s love and were intent on living a faithful life.  Yet, even those I know to be the strongest Christians, experienced times when they needed an extra dose of grace.

Consider the words of Hart’s refrain:

Refrain

I will arise and go to Jesus;

He will embrace me with his arms;

In the arms of my dear Savior,

O there are ten thousand charms.

As Christians, we know that when we make mistakes and stumble in our faith journey, we can pick ourselves up and go to Jesus.  We know that the unconditional love of God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—never waivers.  We know that when we realize our error, we return in prayer and ask for forgiveness.  We know God’s love will never fail us.

Even John Wesley was not perfect.  He stumbled when he tried to make a young woman his wife.  He was jealous.  He was manipulative.  He was angry and hurt.  He could not accept ‘no’ as her answer.  His pain led him to make mistakes even in his ministry.   Yet, he picked himself up and returned to Jesus continuing his ministry.

In fact, Wesley established a method for God’s love to be given freely to even those who had no idea of who God is.  He went to the people.  He saw their need and offered a solution.   He demonstrated God’s love by his own hands not just by preaching from a pulpit.  He lived his life as God’s love in action.  Look at that second verse:

Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome,

God’s free bounty glorify;

True belief and true repentance,

every grace that brings you nigh. [refrain]

These words really explain what Jesus said we are to be God’s representatives right here on earth, right now.  Using just that first line:  “Come, ye thirsty…” and using the Bible’s concordance you can see the instructions:

  • Matthew 25:35—(Jesus is talking to his followers about God’s final judgment explaining how he will know his obedient followers.) For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
  • John 4:13-14—(In the story of the “Woman at the Well” this water refers to well water, not spiritual or living water.) Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
  • Revelations 21:6—(The apostle John explains the results of a relationship with God.) He said to me:  “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

Of course the word thirsty can be taken very literally, especially during these how summer days.  On that literal level, each one of us can share God’s love by offering a glass or bottle of water to our own postal worker as they drop off the mail—remember the windows are down as they drive from house to house.  A cool glass of ice tea or lemonade offered to the repairman fixing the air conditioner or a refrigerator on these record-setting hot summer days is grace.

But thirsty can also be thirsty for God.  Sadly so many have no joy in their lives.  They see no hope or promise in the daily grind.  They have no purpose and are thirsty for a different life.  We have an answer for those individuals, too.  God’s grace.  We know that God’s grace provides us with a different perspective on life, so why don’t we want to share that news?  Why are we so quiet, why can’t we shout it out that knowing God truly transforms a worn out life?  We should be saying exactly what is being said in that third stanza:

Come ye weary, heavy laden,

lost and ruined by the fall;

If you tarry till you’re better,

you will never come at all.  [refrain]

Let’s not turn away from all those who are not sitting here in these pews with us.  Let’s accept the commandment from Jesus to love one another.  Let’s show our friends, our family, and our neighbors that God’s love makes “…the weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined…” renewed.  Putting off sharing the good news means those who do not understand God’s love will never hear the news.

Hart did not write his poem to the Christians who were actively sharing God’s love.  He was sharing it with those who needed to get into action and to those who had not yet met God personally.

He had one last warning for his audience:

Let not conscience make you linger,

nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness he requireth

is to feel your need of him.  [refrain]

Life with God makes life thrilling, joyful, exciting, and wonderful.  No matter what age we are, no matter what our education, no matter what our career we are responsible for sharing our secret (and I paraphrase):

If each morning, you wake up and go to Jesus;

He will embrace you in his arms;

And in those arms are all kinds of charms

To fill your earthly life with treasures.

Can you even imagine if life is a treasure chest full of charms, what will heavenly life with God be like?

To summarize:  God’s grace makes a huge difference in the quality of our lives.  If we know this, we have a job to do right now—to share God’s love in any way that we can.

Dear Gracious Father,

We thank you for letting us find your grace.  We know that it has made a major difference in our lives.  We ask you to guide us in finding ways to share your love with others who need it so desperately.  We know that we must see those around us through your eyes.  We know that we must share our faith with others so they can witness the difference your grace makes in our lives.  As we step forward to share your love, let us also find new levels of grace in our own lives.            –Amen

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