- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently at National Presbyterian Church by the Rev. Gareth W. Icenogle:

We come to you, Lord Jesus, because we are weary. We are weary of the complexity of life, the busyness, the intensity, the pain, the frustration. We are weary of trying everything to accomplish our own agendas, and we are worn out. We ask now that your Word would speak to us, your grace would find us and that we would find you and come home.

The Protestant Church talks a lot about grace. But what is grace? Probably the right question is, who is grace? We find grace in this very simple statement from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” A God of love is the God that we worship, a God who has created us. But we know grace because God has given us the ultimate gift. It is the giving part of love that is grace, for grace is a gift. There is nothing we can do to make it happen. We cannot work hard, we cannot plan it, we cannot plead for it, we cannot sacrifice ourselves for it. It is simply a gift from God — a God who gives, a God of grace.

What is grace? It is the God who gives — a God of love who will sacrifice anything to reach us. But grace always has an expectation attached to it, and this is where often our Protestant heritage fails us. Grace is given by God so that we will have our lives changed. We will not be the same. We will turn away from patterns that reject God, and we will engage God in everyday life. Grace demands a change. We cannot earn the grace, but grace spins out from us as an earnest commitment to live out the grace for other people. When you have a gift, you are called to share a gift. This is built into our National Presbyterian Church mission statement: that we experience the grace of God, we are a ministry of grace, and we become passionate about Christ’s mission in the world.

Grace is a gift. Grace comes to us when we cannot find God on our own. God finds us. Grace gives us the freedom to choose how we will live. The prodigal son in the story is given the freedom by the father to go and blow his life. Scripture says that he lived his life in dissolution. The older brother says that he lived his life on bad women and bad economic choices. Grace allows us the freedom, gives us the gift to be able to choose the kind of life we want to live. But as we heard last week, grace also allows us to make our own mistakes. We sin, and grace is what brings us back — because when we go out on our own and do what we want to do, God does not let go of us.

My question for you today is: When in your life have you been touched by the grace of God? My sense is that every one of us, in some way, can identify a moment where God’s grace became evident to us, where we felt it, we experienced it, we sensed it. It was viscerally present. We can go back to those moments, and we can remember that was God’s grace. It is important that you do not forget those moments because those brief moments are given to you as a gift for you to remember that God’s grace is always present even though you may not feel it all of the time. Be honest with yourself: When has God touched you so deeply and personally that you will never forget that moment of grace?

We desperately need the grace of God in our lives. You may be a prodigal today and feel like you’ve distanced yourself from God. Or you may be a Pharisee today and feel that God owes you. In either case, God wants to give you grace. God wants to give you a gift that you can’t make happen on your own agenda.

Today, some of us come as elders; some of us come as prodigals. Some of us come as people who have been in the church all their lives, and some come as people who don’t have a clue about religion at all. The key thing that we all need to hear is God loves you. God has given everything to reach out to you. God has sent his Son into the world to die for you. God has given you the gift of life, if you just turn and accept it. Jesus runs to us, embraces us, meets us and kisses us. That is the ministry and message of Jesus Christ. We know that there is no greater love, no greater sign of grace than for one to lay down his life for another person, and God has laid down His life for us in Jesus Christ.

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