• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Not Your Own Doing

Grace-Full, Leaving the Easter Life - a 6 week Easter season sermon series from Ephesians

Week 2 of 6, preached April 18, 2021, for the 9:30 am Worship


Context

Its still Easter! Easter is not just a Sunday but a season that goes from the first Easter Sunday all the way to Pentecost. At the Easter sunrise worship, Caitlan noted how Jesus came among us, showed us how to live, died, and then rose again. Then, Caitlan asked, So what? How does the resurrection of Jesus change us?


For this 6-week Easter season, we are calling our sermon series, “Grace-Full, Living the Easter life.” Caitlan and I are preaching from the six chapters of Ephesians, and hoping it will help us recognize God’s grace, and go into the world living grace-filled Easter lives.

Let’s pray and listen for the word of the Lord from…


Pray


Scripture Ephesians 2:1-10

2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.


4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which God loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ[a]—(that’s why we say) by grace you have been saved— 6 and (God) raised us up with Christ and seated us with God in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come God might show the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.


8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 (it is) not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.


Sermon

Have you ever heard of the company Hammacher Schlemmer? They specialize in off-the-wall, one-of-a-kind, life pampering, luxurious gifts. Almost everything is either really cool or really strange, or maybe both, like they have a fish agility training kit, a little goal, and a little soccer ball to help you teach your goldfish or how to play soccer. In facemasks for the COVID season, they had options like weatherproof, skin rejuvenating, antibacterial, or lightshow, made from fiber optic cloth with LEDs and lets you change the color of your mask, or set it to random, so you can have an illuminated kaleidoscope on your face. Their company slogan… “guaranteeing the best, the only, and the unexpected for 173 years.”


I think Hammacher Schlemmer has tapped into something here. The most memorable gifts are often the ones we least expect. You’re unwrapping something shaped like a book to discover it's actually a box of Titleist golf balls! You open a birthday card and find out it’s from the person you accidentally hurt with that flippant comment and never apologized to. Or it isn’t Valentine's or an anniversary, but there he stands with flowers and take-out. The unexpected gifts seem to make the biggest impression on us.


That impression, appreciation of an unexpected gift, is what it feels like with Christ. When religious folk are at our best, we get that, we remember that. We walk through life amazed at the beauty and the blessings. We find unexpected, undeserved gifts all over the place, in our homes, in our friends and families, in our churches and communities. We notice and feel grateful for our very breath, a gift given to us, one we didn’t deserve, yet we go to inhale, and there it is. To know Christ as an unexpected gift inspires joy, wanting to say thank you to the great loving creator who is so generous with God’s amazing grace. A grace-full Easter life is that kind of life. But, most of us, if we are honest, slip in and out of that space, We probably spend just as much time if not more out of that Easter life than in it.


In her 2019 book, Gratitude, The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, Diana Butler Bass writes, “Gratitude is, however, more than just an emotion. It is also a disposition that can be chosen and cultivated, an outlook toward life that manifests itself in actions—it is an ethic.”… “Gratitude is not a psychological or political panacea, like a secular prosperity gospel, one that denies pain or overlooks injustice, because being grateful does not “fix” anything. Pain, suffering, and injustice—these things are all real. They do not go away. Gratitude, however, invalidates the false narrative that these things are the sum total of human existence, that despair is the last word. Gratitude gives us a new story. It opens our eyes to see that every life is, in unique and dignified ways, graced: the lives of the poor, the castoffs, the sick, the jailed, the exiles, the abused, the forgotten as well as those in more comfortable physical circumstances. Your life. My life. We all share in the ultimate gift—life itself. Together. Right now.”


The only one who was ever fully truly human lived a life of gratitude. Gratitude is the faithful response to the unexpected gift of grace in every moment, every day, every person. But there are days when we forget to be grateful. There are days, even seasons when we struggle to recognize the presence of grace in our lives at all. This letter to the church in Ephesus is attempting to remind friends and family of what it feels like when we live a grace-full Easter life. We become aware of the unexpected gifts around us and are grateful.


This chapter of Ephesians looks backward for a minute. There was a time, it says, when we were as good as dead through the trespasses and sins in which we once lived. We were following the course of the world. We were following other spirits, instead of Holy Spirit. Life lived that way is one of material expectations, selfish wants, greedy desires… expectations of the world. If we see it, we want it. If we have it, we want to keep it, and we want more of it. If they have it, we want to take it away. If we can’t have it, or have more of it, or can’t get it away from them, we get angry and pitch a fit like a spoiled child. We were, by nature, children of wrath, born into this problem, this condition, just like everyone else.


Then this chapter of Ephesians looks around. But God is rich in mercy. God has so much mercy that no matter how abundantly God shares it, God will never run out. And God loves us, US, the odd little critters who make mistakes, and hurt each other, and start wars, and hoard things, and get jealous, and get angry, and lie, and accuse, and sue, and gossip. Even when we are dead through our sin and sinfulness, God mercifully and lovingly makes us alive, together, in Christ. The world flips. What once looked doomed, shines with blessings. What before seemed lost, now seems reborn. It is like we had been blind all our lives, had been seeing a lie, hearing a darkness. Suddenly, we see and hear Easter life the way God has meant for us to, grace-filled, the way God sees it. Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it amazing?


When things shift like that, it's very natural to feel disoriented, to pause and ask, How can this be? Where did this come from? Why? This chapter of Ephesians responds by looking forward. Just appreciate this moment, this rebirth. It is an unexpected gift. By God’s grace alone, you have been saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. By God’s grace alone, you get to continue the journey in a new way. In Christ Jesus, you are being turned, being raised up closer and closer to God. At some point, in the future, we will fully arrive, together, and will be flooded with this holy perspective, and never again slip back into fears, wars, greed, fights, angers, abuse, insults, racism, debts, trespasses, sins. At some point, we will look around and see the immeasurable riches of God’s grace, God’s kindness in Christ Jesus, everywhere we look, upon everyone we see.


Notice, even faith itself is not our own, our own doing or choosing or work. The seed of faith was planted inside us by God before we were even born. The faith that saves is not ours, but a gift itself, a gift from God, the faithfulness of Jesus the Christ, and even faith is another gift of God’s grace. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it with our works or words. When religious people depend on our own faith, we ruin it. Church folk often turn faith, belief into yet another reason to divide, fight, argue, or brag. The faith that flips the world over and frees us from seeing everything through the eyes of worry or fear, that faith is of God, from God, God’s faith in humanity, Christ’s faithfulness for all creation. That’s the faith given as a gift of God, exemplified in Christ Jesus, and inspired by Holy Spirit to push us toward gratitude and good works for the fulfillment of God’s coming kingdom.


John was born in London in 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship… (at 19) John was drafted into military service, deserted (due to intolerable conditions) was recaptured, publicly flogged, and demoted. At his own request, he was moved to service on a slave trade ship and was brutally abused there. His mother had died when he was a child, and he had long since given up any religious convictions.


However, one night, on a homeward voyage, while attempting to steer a ship through a violent storm, he experienced what he called a “great deliverance.” When all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Later in reflection, he began to believe God had addressed him, that grace had been with him.


After that, he immersed himself in self-education, learning, and eventually, was ordained into the ministry. He led church services, and began weekly prayer meetings, for which his goal was to write a new hymn for each one…. One of which was titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation,” which we now know as….Amazing Grace![1]


That gift of faith had been in and with John all along. John had lived as if it hadn’t. He didn’t know it was even there. But one day, he became aware of it, inside him, not by any action or word or choice of his own, mind you. But he discovered it inside him, like an unexpected gift, and he spent the rest of his life pointing toward that same gift in others, with a sense of gratitude toward God for it, and joy whenever someone else noticed it already inside them too.


May we find ourselves awed at God’s grace-full gift of faith, and may we spend the rest of our lives letting that gift call us to change the world for the better, and saying thank you to the one who gives it.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.


Benediction

Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown

[1] “Amazing Grace: The Story of John Newton” by Al Rogers (This article is reprinted from the July-August 1996 issue of “Away Here in Texas” at http://www.anointedlinks.com/amazing_grace.html)

2 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All