The Dawn of Redeeming Grace (Ken Pennings) 12.16.18

If we’re paying attention, we’ll see the dawn of redeeming grace in our lives over and over again, in small and large ways.

Audio version of Dawn of Redeeming Grace

Psalm 130: 1, 5-7

Out of the depths, I cry to you! I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in her word I hope;            my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with her is great power to redeem.

John 1:15-17

John (the Baptist) testified to (Jesus) and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” From God’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

On this 200th anniversary of one of the most famous Christmas Carols, Silent Night, each of your pastors is using a different line from the English translation of the German carol as a springboard for our sermons. My line comes from the third verse, “With the dawn of redeeming grace.”

Let’s sing the whole verse together.

Silent night, holy night,

Son of God, love’s pure light.

Radiant beams from Thy holy face,

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

(English Translation by John Freeman Young, 1863)

For many, the coming of Jesus was the dawn of redeeming grace. The author of John’s Gospel puts it this way: “From God’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

All kinds of good came into the world through Jesus. In the words of Luke’s Jesus, these are the good things he came to accomplish: bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Of all those important accomplishments, the one that speaks most deeply to me is receiving the Lord’s favor, receiving the full blessing of God.

When people encountered Jesus, they experienced the favor of God, the blessing of God, the love of God!

When one discovers that s(he) is truly loved, valued and favored, that is the dawn of redeeming grace!

Even before Jesus stepped into history, ancient Israel eagerly awaited the dawn of redeeming grace. In the language of Psalm 130 – “Out of the depths, we cry to you, O Lord….Our souls wait for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning. For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and great power to redeem.”

What did redeeming grace look like to Israel in the depths of their despair?

-deliverance from their enemies

-freedom from captivity

-release from blame and debt

-forgiveness for their sins

 

The word redeem has a wide range of meanings, but it’s always good news! Redemption is always a change for the better!

And redeeming grace? What is grace? “How are you, Joe?” I used to ask my friend. “Better than I deserve,” he would always reply. That’s grace! Grace is receiving better than we deserve!

A whole day of sunshine! That’s grace!

Time with family and friends! That’s grace!

Health and strength to work a day’s work! That’s grace!

A capable gifted office manager who stays with us 14 years! That’s grace!

For more than a month now, I’ve been pondering this phrase, “with the dawn of redeeming grace,” and I’ve tried to pay attention to all the many ways God’s redeeming grace dawns in my life, all the many ways my life is changed for the better, all the many ways the quality of my life is enhanced, all the many ways I receive better than I deserve!

God’s redeeming grace dawned in my life when a friend and I were able to reconcile our differences and experience a deep healing in the relationship.

God’s redeeming grace dawned in my life at Todd Lillethun’s funeral two weeks ago. Despite the sadness over losing Todd, we were all so deeply moved to hear stories of how Todd touched the lives of hundreds of people in meaningful ways. My life was changed for the better because of Todd’s life of love!

And last week on vacation, as I was sunning myself by the pool, surrounded by palm trees, I identified numerous ways God’s redeeming grace had dawned in my life since arriving in Ft. Lauderdale.

  • I did a lot of walking on vacation, and passed numerous street people. As I greeted each one, I heard the reply, “Can you spare a dollar?” Despite my standard response, “Sorry, no,” every last person responded, “Happy holidays!” At first I was indignant. As a privileged white male, I thought “Why can’t I say hello to someone without being asked for money?” But with further thought, I realized what a blessing each of these encounters was to me! When in my life had I said “No, I have no money for you,” and received a blessing in return?!
  • While on vacation, I was staying at a Days Inn. One beautiful day, I had my door wide open to let in the sun’s rays and the warm breeze. A guy appeared out of nowhere and paused in front of my door. When I struck up a conversation with him, he walked right into my room, and made himself comfortable. He lit up 3 little something-or-others claiming that he needed to smoke Vitamin B-12 for his health. Then he popped a few pills and downed an energy drink. Within seconds, he started talking complete nonsense, and I realized he wasn’t smoking Vitamin B-12. Every time I insisted he leave, he escalated and bad-mouthed me for being inhospitable. Finally, I packed up all my things in my suitcases, left the room, with him screaming, “What are you doing? Where are you going?” I went to the main office and found the manager. “I’ve made a horrible mistake. I allowed a complete stranger into my room, and now he won’t leave.” I didn’t expect any sympathy from the manager. In fact, I really expected to be chastised. After all, I had brought this problem on myself. Instead, he assured me that he would do everything he could to ensure my safety and comfort as a valued customer. He assigned me to a different room, and sent security to make sure the vagrant left the property. I sat in my new room, shaking from what had happened, and very much aware that redeeming grace had just dawned in my life.

I wrote a glowing review for the manager, of course.

  • In the course of the week, I met a 27 yr. old black man named Simon who shared with me early in our conversation, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” He told me how his Mom died of cancer when he was 8. Within a couple years, he lost his father, sister and two brothers. Not long after he was placed in a foster home, his foster father raped him. Simon broke free of the man, and though he was bleeding profusely, he ran for his life down the street. He fell into the arms of a woman who was pumping gas at a gas station, and passed out. She called for the police and an ambulance. At the hospital, Simon received 32 stitches, and eventually went to live with his auntie, who was horribly mean to him. Whenever he got in trouble at school, he remembered pleading with teachers, “Please don’t tell my auntie. She’ll beat me!” As I looked into Simon’s eyes, I saw the dawn of redeeming grace. Despite all the trouble he’s seen, he has become a kind, sensitive, loving, hard-working man, doing all he can to make the world a better place for everyone he meets.

 

Out of the depths, we cry to you, O Lord….For with You is the power to redeem!

If we’re paying attention, we’ll see the dawn of redeeming grace in our lives over and over again, in small and large ways.

But sometimes we have to wait for it!

It’s been a tough year in state and national politics. While we listen to the calls for American isolationism and the nationalist promise to “make America great again,” many of us are bewildered, confused and frustrated.

In his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Harari helped me get in touch with one of my great frustrations. Harari believes that what was lost in the last presidential election was a global vision. Most people who voted in the current administration believe in democracy, free markets, human rights and social responsibility, but they think these fine ideas can stop at the border.  Indeed, they believe that in order to preserve liberty and prosperity in Kentucky, for example, it is best to build a wall on the Mexican border, and adopt more restrictive and punitive policies towards foreigners (page 11).

May the dawn of redeeming grace come quickly to foreigners who cross US borders hoping for the basic protection of their human rights. Perhaps these people are not opportunists; but rather, people leaving desperate situations, fighting for their survival.

What would “grace upon grace” look like for these neighbors?

Here at ORUCC, we are waiting for the dawn of redeeming grace!

It’s been a tough year of transition as our leaders have stepped forward in numerous ways to create a reliable process for hiring a new senior pastor. This is all new territory for many of us, and we enter this new terrain with a bit of anxiety, fear and trepidation. It has been a time of careful deliberation, deep listening and hopeful anticipation.

What will “grace upon grace” look like for us as we become acquainted and work with a new interim pastor? What will “grace upon grace” look like as we call a new senior pastor? What will “grace upon grace” look like as we follow the leadership of someone altogether different from Winton Boyd?

If my vacation taught me anything, even in this period of transition, we will see the dawn of redeeming grace in each other’s eyes, in each other’s embrace, and in each other’s warm wishes for Happy Holidays!

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