The Power of Grace

  • The Power of Grace
  • Romans 5:6-8
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • April 28, 2019
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Grace. We say it before meals. Some people even have it as a name. But God’s grace made real in our lives is something more than a prayer thanking God for our food or a beautiful name.

 

One person defined grace as God’s unmerited favor. No matter how you define it there is certainly no doubt that it is amazing, just like the song many of us know and have sung through the years.

 

My first pastorate was as the pastor of Manchester UMC in Arkadelphia. It was an absolutely wonderful place to be a pastor. They were a loving, kind group of people who were willing to be gentle breaking in a new pastor straight out of seminary.

 

When I first came to Arkansas to visit, my friend Toby Daniell picked me up at the airport. His wife Dorothy had grown up in the Manchester Church, and it was where they had been married. Toby looked at me and said, “You know, they have the best potlucks around at Manchester.”

 

Later on that visit, I met with Mike Clayton who at that time was the Arkadelphia District Superintendent. In the midst of our conversation about the church, Mike looked at me and said, “You know, they have the best potlucks around at Manchester.”

 

On my way back to the airport from visiting Arkadelphia, I stopped to visit with our then Bishop, Richard Wilke. He was convincing me that I needed to make the move to Arkansas and talking to me about Manchester when he said, “By the way, you know that Manchester is known for having the best potlucks around.”

 

At this point, I’m starting to get hungry just thinking about the place. I’m wondering what on earth it is that these people do that gives them this kind of reputation when it comes to their potlucks.

 

At some churches that I have worked at in the past potlucks live up to their name – the cook empties the pot, and you try your luck, not so with this group. At Manchester, potlucks were major events.

 

Men who never came to church with their wives would show up on Sundays when there was a potluck. Each one of the ladies would bring out their very best dish and I, as the pastor, was expected to try some of each dish.

 

I can still see the potluck line even now. Charlotte Hunter would make her barbeque meatballs, Kate Marie Haltom made incredible jalapeno cornbread, and Ima Rainwater always brought something made of vegetables fresh from her garden. I could go on, but you get the idea.

 

Now, I came to Manchester as their bachelor pastor and not wanting to just sponge off everyone else. I would always attempt to bring something to the potlucks as well. While my effort was always noble, my dishes never quite matched up to the final products of these cooks.

 

What I brought was never that much, but you would have thought it was something spectacular the way the women at Manchester would fuss over my cooking.

 

Even though it didn’t deserve to be on the same countertop with their made from scratch specialties these women would always make a point to taste what I had made, most often leaving me with an empty dish to bring home.

 

I, on the other hand, ate from the bounty of corning ware casserole dishes that covered the table. It was always the best meal I had eaten all month. I came with little or nothing to offer and ended up dining at a feast.

 

From reading scripture we don’t know if the Apostle Paul ever attended a potluck dinner or not, but I think we can assume that he would have liked the symbolism of what the Manchester women did for me very much so.

 

They invited me to dine with them although I had nothing to offer. I was invited to the table by virtue of their love for me.  Jesus does the same thing. He welcomes us to his table by virtue of His love for us.

 

It’s not that we have anything worth bringing that should make our place at the table possible. Anything that we have to offer is rather puny as a matter of fact. All we can really do is come and confess our need.

 

I think that was what was at the heart of Paul’s words that we find in Romans 5:6-8 which says, “6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

 

The classic French novel Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean. It has been made into a movie and an amazing Broadway musical. In the story, Valjean has been imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing bread to feed his sister’s family.

 

Valjean longs to escape his past and start over, but the world does not readily accept ex-convicts, and he faces rejection everywhere he goes. Shadowed by a police officer named Javert, Valjean is constantly reminded of his past.

 

As Valjean’s story unfolds, he knocks on the door of a bishop’s house in the middle of the night. Exhausted and starving, Valjean asks for food and is invited inside.

 

Valjean is given a place to sleep; however bitter memories of his past flood his mind, and he is unable to rest. He leaves, taking the bishop’s silver with him.

 

When Valjean is caught and brought back to the bishop, the bishop not only denies the charges but also reminds Valjean of silver that he forgot to take with him.

 

The bishop doesn’t condemn Valjean; he reminds him of his promise to become a new man. Valjean remembers that his life must begin again from this moment on.

 

Although Paul doesn’t describe us in the most flattering of terms, we were “utterly helpless”—“living against God”—“sinners” and “God’s enemies.” It reminds us that people with these qualities are exactly the kind of people for whom Jesus was willing to die.

 

Just like the bishop met Jean Valjean with grace he didn’t deserve, God meets us with grace that is better than we deserve also. It is one thing for God to love us when we are strong, obedient and willing. But when we abuse the kindness he has shown to us it is entirely a different matter altogether.

 

Did you hear the amazing truth of Romans 5:8 this morning? “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

 

-The ladies at Manchester didn’t decide to look at me and say, “When you can cook from scratch like we do you’re welcome to attend our potlucks.”

-The bishop didn’t say to Jean Valjean, “I’ll help you when you can get your act together.”

-And God doesn’t look at us and say, “I’ll die for you when you deserve it.”

 

Many of you here this morning know what it is like to carry a burden with you, a certain stigma that people try to use to define who you are or that you have allowed to form within your soul. You hear it as is it were a part of your name.

 

“Have you heard from John lately, you know the guy that recently divorced?”

 

“We got a letter from Jerry. Remember him, isn’t he an alcoholic.”

 

“Sharon is in town. What a shame that she has to raise those kids alone.”

 

“I saw Mary today. I don’t know if she can keep a job?”

 

It feels as if everywhere you go your past follows you around. Like a DVD it plays over and over again to remind you of the downfalls of your life. Maybe you even wonder if there is anyone who sees you for who you are?

 

This morning you need to know that there is one who sees you for you are and loves you all the more. When God speaks of you, He doesn’t mention your plight, pain, or problem; He invites you to share in his glory because you are His child.

 

Psalm 103:9-14 reminds us, “9 He will not constantly accuse us,

nor remain angry forever.

10 He does not punish us for all our sins;

he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.

11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him

is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12 He has removed our sins as far from us

as the east is from the west.

13 The LORD is like a father to his children,

tender and compassionate to those who fear him.

14 For he knows how weak we are;

he remembers we are only dust.”

 

During the early days of the Civil War, a Union soldier was arrested on charges of desertion. Unable to prove his innocence, he was condemned and sentenced to die a deserter’s death.

 

His appeal found its way to Abraham Lincoln’s desk. The president felt mercy for the soldier and signed a pardon. The soldier returned to the service, fought for the entirety of the war, and was killed in the last battle. Found within his breast pocket was the signed letter of the president.

 

Close to the heart of the soldier were his leader’s words of pardon. He found courage in the grace those words of his president. I wonder how many thousands more have found courage in the word of God for our lives?

 

For some of you, that might seem too good to be true. It might seem a little too much to believe that anyone would love you that way, that anyone would take such action on your behalf.

 

For some of you, even though you have found better than you deserve in the grace of Jesus Christ, you still have one more question that plagues you.

 

Even if there is someone that would love you that way, how do you know that nothing will change that love? We live in a fickle world where people toss out relationships like they were paper towels, so it makes for a valid question.

 

Paul posed the question for us in Romans 8:35. “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?” And after all isn’t that what so many people want to know:

  • How long will God’s love for me last?
  • Can I use it all up?
  • Is it possible that God is just over me and my sin?

 

Some of you have had questions like:

  • Does God love me when I haven’t been to church in weeks?
  • Does he care about me beyond the last good deed I did?
  • Does his love for me change when I got drunk out of my mind last weekend?

 

Those are the kind of questions that so many people wonder down deep in their soul.

  • How does God feel about me when I’ve been a jerk to the people that I love?
  • What does God think about me when I’ve been short and snapped back at people?
  • How does God feel about me when I’ve been totally inward focused?

 

I think there are a good many people who worry that they have possibly crossed the line of God’s grace. Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us?

 

The good news is that God answered that question for us a long, long time ago. Stepping down from His heavenly throne, He shed a robe of light for human skin.

 

Can anything make God stop loving you? Watch Him come speaking your language, sleeping on this earth and feeling your hurts.

 

You wonder how long His love will last for you. Look and you will find the answer on a wooden cross mounted on a hillside. Jesus is the one that was willing to climb that cross, to deal with your sin, to die your death.

 

If you haven’t heard any other word that I have shared with you today hear these words. Better yet, why don’t you read them with me as a way of owning this promise of God’s grace for our lives.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Romans 8:38-39