Saturday, May 4, 2013

Making Jesus’ grace relevant

 Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10, 22—22:5; John 14:23-29

Last week, Deacons John and Diane and I attended the Synod Assembly. The theme for the assembly was “Always being made new.”  Most of the speakers mentioned change, and the challenge of reaching new people with God’s love and grace.
The main event of the assembly was the election of a new bishop, Bob Schaefer. I have always been impressed with his pastoral manner, and I believe he will be a great bishop. It will be interesting to discover how he will make many things new in the synod.
Along the way to the election of the new bishop, there was some mention of the data which shows the ELCA is losing members, as are many denominations. In my reading and listening lately, there is a lot of discussion about the “nones”, the people who claim no religious affiliation. They may have their own version of who God is, or they may totally discount the existence of God. For them, participation in organized religion is unnecessary, irrelevant.
There was not the time to focus on what it takes to make Jesus relevant, except for this: the three bishop candidates were all asked this question. “What is unique about Lutheranism?” All three responded with this word, “Grace.”
My guess is that most of those who have no religious affiliation also have no understanding of what grace means. It is the one thing we have to share that is relevant to all people of all times and all places. The challenge is: how do we make grace relevant for them?
In seminary, students quickly learn that Lutheranism is about grace; we are taught or reminded that we are “justified by grace through faith for the sake of Christ apart from works.” But, most people don’t understand most of the words or concepts in that sentence.
So, I say instead, “Grace means: there is nothing you can do to make God love you more. And there is nothing you can do to make God love you less. God may not like what you do, but like a good parent, the love doesn’t end because of what you have done.”
This statement is not hard to understand. It may be hard to believe, but it’s not hard to understand. What can Hope do to share that simple statement with the folks in our neighborhood who have no religious affiliation? How can we reach them with God’s love and God’s grace? It may help us to look at how the people in the Bible did it.
… As Jesus prepares the disciples for life and ministry after his death, he uses the word peace. This is not a lack-of-war kind of peace. It’s not a silence kind of peace. This is the peace of mind and heart that comes from trusting in God’s grace. When we are not worried about doing the right thing, according to the rules, in order to please God, we have peace. Trusting in God’s grace brings us peace. This peace is relevant to all people, even those who don’t know much about Jesus.
… Paul, Silas and Timothy began by approaching Jewish people, and then reached out to everyone in the community. Their passion for Jesus was contagious, and soon they had a house church in Philippi, at the home of Lydia. She seems to have been a Gentile woman who valued the teachings of Judaism, but had not become a Jew. When she heard what Paul and his friends had to say, she became a passionate believer in Jesus. There were other women there, but the Spirit worked in Lydia’s heart, she responded, and it changed her life. What was it that Paul said to her? Probably, knowing Paul as we do, he told her about God’s grace.
… At the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, Rome was the most powerful political empire on earth, and the worship of statues of the emperor was the religion of the day. The early Christians had to find ways to make Jesus relevant; they told people about God’s love and grace, which was a strong contrast to the forced worship of the emperor. In the sharing of the stories of Jesus, the church grew and grew and grew. The church grew in spite of persecutions and ridicule, because God’s grace was relevant to the people.
The vision shared by John of Patmos gives hope to the people of his time and ours. The restoration of the garden, with its life-giving trees and rivers offers us a sense of peace based on God’s grace and love. There is so much life, love, and grace in the trees, the leaves heal the people of all nations.
What can we do as individuals and as a congregation to be the leaves of peace and grace and healing for the people in our neighborhood? What can we do to make Jesus relevant to them?
It’s important that we have worship that suits the people who are here now. It’s important that we have activities and ministries that have meaning for the people who are here now. It’s important that we learn and are reminded about God’s love and grace.
It’s also vital for the future of the congregation that we search out ways to worship that suit at least some of the people who are not here yet. It’s vital to discover activities and ministries that have meaning for the people who are not here yet. It’s vital that we explore what we can do to make Jesus relevant in the hearts of those who do not yet know about his love and grace and peace.
As a congregation, we have been trying some different styles of worship, some different activities and ministries.  We may not all like everything we are doing, but it is for the purpose of reaching more people with the love and grace of Jesus. That is what we are all called, gathered, and sent to do.
Here’s your challenge for the week. I invite you to consider these questions: What is it that makes Jesus relevant to you?
… I know that some of your children and grandchildren are involved in a church. God’s grace is very relevant to them. I also know that many of your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are not involved in a church.
So, here is something else to consider. What are you willing to do so that our children know that Jesus is relevant to them? What are you willing to do to make sure our children know the value of worshiping, fellowshipping, and serving Jesus together with other believers?
Please pray with me. Lord, you shared your very self with us to teach us about your grace. We know how relevant you are to us. Guide us in sharing your grace with those who don’t know you and your love for them. Amen