Sermon: Growing in Grace

Relationships are complicated.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a relationship with our significant other, a family member, a close friend, or someone we work with. In general, a relationship with another person is complicated and filled with various emotions and stages.

There are periods when everything is going well. Everyone is happy. There is a lot of sharing of life. There is solid communication. There is a deep level of connection and trust.

There are times when the relationship is just not great. The people in the relationship may be in the same room, but no one is talking. In fact, they haven’t spoken in days. There is no connection, and there is no sharing of life. No one is happy.

Then there are those times when the relationship is “eh.” Everyone is just there, and doing what they have to do to maintain the status quo. There is a minimal amount of connection and sharing. The relationship is on cruise control. There is no excitement and no true joy.

We’ve all been in relationships. We have felt the joy of a relationship that is going great. We’ve felt the pain of a relationship that is on the rocks. We’ve even felt the emotional disconnect of a relationship that is just going through the motions. Each relationship goes through these stages, and sometimes multiple times over a life of a relationship. That is why commitment and consistency is so important in our relationships. A relationship built on commitment can manage the highest of highs, survive the lowest of lows, and be encouraged in times of disconnect.

Would you believe that our relationship with Jesus Christ goes through these stages?

There are times when our relationship with Christ is on fire. We feel the presence of the Lord. We are sharing our life with Christ. We are growing in the likeness of Christ. Things are going great.

There are times when our relationship with Christ is not great. We feel distant to God. We feel as though we don’t know Christ as we should, or maybe as we had once before. There is a void in our relationship with Christ.

Then there are times when things in our relationship with Christ are just “eh.” We’re reading the Bible, and having times for devotion, but we’re not getting anything. We come to church, but we don’t feel the presence of the Lord. We pray, but we’re empty. We are going through the motions.

In our relationship with Christ, we are going to experience those emotions. Wherever you are in your relationship today, I want you to know it is OK. If you feel on fire for the Lord today, awesome. If you feel discouraged or disconnected with Christ, I want to encourage you. Press forward, because I promise you Christ will meet you when you least expect it.

Our relationship with Christ is one of the central themes in our Scripture passage for today. Jesus says we are to remain in him, and, then, Christ will remain in us. Christ calls us to grow in our relationship with him, and to press forward at all times. When we remain in Christ, when we allow Christ to be at the center of our hearts, Christ promises us that he will meet us there through the Holy Spirit. He will grow in us and transform us to be what God desires us to be.

We’re called to continually grow in our relationship with Christ. So, how do we grow in our relationship with Christ? How does Christ respond?

We grow in our relationship with Christ is by observing the Means of Grace, which is a central idea in the Methodist movement. We believe these are expressions of our faith God uses to bestow his grace upon us. They help us grow in our relationship with God. These are spiritual disciplines that are found in the words of Scripture. They help us grow in our faith, and experience the presence of the Lord. They help us remain in our relationship with Christ.

What are the Means of Grace? There are two groups – instituted and the prudential. The instituted means of grace are disciplines Christ specifically instituted and called his disciples to use. The prudential means of grace are disciplines that we are encouraged to do as expressions of our faith in the world, such as doing good, caring for the poor and hungry, saving our money, giving to others, and opposing slavery.

We’re going to focus specifically on the instituted Means of Grace. If we are practicing the instituted Means of Grace, then the prudential Means of Grace will flow out as a part of our life. As we look at these spiritual disciplines, I hope you will see is that they help us grow in our relationship with Christ, in the good times, the bad times, and the times when we are going through the motions.

The first Means of Grace is communion. In communion, we remember the cost of our Lord’s death. Christ’s body was broken because of our sin, and his blood was poured out so that we may live as people of the New Covenant. At communion, we seek to be forgiven, both individually and as a community, through the grace of our Lord.

Communion helps us to look forward. As we experience the presence of the Lord, we are transformed to be the living witness of Jesus Christ both here and in our communities. Communion deepens our relationship with Christ by allowing us to experience the living presence in our lives. We remain in Christ by remaining the presence of the Lord always.

We also experience the living presence of our Lord when we read Scripture. The words of Scripture contain our story. It is the story of God who created this world out of nothing, of God who continually sought after humanity, of God who sent his Son to live among us – to die the death of our sin, be resurrected, and live still today – of God who lives among us today through the Holy Spirit. In reading the story of God, we can find ourselves in this story. We see God’s love for us, and how God has interacted and cared for this world.

In Revelation 10:9, the Apostle John was told to eat the words of the scroll given to him by the Angel of the Lord. Scripture was the nourishment, the food, for his soul, just as it is to be for us. The story of Scripture is to be our source of life. It is our story. This is what we mean by reading Scripture. We want to eat these words, to meditate on these words, and allow them to become part of who we are. When we know the story as our own, we live the story of God in our lives and in our interaction with others.

I know the hesitations when it comes to reading Scripture. “Pastor, I just don’t have time.” “I don’t understand it.” Let me make some points, for all of us, as it relates to Scripture. First, start small and work your way to a bigger devotional life. If all you can do is a chapter a day right now, then that’s great. The point is to immerse yourself in the story of Scripture, and not fit some self-imposed goal to read a certain about each day. Build yourself up to the point where reading Scripture becomes natural. Even more, read all of Scripture. You cannot know your story unless you know the entire story. If you want a target, have this in mind: If you read four chapters a day, you will read the entire Bible in a year. If you have a difficult time understanding Scripture, I want to encourage you to find a translation that works for you, and that you can comprehend. Also, find a good a study Bible, which offers notes and thoughts on verses. These are great tools in reading Scripture and helping you grow in your faith and relationship with Christ.

If we are take time to read Scripture, then we will know the story of God as our story. I’m not speaking of knowing verse and chapter, but knowing the entire story and how it impacts our lives. This will shape us as individuals, as we will know our place in God’s story. It will shape us as a community, because we will serve others with an understanding of how we each play a role in God’s kingdom.

Another means of grace is prayer. Richard Foster writes that in prayer we are in “communal relationship” with the father. Prayer is our way of talking with God. In prayer, we humbly seek God. Prayer follows the flow of the Lord’s Prayer, as it glorifies God, seeks his provision in our lives, confesses our sin, and ask for God’s protection. In prayer, God enters the depths of our soul. Scripture is filled with passionate prayers where we see the full range of emotions given over to God. The Psalms are full of prayers of love, desperation, anger, hope, and pain. In prayer, we share with God the entirety of our lives.

Like any relationship, we need to talk and communicate fully with the person we are in relationship with. So is it with our relationship with Christ. If we are not talking with God, honestly and openly, we are not growing in our relationship. Prayer fosters the relationship by allowing God to be in our hearts, while we seek God’s heart for us individually, and as a church. I encourage you to find time to simply talk with God. Find moments when you are alone and can seek God, and talk with God as you would a friend. These tender prayerful moments will be times of growth in our relationship with Christ.

We are also called to grow in our relationship by fasting, which means giving something up for a period of time. In fasting, we find the obstacles in our relationship with God and give those things up. In the times when we do those things (whether it is eating, watching television, spending time on the computer, or what have you), we give that time to God. In Joel 2, fasting occurs as a time of repentance. It is that time when we confess our sin, and, through the working of the Holy Spirit, remove obstacles that stand in the way of true faith in Christ.

We often think of fasting during Lent, but I want to encourage all of us, myself included, to find time to fast. I don’t believe it always has to be a food fast. A fast can including anything that stands between you and God. Find those things, and then take time to seek the Lord. When we do, I believe we will find that our relationship strengthened and renewed. We find we didn’t need that obstacle, and we can grow in relationship with Christ. When we fast, we see we can do nothing apart from Christ. We need Christ for our provision, our care, and our growth and maturity in the faith.

Finally, we are called to be in community with one another. We cannot grow in our relationships alone. We need each other. The same is true with our relationship with Christ. We need the witness of the community of Christians, the church, to be together, and strengthen one another, through our words, our presence, and encouragement to one another. Acts 2 reminds us that the body of Christ is called to be there for one another. When we meet together, we feel the Lord’s presence. When we are encouraged, the living presence of the Lord strengthens us and abides in us.

We cannot grow on our own, but together we can, through the working of the Holy Spirit, grow in our relationship with Christ individually and as a community.

These are the graces, the disciplines, God has called us to observe. You might be doing some of these today. If you are, I want to encourage you to keep at it. If you’re not, I want to encourage you to put into practice one of these disciplines this week.

A relationship cannot be sustained on its own, and neither can our relationship with Christ. These graces, these disciplines, are there for us to feel the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, so that we may grow in our relationship with Christ.

These graces will sustain our relationship with Christ in the good, it will encourage us in the bad, and give us focus in the times of “eh.” Be strengthened and encouraged in your relationship with Christ, by being a people of communion, Scripture, prayer, fasting, and community.

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