Faithful Together: Grace
By: Pastor Krista Ducker
Ephesians 2:1-10; From Death to Life
2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
As we conclude our Faithful Together series this morning, we take time to reflect on a gift available to all of us; a gift so outlandish and unreasonable that we often find it hard to receive. That gift is grace. Paul talks about it in verse 7 of the passage we just read together: that somehow, throughout all ages before and to come, God chooses to show is the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Somehow, that grace comes to us in such a way that it re-forms us into God’s image; the image in which, scripture tells us, we were created.
And yet, sometimes it can feel to us like this may not be quite good enough; that somehow, we need improving--like an upgraded version of the model the universe gave us.
Some of you who were around back in the 90s and 2000s might remember a fad that took over all the talk shows of the day; Oprah was perhaps best known for it. It was the “makeover” craze. Remember that? Well meaning relatives and friends of hopelessly un-stylish people would nominate them for a surprise makeover; they would be whisked away to a back room in the bowels of the studio where hair and makeup gurus would transform them into some other, shinier version of themselves. And then there would be the big REVEAL; when family and friends would ooh and ah in astonished delight at the product of all that flurry of work, and hairspray, make-up and costuming. You remember this, right?
It was easy to get caught up in the excitement as these people were fawned over and transformed. But there was also an underlying message that said; “You aren’t quite good enough as you are.” “You’re fine, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could just be a little bit better for all of us.” And we the public ate it up; all the while buying into the false message that if we could just change our outsides enough, our insides might follow suit and we could finally be the upgraded versions of ourselves we all wished we could be.
This makeover craze reached a troubling zenith in a show that aired for only two seasons in 2004, called “The Swan”; it was a play on the story “The Ugly Duckling”; a group of poor “ugly duckling” women sacrificed themselves over a period of three months to plastic surgeons, dietitians, exercise gurus and stylists in order to win the prize of becoming “The Swan.” They could not even look at themselves for the duration of the show as gradually they were voted off, until a small number achieved the honor of being paraded in a beauty contest at the end, complete with a swimsuit competition. America swiftly voted the show off the island of network TV, realizing how grotesque the premise was, but not before over 9 million people tuned in.
You know the ironic thing about all this? The Ugly Duckling is not about an ugly duckling that becomes a swan. Do you remember the story? It’s actually about a swan, who ends up hatching in a nest with a group of ducklings, spends his childhood thinking he’s just an oddball duck, only to discover that he has been a swan all along. It’s about a swan discovering who he was actually born to be--not a duck changing into something else.
How tempting it has always been for us to believe that we can improve on the original; that somehow by augmenting, or adding to, or buying more things for, our outer selves, we can get around whatever annoying or painful parts of ourselves we’d rather avoid. It is so hard to believe that we are worthy of love exactly as we are. It is so hard to accept that we can do nothing to make ourselves more or less worthy of love--that we are, exactly as we have been made--beautiful, worthy of love, and free to be who we are, as we are.
This idea, that somehow we have to change or add to ourselves to make ourselves acceptable has been with us for time immemorial. We’ve always struggled with this. Paul knew this. So Paul reminds the Ephesian church, and us, that God’s salvation comes to us as a free gift; we don’t have to do anything to earn it or deserve it.
Let’s remember together what Paul told us in the first nine verses. Paul reminds us of the message of salvation in Jesus; because of our sins, both individual and collective, we became lifeless; “dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived.” Dead to life. Dead to our true selves. “But God (Paul says), who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved.”
Paul says to us that we were dead to our true selves because of the sin that held us down--dead to the people God had intended for us to be--but through Christ, God brought us back to life--our own life--the one God intended for us to have. How do we know this? Hear again verse 10:
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
If we believe that by becoming a Christian we are somehow given a divine makeover--whisked away and tinkered with until we turn into someone more acceptable to God--then we have misunderstood the gospel. Friends, God doesn’t make us into a shiny version of someone else that God might like better. In Christ, God brings us back to our own divinely crafted, mysterious and wonderful life; a life already there for us from the foundation of the world. We are already beloved--already created to bring good into the world. We do not become someone else. Like that little swan in the children’s bedtime story, by God’s grace in Christ we become who we always have been.
Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s “workmanship”; the word for this is poiema; in Greek it is a word that means “a thing made/a work”; poiema is the product of careful, sustained, loving attention, made by a master craftsman. I think of a potter, carefully crafting a piece of clay into a vessel; each one unique and each bearing the mark of the master. A potter may make thousands of vessels; but each one is unlike any other, and all of them carry the master’s mark into the world. That’s what you and I are; we are God’s poiema--God’s masterpiece, created to do God’s good work in this world. It is what we always have been; it is what we are created to be. How in this world could anyone improve upon that?
Beloved, God has not saved us to make into someone else--God has saved us so that we can be fully ourselves. God’s grace comes to us to bring back to life what we always have been.
So hear me now; if you have ever heard a message telling you that you needed to do anything to make yourself acceptable to God--even if you heard it church-- hear this now--it’s not true. You are loved, fully and freely, exactly as you are. That is grace. It is a free gift--accept it. Accept that new life is here, waiting for you. Accept that you can discover, by God’s grace, the person you have always been. We are here to walk with you in that journey.
Give All You Can: John Wesley's Example
By: Pastor Pete Grassow
Mat 19:16 A man came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?"
Mat 19:17 Jesus said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. If you want to have eternal life, you must obey his commandments."
Mat 19:18 "Which ones?" the man asked. Jesus answered, "Do not murder. Be faithful in marriage. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others.
Mat 19:19 Respect your father and mother. And love others as much as you love yourself.11
Mat 19:20 The young man said, 'T have obeyed all of these. What else must I do?"
Mat 19:21 Jesus replied, "If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower."
Mat 19:22 When the young man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.
Mat 19:23 Jesus said to his disciples, 'Tt's terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven!
Mat 19:24 In fact, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God's kingdom."
Mat 19:25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly surprised and asked, "How can anyone ever be saved?"
I was taking a subway in New York when I saw this
graffiti: Jesus is the answer:
And someone had sprayed across it: Yes - but what is the question?
Matthew's Gospel tells a story of a man who comes to Jesus looking for an answer - and instead of giving him an answer, Jesus - in essence - says to him: I do have answers, but you need to ask a better question:
So here is the first question:
Mat 19 :16 A man came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?"
Let me pause for a moment to make sure that we understand the question:
Do we understand the words "eternal life"?
This might not be what you think. Some of us grew up with the words "everlasting life" - literally "living forever"
This is not what is being discussed here: the word in the original text is aionios, This is not just living on beyond death: 1 It carries the idea of quality as well as quantity of life.
Listen how John's Gospel explains eternal life;
Joh17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Eternal life is living a life that knows the presence God ... and the question is therefore:
what must I do to make sure that my life is blessed by the presence of God?
Which is a great question - something that is asked by every generation - what must I do to gain God's blessing. And most people come up with the same basic answer - keep the rules & pay God something
Many preachers have hammered on keeping the rules: both in Jesus times...and ever since. Religious leaders have argued about the rules - and the different churches have debated what are essential rules and what are not. Because we want God's favor we better get the rules right This what this man thought that Jesus was saying - so he said to Jesus Mat 19:20 ... "I have obeyed all of these.
But it is clear that he had been listening to Jesus teach - and that he knew that Jesus always reached behind the obvious:
1 https :/ /www.concordant.o rg/expositions/t he-eons/g reek- words-aio n-aio nios/ Th e Greek word aionios is basically the adjective form of the noun aionios.
If we were to find the closest dynamic equivalent usage in English for the word, the Greek word aionios could be pretty well expressed by the English phrase "of the ages." htt;p://orvillejenkins.com/theology/aionios.html
So he then follows up his first question with a second question:
"What else must I do?"
And Jesus answers him: "give your money away"
Now I have heard many preachers say something this - if you want God's blessing - give your money to the work of God.
And then those who wander into heresy - I have heard pastors promising that if the church would just buy the Gulfstream jet then God's blessings will flow.
Please note that Jesus is not asking for the man's money: when this man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do - Jesus tells him this: Push aside that which comes first in your life - and you will see God is standing there....
Because God has never stopped blessing you - you just have not been able to see God at work!
"Give away the thing that you trust more than God...and you will find God."
The fact is that all his wealth was given to him by God - so giving it back to God was just recognizing who owned his wealth!
And here is our lesson for today: What must we do to inherit eternal life - what must we do to be a partner with God?
Push aside the things in our lives that are more important than a relationship with God
This is tough stuff:
Because we live in a culture that does not teach us to give away wealth. We are taught to accumulate it.
We also live in a culture that teaches us to buy our way out of our problems,
so it comes naturally to think that we can also buy God's blessings in our lives.
Often I have heard this expressed as a kind of commercial transaction - give your tithe to God and God will bless you
As if God and us have a sort of contract, whereby God is obliged to make up any losses incurred while we are serving God.
The fact is that God has already blessed us with our wealth
We do not buy God's favour with our offerings - they belonged to God before we ever got our hands on them:
And when we bring our gifts - we are acknowledging that all that we have comes from God.
This is our Methodist tradition: in our hymnal....
We give thee but thine own,
whate'er the gift may be;
all that we have is thine alone,
a trust, 0 Lord, from thee.
To sum up:
Jesus says to the man who comes with the questions: you have done well - now give it all away and you will discover the presence of God. This is deep in our bones as Methodist people:
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement put it like this:
Gain all you can
Save all you can
Give all you can
In essence - Wesley is saying that if we want to live life fully aware of the presence of God: then give away the stuff God has given us. And when we do so we will see God standing there - ready to give more!
So that we can give away more.....
In the words of John Wesley: "No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in eve1y possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men!"
Today is Pledge Sunday!
I am inviting us to give all we can: pledge as a sign of thanksgiving to God for blessing us!
Give it away - and then watch God go to work in your life, and in the life of the community.
Save All You Can
By: Pastor Pete Grassow
Luke 12: 13-21
I remember the moment I first got an allowance: heard that kids in my class were given money by their parents - and went home and challenged my dad...well challenged my mom to speak to my dad. So He sat me and my sister down: and said that we would get an allowance each week...
He placed three jars in front of each of us:
"These are yours: marked: Give / Save / Spend
...Now divide your money- 10% for the Jar marked Give. 10% for the Jar marked Save, and the rest is yours.
And here's where it got weird. Because each week we faithfully divided out our money: two jars gradually filled up, but one jar always stayed empty - the one that got the 80% never seemed to stay full - and I often looked at the other two jars and thought of taking money out of them to help me get through the week.
As I watch the world around me - I see us all doing this: The fact is that we like to spend money ....and we find it very difficult to restrain ourselves!
The adverts come thick and fast:
Right now it is Halloween sales Soon it will be Black Friday sales
And the Christmas sales ....we cannot resist sales.
We never pause to ask if there is any money in the spending jar - we say to ourselves that it is a sale, and we might never have the opportunity again!
This is not new - human beings have always has trouble managing wealth: John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist movement suggests the following guidelines for managing wealth:
Earn all you can
Save all you can
Give all you can
Last week in church we spoke about the first point: "Gaining money", this week we speak about the second "Saving money". John Wesley suggests that there are ethical guidelines to both earning, and saving...... Wesley speaks of money as a God-given resource. God gives us our money and expects us to think about how we use it.
Last week I spoke about earning money in a way that pleases God: If money is gained from theft, or from unethical business practices - it is not good money.
So let us gain our money in a God-pleasing way. Then, says Wesley - let us use what we gain in a way that pleases God. This refers to the jars that my father placed in front of me: Giving, Saving and Spending. Next week I will speak about giving money to the work of God - today we reflect on saving.
Listen to a story that Jesus told:
Luk 12:15 And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
Luk 12:16 And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully,
Luk 12:17 and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'
Luk 12:18 And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
Luk 12:19 And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'"
Luk 12:20 But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'
Luk 12:21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
A man who had a bigger harvest than he expected: he wonders what to do with it: and he decides to keep it. The key question to this story is "Why?"
Why does he decide that he wants to keep the extra?
This is not about needing to survive.. he already had a barn for the annual harvest. Here is a successful farmer - he knew how much he needed to come out each year and had a barn that helped him manage his budget. And then he get extra - and he says "I am going to keep it"
So why does anyone want to gather extra stuff? And we are all guilty of this:
Why do we put stuff away in our basement or our attics or our garages?
Why do we hire extra storage and put stuff in them? The answer is not easy - some of the stuff is memories -
We have memories of our children they move away but we hang onto the memories of their childhood.
Or the memories of our parents.. they are no longer with us but having something from them keeps their memory alive.
But again - how much stuff do we need to keep their memory alive?
Let me try a more difficult question: how much wealth is enough? How big must the barn be before we say to ourselves - it is big enough.
Jesus tells a story of a man who was not satisfied with what he had
- and wanted more.
Tis is the American way - "get more" is the mantra
You might be familiar with the saying: You can never be too rich or too thin.
Well Jesus disagrees: He does not discourage saving - but tells a parable that speaks against the accumulation of wealth for wealth's sake.
I suggest our savings reflect our willingness to trust God.
Jesus seems to be saying - save enough to be able to sow again the next year - but building a bigger barn just to hang onto more wealth shows a lack of trust in God.
If God has helped you through the years up to now - why would God suddenly abandon you - leaving you to make your own plans for survival.
By all means have a barn to store your things - but do not think of increasing it as if God is not with you.
Let me illustrate this with a story from the life of John Wesley:
In 1731 John Wesley began think about what he needed for life - and what was not necessary to keep:
In the first year his income was 30 pounds. He found he could live on 28 and so gave away two. In the second year his income doubled but he held his expenses even, and so he had 32 pounds to give away. In the third year his income jumped to 90 pounds and he gave away 62 pounds.
Now it is difficult to compare with our time, because of different rates of inflation - but the point is that John Wesley did not build bigger barns as his income increased: he budgeted for his needs - and gave the rest away.
When he died in 1791 at the age of 87 it was thought that he had earned 30 000 pounds from his published books - but the only money mentioned in his will was the coins to be found in his pockets and dresser. Most of the wealth he had earned in his life had been given away.
"Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?"
- John Wesley
Conclusion: I want to invite us to trust God with our money -
Earn it honorably: let the way we earn our money give honor to the Lord.
Save enough to live honorably.
And pray that God will help you discover why you have extra money:
►Sometimes it is God's way of saying "Be blessed and have some fun"
►Sometimes it is God's way of saying "Bless someone else so that they can have some joy"
►And sometimes it is so that you can help our church in our mission to bless the people of Brookings: next week we will ask you to think about your pledge for 2022....pray about this!
Gain All You Can
By Pastor Pete Grassow
Genesis 1:26-29 /Matthew 25:14-30
26 Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”
27 God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,[a]
male and female God created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food.
play to 1:23.
I work all night, I work all day to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain't it sad?
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me
That's too bad
…..Money, money, money
In the rich man's world
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
The ongoing problem of life – we could do with a little more money! Not new – the founder of the Methodist Movement – John Wesley – preached about money And he did so because Jesus preached about money – a lot! So we will spend the month of October thinking about money….. using the stories of Jesus and the theology of John Wesley.
John Wesley tells Methodist people this about money:
Gain all you can
Save all you can
Give all you can
Will spread this over the next three weeks. (There is a booklet available that gives more about John Wesley, his history & his teaching)
Today’s is: “Earn as much as you can………”
Which is really a no-brainer – Imagine if you applied for a job and when you discussed your salary you said – pay me a little as you can: of course I want to earn as much as I can! Listen to a story that Jesus told:
Parable of the valuable coins (Matthew 25)
14 “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. 15 To one he gave five valuable coins,[a] and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey. 16 “After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. 19 “Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’ 22 “The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’ 24 “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. 25 So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! …..(CEB)
Jesus says: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who takes what he has been given and works hard to multiply it. ”
John Wesley says to good Methodists “Gain all you can”.
This is the culture we live in …. Advertising, social media influencers and our employers all persuade us that growing our wealth, and getting more stuff, is the sign of a successful life.
And there are many, many Christian preachers who preach this: I have heard preachers say that getting rich is a sign of God’s blessing.
I recently saw a YouTube video where a pastor bragged that he was a multimillionaire with a Lear jet parked outside. And I find myself disappointed with Jesus – and John Wesley – and with all the pastors who collect wealth. Surely there is more to our existence than “collecting yet more stuff”
And the answer is ……Yes – of course there is! Jesus and John Wesley do not suggest that we should be gathering stuff as a sign of success…..they both speak about giving away everything we manage to accumulate! We will come back to this over the next few weeks.
For today – we ask questions about the way we gather wealth. Jesus says that there is a morality attached to gathering wealth:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them”
Jesus tells a story – but as always there is an underlying moral. Here is Jesus saying that just like the man who handed over his possessions to his servants – the Creator of the World has handed us this world. We do not own the world we live in: we are stewards of God’s world.
Reminded of a story:
Three boys in the schoolyard bragging about their fathers:
“My Dad’s a doctor, and he is so good that that he gets paid in 100 dollar bills”
“My Dad’s a lawyer, and he is so good that he gets many expensive gifts.
The pastor’s kid does not want to be outdone so he rushes in “My dad’s a Pastor and he is good for nothing”.
The culture we live in wants to rank people in terms of wealth: the more wealth – the more important you are, and conversely the poorer you are the less you matter.
2. We Represent God in our work
The passage we read earlier says that we were made partners with the Creator.
Genesis 1:28: Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground
We represent God in our work in this world. God will ask us what we have done with what we are given. It will be really tough if one day when our Creator asks what we did with the things we were given – if we said – well I did nothing! I buried it.
3. The Money we earn is to be God’s blessing John Wesley thought about the way Jesus taught on Money – and adds a further teaching: Wesley said that Methodists must not earn money at the expense of our conscience. He noted that there are many different ways of earning money – and some involve unethical business practices. Wesley believed the Methodists must earn all they can by what he called “honest industry”…... (And he included cheating on taxes in those activities that are harmful to our souls). If we are the reflection of the image of God in our world, then we need to work in the same way that God did: our work should be a blessing for all people. And when people look at what we have done, then we should hear an echo of the words in Genesis: they should say that the work we do is very good.
Methodist people built a reputation for the excellence of their work, and found themselves in demand for employment. I am challenging us to do the same today.
Use the gifts that God has given you. Work hard and earn as much as you can. But work in a way that shows that you are a partner with God – be ethical with your clients, and loving with your colleagues. Wesley saw work not just as a means of income, but also as a witness to our Christian faith: “If these profit the souls of men, you are clear; your employment is good, and your gain innocent”.