Friday, February 04, 2005

Prevenient Grace - An Emmaus Walk Sermon

As you read this please understand that this is a sermon I will be delivering at an Emmaus Walk the last week in February, so it is not lection-based material.

This week I will be delivering the sermon “What Does the Lord Require” from the Micah text since we cancelled services due to ice last Sunday.

“Prevenient Grace”

Hello, my name is Ray Osborne and I got my kicks on Emmanuel Emmaus Walk #66.

(I will softly sing) “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Ah yes, God’s absolute amazing grace. Grace as been defined in many different ways; as “something we don’t really deserve but God gives it to us anyway,” or acrostically as “God’s Riches At Christ Expense,” “Grace is the divine love that God has for us,” it is a gift, it is an undeserved gift, a gift that also comes to us through Jesus. 1 John 1:6-16 tells us that it is also a blessing, and in 2 Corinthians 12:9 we read the words of the Apostle Paul as he tells us, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” So we now see that God’s grace is sufficient.

You are going to hear a lot about Grace this weekend and this morning I’m going to share with you about “Prevenient Grace.” I’ve been a pastor for 25 years and I have always taught those whom God has entrusted into my care that there are many different kinds of grace that pours out of an extremely gracious God into our lives.

But what about this thing called “Prevenient Grace,” what is Prevenient Grace anyway? Prevenient Grace is the courtship period of our relationship to God. It is a time when God is reaching out to us, maybe getting our attention and helping us see that a relationship between God and ourselves is a very natural relationship. God kind of woos us into this relationship of grace, and this wooing can be done through other people, the church, or circumstances. God offers us a firsthand experience with himself. This relationship is more, far more than a relationship with another Christian, or group, or event. God offers us a fresh, alive, get down and get personal type of relationship. God himself begins to woo us from the moment of conception into this dynamic loving relationship with him.

Prevenient Grace is also a kind of grace that prevents us from moving so far from God that we cannot respond to his offer of love. The prodigal son story teaches us that we are never so far away from God that he cannot see us. We are never so far away from God that he will not welcome us home with outstretched arms and then throw us a party when we come home.

History teaches us that God has always offered us a Relationship. The history of God’s dealings with humankind is one of God always reaching out offering us a covenant relationship. I won’t bore you by reading all the Scripture that deals with covenant relationship, and I don’t even want you to follow along. What I DO want is for you to write these down somewhere and when you get a little alone time, take out your notes and go back and read these covenant passages for yourself.

1. The Covenant of Noah (Genesis 9:8-13)
2. The Covenant of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3)
3. The Covenant of Moses (Exodus 19:3-6)

There are many more covenant passages and if you want some more see me and I’ll give them to you later.

This covenant relationship is different than any other relationship. Have you ever known anyone famous? Have ever wanted to brag about that relationship? Have I told you that I am friends with both Ray Boltz and Bill Gaither? It’s a fact! Some years ago I was eaten up with lymphatic cancer. Because of some connections I had, I was given free tickets to Jubilatee! My seat was right next to the one and only Ray Boltz and we talked all night long. Then after the concert a gentleman named Bill Gaither and a woman whose name was Vestal Goodman walked up to me. Bill Gaither asked me my name and I told him. He then said, “Ray would you mind if Vestal and I prayed with you tonight?” Right there is the middle of the Charlotte Coliseum they laid hands on me and prayed for me! I just KNEW I was going to get better then; I mean this man has songs in the hymn book! And here I am. But I do not hesitate to tell people I know Ray Boltz and Bill Gaither!

Well listen to me, this relationship that I’ve been talking about is not as good as a relationship with Ray Boltz or Bill Gaither, it’s FAR BETTER! We are talking about a relationship with God who not only also knows Ray Boltz and Bill Gaither, but the one who created them and put within them the talents that they have, and he is the same God who created you and me.

The really neat thing is that you and I are free to respond to God’s offer! In Luke 19:10 Jesus tells us, “I have come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Jesus comes seeking us out and he is the best soul detective in the business. He always finds those whom he seeks. Galatians 5:1 tells us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” He comes seeking you and me to set us free from whatever it is that is holding us captive.

Let me offer you an example of how Prevenient Grace worked in the life if a gentleman I once knew named Plato. When I arrived on the field in a new appointment the very first thing I was told was that I needed to get Plato into church. I was told how every pastor before me and many of the members of the congregation had tried and tried to no avail. So I decided one day to take the plunge and go visit Plato. I got in my car and drove to Plato’s house. As I approached I saw a man over 80 sitting in bibbed overalls sitting on a milk crate whittling on a piece of wood. I keep on going. I went home, put on a pair of bibbed overalls, grabbed my pocket knife and went out the door. I pulled into Plato’s driveway and he didn’t even look up. This big ferocious dog comes to the call. I yelled, “Hey Plato does your dog bite?” “Nope!” was his reply still not looking up. So I get out of the car and that dog tears into me like bees on honey! I jumped on the hood of the car, rolled over to the passenger side, and got back into the car, “Hey Plato! I thought you said your dog didn’t bite!” “I did! That there ain’t my dog!” Okay the dog thing really did not happen. I got out of the car, walked up on the porch, introduced myself, picked up a block of wood and began to whittle. We talked about all kinds of things from dogs, to tobacco, to a world that had become so technologically advanced that it left Plato behind. I decided it was time to go and so I got up and said, “Plato I’d like to invite you to preachin’ this Sunday would you come?” Plato stretched out his hand to shake mine and as he did he said to me, “You know I reckon I just might. I like you! That last preacher we had was one of them there educated preachers.”

The next Sunday I looked up and guess who walked in the door? Yep, Plato. Everyone turned their heads to watch in disbelief. Plato walked down to the front, listened intently, tried to follow along with the hymns, then during the last hymn he walked forward with tears in his eyes and told me he wanted to “join up.” I baptized Plato and I was his pastor as he came every single Sunday and sat in the same spot. I also presided at Plato’s funeral.

You see what Plato did not understand was that every pastor who had ever visited him, every church member who had ever visited him prepared him for my visit, and even more served as God’s way of wooing him into a relationship with him.

Prevenient Grace is the work of the Holy Spirit, not forcing us, but courting us that we might repent of our sins, our broken relationships, and receive the free gift of God, eternal life in Jesus our Lord.

(I will sing softy) “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see."