Wind Chimes on the Porch: A Lesson in Grace

Grace.

Answering Morgan’s question: “What are some ‘churchy’ words you have heard of only at church?” the confirmation class offered dozens of words before coming up with this one – grace.  Morgan circled that word and erased all the others. 

Confirmation at Munholland is offered for 6th grade and up.  Most are in middle school.  Teaching this age is challenging, but Morgan keeps it innovative, interactive and lively.  

Next she played “Amazing Grace” on her iPhone as we listened with eyes closed.  Her question: “What did you notice in the lyrics?” 

Answers included: Blindness; Amazing; Saving; Lost becomes Found; Sweet Sound – “what was the sound?”

The confirmation lesson was about grace and the teaching of John Wesley.  A confusing and potentially boring topic.  But not with Morgan.  First she made clear that while John Wesley started the Methodist Church, he is not the one we worship.  Jesus Christ is the head of our church as he is head of all Christian churches.  

Morgan described Wesley’s three types of grace using the house analogy.  

  1. Prevenient Grace is God’s favor on us before we even know we need it.  It is precious and unrequested, like a parent providing for an infant who cannot yet speak.  
  2. Justifying Grace is God’s favor through Jesus’ work on the cross, and is ours when we accept God’s forgiveness and make Jesus our Lord and Savior.  
  3. Sanctifying Grace is God’s guidance and favor as we seek to “hit the target” of pleasing God through our words and actions.  

It’s like a house, she said.  We are covered by God’s grace – prevenient grace- when we are outside, on the porch. When we choose to go through the door – the one and only doorway, through Jesus – we are justified, reconciled to God in a way we could never achieve on our own.  And once inside, saved, we have God’s sanctifying grace helping us to please God more and more with our lives. 

Grace is for everyone, in one of these forms.  God loves us all, deserving or not.  

That would have been enough of a lesson for most teachers for one day, and a great message for Easter Sunday.  But Morgan went on to teach the essence of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  

What’s that, you ask?  Most adults don’t know what that is.  I didn’t understand it until I took a course at Asbury Seminary.  It describes the guiding principles of the Methodist denomination in a graphic way.  Each of the Quadrilateral’s four sides contributes to the living theology of the Methodist Church.  So in a United Methodist confirmation class, it gives kids an idea of what makes our denomination distinct from others.  

  • Scripture is one side:  2Timothy 3:16 says all scripture is ‘God-breathed.’  
  • Reason is another:  We don’t check our brains at the door and we use science appropriately to understand our world.  
  • Tradition is another side: We appreciate the history of the church and keep its tradition in healthy balance with the other principles.  
  • Experience is the final side:  It helps the church learn from its mistakes and remain alert to God’s leading and inclusiveness. 

Cool.  Maybe that is too geometric and flat to be remembered by 6th graders.  So Morgan gave us another way to see the same idea.  She said it is like a wind chime.  The Bible is the circle that holds the chimes together at the top.  Reason, Tradition and Experience are three chimes hanging from it.  But a wind chime make no sound without wind.  Wind is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  So the Holy Spirit blows through the Wesleyan Wind Chimes, creating a sweet sound.  Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound….

It was a lot to absorb for those kids.  I was ‘on the porch’ until I was 29 years old.  And no one told me about why Methodists are the way they are. As these young people make the choice to be confirmed in the Methodist Church, I pray that they truly understand that grace is amazing.  The Christian faith asks us to accept God’s love through Jesus.  The rest will come as they step through the door of the house and hear the sweet sound of the Holy Spirit making music in the church.  

Amazing Grace: How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see. 

“Where Are You?”

The first thing God said after Adam and Eve took some of the forbidden fruit:  “Where are you?”

He went looking for them.  They were hiding.  Everything had been cool between them and God for who knows how long.  Could have been years, or millions of years.  But they did the one thing.  They weren’t totally satisfied with the garden and each other and a great, Almighty type of friend.  They were tempted and they ate the fruit because it looked good and might make them smarter.

God could have killed them and started over.  But he went looking for them.  “Where are you?”

In confirmation class a couple of weeks ago, we covered this part of the Bible.  Morgan pointed out how kind and loving it was for God not to destroy them, but to simply banish them from the garden and give them some weeds and pain to deal with that would make life a little harder.

Yes, they still had to work the earth for food, but there would be thorns.  And now childbirth would be painful.  And the snake would have to eat dust.  But God would still work with them.

Fast forward.

Morgan took us to John’s gospel and Romans. John 3 and Romans 3 and Romans 5 and Romans 8. Here’s what she showed us.

John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

God sent Jesus to earth, not to destroy it, or condemn it, but to save it.  And this was a big deal, since Jesus had it pretty good up in heaven.  It was kind of like the Garden of Eden, only better.  So to come down to save us, that was just another extension of God wanted to find us, like when he called out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”

Romans 3:23-24 “… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;  they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…”

And everyone is in the same boat. But with Jesus, we get grace as a free gift.

Romans 5: 6-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Morgan explained how in the Old Testament, the laws were given that a perfect animal had to be killed on the altar to atone for sins.  But then Jesus died on the cross, and he was more perfect than any animal.

Romans 8: 1-9 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,he condemned sin in the flesh,  so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

 

1 Peter 2: 24 says:  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.””

Then Morgan used a really big word: meta-narrative.  I don’t think many middle schoolers have ever heard that word.  But she told us how it is a term for the “over-arching story” which is bigger than all the little twists and turns of the narrative.  The Bible has a big over-arching story of God seeking out humans for close relationship.  It runs all the way through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

You might call it Grace.

I can’t stop thinking about God, who knows everything, calling out: “Where are you?” after Adam and Eve had sinned.  Just like every parent of a small child (or even an adult child) wants first to know, “Where are you?” not, “What have you done?”  The relationship is worth more than anything.

Sin injures the relationship.  But God always wants to heal it.  He always goes hunting for us.

Recently the world has been searching for a missing airplane.  After 24 days, nothing has been found. But we keep looking. We want to find it.  Think how much more God wants to find us.

He calls, “Where are you?”

 

In The Beginning….

Confirmation class began today at our church.  Where do they begin?  In the beginning, of course.  Genesis.  The Creation.

I listened as two groups examined the sequence of events in each of the two creation stories and then compared them.  Yes, two stories.  In the first, we read the seven day story, which basically starts like a big puddle and ends up on the sixth day with the creation of all the land animals and humans.  In the second, everything starts out dry and clay-like, and the order of things is different.

Why two stories?  Did God want to give everyone a choice of what to believe?  Was the author (most likely Moses) unsure which story was correct?  Did God tell him to include both stories?  If so, why?  It’s a good question.  A lot of people get worked up about the details of the Biblical creation story.  And most don’t even recall there are two rather different accounts.  Could it be that the details don’t really matter?  Bottom line: God created.

Our youth director, teaching this class, pointed out a couple of other things we can learn from the creation accounts besides what was created when and in how much time.  These other things are more important than bickering about the details.

First, after each portion of God’s creation, God declared that it was good. I would agree.  The sky this evening was just beautiful, and the birds in Audubon Park were squawking with delight.  Dogs, children, and young people were soaking up the lovely spring weather with pure pleasure. God’s creation is good.  But after God created humans he declared it VERY good.  Morgan reminded those kids in confirmation that no matter what great and beautiful things they have seen in God’s creation – God called them good.  But the face they see in the mirror is God’s VERY good creation.  Even better than oceans, mountains, sunsets, and stars.  That’s important.

Second, God refers to God’s self as WE.  “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness….” (Genesis 1:26)  This of course refers to the Trinity, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  There is so much to think about in that statement.  For one thing, if God is a creator, then made in his likeness we have creativity as well. But another thing is the three-way community of God.  God did not create all by God’s self.  He was accompanied by a Spirit and Jesus.  They worked together.  They co-authored, they collaborated.  When we are living up to the image of God, we  work together in community, too.  That is important. It helps to remember that everyone, even the difficult people in our lives, is made in God’s image and God calls them VERY good.

I am honored to participate in this year’s confirmation class.  I look forward to reconfirming my faith right along with the young people.  Can’t wait for next week’s class.