Saturday, September 14, 2013

A DISCIPLES PATH --- A Long Obedience In The Same Direction

September 8
A Long Obedience In The Same Direction
Luke 10:25-28

Luke 10:25-28   (NRSV)
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

This morning we are beginning a journey together. 
Where this journey takes you, is really up to you.

There is that great moment in Alice in Wonderland when Alice is have a conversation with the Cheshire Cat.
          Alice has come to a fork in the road and she asks:
          “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
          The Cheshire Cat replies:
          “That depends a good deal on where you want to go”
          Alice says:
                   “I don’t care much where.”
          To which the Cheshire Cat wisely replies:
                   “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

We have gathered here this morning because we have all heard Jesus say to us:
          “Follow me!”
And I truly believe we really want to follow Jesus, but we are kind of like Alice and not sure where we want to go, or Thomas who said to Jesus:
“Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” (John 14:6 The Message)

I am sure you are like me --- we want to know
·         Where this path is taking us?
·         What is the destination?
·         How do we get from here (where we are right now) to what God wants us to be?

In our scripture this morning, Jesus has spelled out pretty clearly what the destination is ---- and that is DISCIPLESHIP

Luke 10:25-28   (The Message)
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

If you remember the sermon series I preached during Lent ---- the destination of every follower of Jesus --- of every Disciple of Jesus is to live the Jesus Creed.
Hear O Israel
The Lord Our God, the Lord is One
And you shall love the Lord your God
With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these

John Wesley --- the founder of the Methodist movement would use the term Christian Perfection to describe the goal of all Christians.  For Wesley --- Christian Perfection described a life that was completely aligned with the love of God.

If you are not sure what this looks like --- pick up my sermon series from Lent but to sum it up is quite simple.


That is the goal --- that is the destination of Christians.

And here at Ridge Church we strive to help you do that by being your coach along the journey.

I took the title of one of my favorite devotional books to use as the title of the sermon this morning.  Eugene Peterson in turn had taken that title from Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote:
The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is . . . that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there . . . has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

We all want shortcuts --- but there are no shortcuts on the path to Christian Perfection.  There are no shortcuts --- on the path to discipleship.

A disciple literally means someone who is apprenticed to their master.

We are called to be in a growing-learning relationship with our master --- Jesus --- ALWAYS!

Ben and I are not here to be your tour guide and point out to you interesting facts and curiosities about our faith.

The role of the Pastor --- the role of the staff here at Ridge Church is to be your Cheerleaders --- your coach ---- your fellow travelers on this journey of becoming better Disciples of Jesus.

But the key to the journey
          The key to becoming a Disciple of Jesus is: GRACE

Grace --- Amazing Grace is what makes it possible.

The concept of GRACE was critical to John Wesley’s understanding of God
          But what do we mean when we talk about Grace? 
          What is Grace?

If you were to look up the word in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, they define grace as:
unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification

Well that wasn’t much help --- was it?

James Harnish, author of the material that this study and sermon series is based on defines grace this way:

Grace is the undeserved, unearned, unrepayable gift of the God who loves us enough to meet us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.  Grace is the love of God at work within us to transform each of our lives into a unique expression of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, so that we become participants in God’s transformation of the world.

In the United Methodist Tradition, we often talk about GRACE that takes three different forms, or has three different aspects to it. 

I want to spend just a few moments trying to explain these three kinds of grace to you.


In a nutshell, you could describe this as the love that goes before.

A better, more modern term might be preparing grace. 
Prevenient grace refers to the love of God that is active in our lives prior to our response.

Prevenient grace is the love of God that seeks us before we even seek God.  This grace is active in everyone --- whether they know it, or even acknowledge it.

We can find this preparing grace evident throughout the Bible
·         It's the creative love that searched for Adam and Eve when, in their rebellion and sin, they tried to hide in the garden.
·         It's the undeserved love of the God who "proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
·         It's the unearned love that left John saying: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10)
·         It's that seeking love that Jesus described as a shepherd who searches for one lost sheep or a woman who turns her house inside out looking for one lost coin.
·         It's the hound of heaven that many of us have felt restlessly pursuing us as we have attempted to run away from God.

Prevenient Grace or preparing grace is what we celebrate when we baptize an infant.

People have said to me "Children can't make the choice --- they don't understand what is happening."
          That's the whole point!

Long before we are aware of it, long before we stand up and commit ourselves to Jesus --- God already loves us!  God has searched us out, God has tracked us down ---- while we were still sinners, God chose us!

Any love that we have for God --- for Jesus --- is because God loves us first!

Do you remember Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman?

Willy Loman's life is consumed by a fantasy
A fantasy that if he could make that one big deal --- then his son (Biff) would love and accept him.
As the play comes close to a conclusion, Willy suddenly has this revelation that his son might just love him after all.
Willy is in a kind of shock and in bewilderment he says to his wife:
          "Isn't that --- isn't that remarkable?  Biff --- he likes me!"
His wife responds:
          "He loves you, Willy!"
And, Biffs' younger brother adds:
          "Always did, Pop."

God loves us --- ALWAYS, even before we knew it!  That's Prevenient grace

A second kind of grace that we often talk about is JUSTIFYING GRACE.

This could be described as the love that makes things right!

Justified is kind of hard to describe, but the most common way, that I know of, is one that anybody who is familiar with a computer will understand. 

In your word processor is an icon that will "justify" the type to fit evenly within the margins on both sides of the screen.

To "justify" text is to realign the words and letters in every line so that they are in right relationship with each other and with the page on which they appear.

Because our lives can be out of alignment with God, justifying grace is God's love in Jesus that brings us back into a right relationship with God and with each other.

Even though we really don't want to believe it, the reality is we are all infected by sin. 

Paul points this out quite clearly in the letter to the Romans: (2:1; 3:22-23)
You have no excuse, whoever you are, . . . For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Not sure you believe me? 

Ask yourself these questions:
·         Have you arrived at a life that is fully centered in Jesus?
·         Is every inch of your life in perfect alignment with God's love?
·         Do you love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength?          No reservations, no compromises ---- no hidden agendas?
·         Do we love others the way that we love ourselves ---- much less the way that we have been loved by God?

The truth is, our lives show plenty of evidence that we are out of alignment with God's love ---- we need to be Justified!  We need things to be made right!

Paul reminds us that there is indeed good news!
Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand . . . . God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. . . . For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. . . . Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the middle of the mess that we have made of things ---- God comes to us.  God restores us to a new and right relationship with God and with others.

Do you know what we call this, when this reconciliation happens?  CONVERSION

And there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve it.  This is God's gift to each of us --- restoring our lives into the relationship that they were meant to be! 

God makes all things right!

The invitation to each of us is to acknowledge just how much we need to be justified and to receive the grace that only God can give.

The final form of grace that we often talk about is SANCTIFYING GRACE.

Again, very briefly, this can be described as the love that just won't quit.

We have seen how God's love goes before us ---- Prevenient Grace
How God's love makes things right ---- Justifying Grace
We also need to recognize that God's love NEVER QUITS! 
          God's love sustains us and perfects us in love!

Twenty-five years ago, when I stood in front of the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church ---- Bishop Leroy Hodapp asked each of the candidates for ordination a rather intriguing question.

It is the same question that has been asked of every Methodist Pastor since John Wesley first asked it to his traveling pastors:
          Are you going on to perfection?

How would YOU answer that question?

But notice the question is not --- have you arrived at perfection --- but rather are you moving toward perfection. 
          Are you moving toward a Jesus centered life?

Christian perfection is the process of being made perfect in love
It is about setting our minds in the direction of a life that is perfectly, completely, fully centered in the love of God in Jesus

And that begs a question of us:
·         Why would we settle for anything less than that kind of perfection
·         Why would we stop somewhere along the way and say: "This is good enough" before we achieve the goal of perfection
·         If we aren't going on to perfection --- then where do you think you are headed toward?

James Harnish tells a great story about a farmer in a church that he served.
One day Harnish asked him how he was doing?
His answer is enlightening for us all
"Well preacher," he said, "I'm not the man I used to be, and I'm not yet the man I hope to be, but I'm more the man I'd like to be that I've ever been before."

That's what sanctification --- sanctifying grace is all about!

After Bishop Hodapp asked that first question: "Are you Going on to Perfection?' he followed it up with two more questions that came from John Wesley.

First, "Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
In other words to you expect God's grace to make a tangible difference in the way that you live

Do you expect to become a more loving, a more Christ like person tomorrow than you are today?

And then he asked: "Are you earnestly seeking after it?"
Are we willing to do what is necessary to actually seek after perfection?

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is trying to teach his disciples about what it means to be a Disciple.  He tells them all kinds of parables and then he turns to them and says:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)

Jesus is asking you the same question!

Are you willing to do the things that are necessary to help you move on to perfection?

It is one thing to say that we want to be centered on Jesus --- but it is something else to actual practice the spiritual disciplines that will help get us there.

Last year I ran the Chicago Marathon --- do you think I just woke up one morning and said I want to run a marathon? 

In order to run a marathon it takes a huge amount of discipline
·         Change eating habits
·         get up at 5 each morning to run

The same is true if we want to become a disciple of Jesus

It takes a lot of work and discipline

In our membership vows we promise to commit ourselves to
o   Prayers
o   Presence --- worship
o   gifts ---- generosity
o   service --- helping others
o   witness --- letting others see Jesus in us

Over the next 5 weeks we are going to look seriously at these vows and the disciplines they require.  But not only here during the sermon, we will continue the discussion on Wednesday night and in our Adult Sunday Study group.

We will be using a workbook from James Harnish called A DISCIPLES PATH. We have copies that you can have for $10 or you can order it yourself.

Why do you call Jesus Lord, and yet not do what he asks?

Come and join us and find out what it is Jesus is asking when he invites us to become a follower of his!

          Alice has come to a fork in the road and she asks:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
          The Cheshire Cat replies:

“That depends a good deal on where you want to go”

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