Having feasted on Philippians Chapter Two since before Christmas, Pastor Connie and I thought it was time to move on to a new sermon series. We realized that we are about to enter the period in the traditional church year called “Lent,” and we tried to think about how we could lead the congregation through these six weeks approaching Good Friday and Easter in a faith-building way. People in some churches emphasize self-denial as the main focus: “What are you giving up for Lent?” We wanted to think more positively, in terms of introspection that can lead to spiritual renewal.
Pastor Connie came upon an article by Dr. Jude Tiersma Watson, who is on the faculty of Fuller Seminary, entitled “Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace.”* We both thought “Grace” was the theme we were looking for. We were attracted to the word “Unforced,” because it seems to emphasize the fact that God’s grace in our lives comes from the Holy Spirit’s presence, not from our efforts. We were particularly intrigued with the idea that there should be a “Rhythm” to the way we experience the many aspects of his grace.
So that’s what we decided to preach on starting this Sunday. Pretty clever, huh? Well, actually someone had this idea long before either Dr. Watson or we did. It was John the Apostle, writer of the fourth Gospel. In his prologue he wrote
“The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. . . . From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14, 16)
“Grace upon grace” is a pretty good translation of a striking Greek phrase, which has the sense of “grace in place of grace,” as if one experience of grace replaces another. This implies that there is no interruption, no grace-less period between two encounters with God’s grace. We no sooner soak in one grace than another is right behind it to re-bless us. This wording also seems to indicate that each grace experience is a bit different, exposing us to a new dimension of God’s glory, God’s love, God’s rich blessing every time we exchange one grace for another. One translation I like puts it this way: “from one degree of grace to the next.”
How far can this progression of graces go? That’s the wonderful part of it — the limit is defined in verse 14. “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” “the Father’s only Son” is the source of the grace we experience, and he is “full of grace and truth.” “From his fullness we have all received.” The limit to how we can experience God’s “grace upon grace” in our lives is the “fulness” of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “full of grace.” That means there is no limit.
I look forward to what Pastor Connie does with this in Sunday’s sermon. I’m sure we will experience a special grace. Then, the following Sunday, this grace will be replaced by another grace-encounter, and so forth through the next six weeks. And you don’t have to wait for Sunday. Right now, if you pay attention, you may feel something. . . . Is that grace tapping you on the shoulder?
If your friend asks what you’re giving up for Lent, say, “I’m giving up a boring, business-as-usual Christian life, because I believe God has some grace-surprises for me during these weeks.”
— Pastor George Van Alstine
*You can read this article at http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/learning-the-unforced-rhythms-of-grace