Rev. Linda Dolby
Ephesians 2:8-10, 14-22
8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
I was talking with someone this week and I asked, “What kind of message do people need to hear for the new year?” My friend responded, “Say how terrible New Year’s resolutions are. They just tie us up in knots. God wants our lives to be different, but mostly that happens by grace.”
It’s true. Most of the time when we make our grand resolutions, we base them not on a sense of developing ourselves, but in a sense of how we have failed. So, instead of saying, “I’m going to reach out in this direction, or I am going to reach out in love to another person and see what happens,” we say, “I’m not going to fail at this anymore.” What happens? We are human and there are bound to be failures. Since we begin by judging our inadequacies, our sense of failure deepens every time our resolutions spring a leak. We get all tied up in knots.
The problem is the premise of resolutions. When we make a resolution, we do so based on the premise that we are self-made men and women. We believe that who are and who we become are based on our own power for self-improvement.
That’s not biblical. The Bible says that who we are is not dependent upon us, it is dependent upon God. Hear again Paul’s writing to the Ephesians, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
We are not our own. When we become Christians, we are God’s. Jesus is Lord of our lives. We place ourselves in God’s hands to be God’s own. We invite God’s Spirit to come to us and work within us. Grace eases the knots. Grace is the mystery by which God’s spirit works within us. By the grace of God, failure becomes a new beginning.
Recently I read the following by a man named Tyler Speegler. He says,
“Growing up in church, I thought I had just about everything figured out about being a Christian. I have discovered, that some of my “Christian beliefs” were actually misguided and inspired more by worldly religion than the Word of God.”
He goes on to say, “It’s obvious that non-Christians have some misconceptions regarding Christianity, but often those who grew up in church, do too. Here are just two of the lies I used to believed about being a Christian:
1. Your Behavior Affects God’s Love For You.
With all the rules we set up for ourselves, it’s easy to think following them is the way to get God’s approval and love. But the truth is you don’t have to try to use your behavior to earn God’s love. He loves you despite your behavior.
Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). God’s love for you isn’t based on what you do or don’t do, it’s based on His Son Jesus. God uses the weak for His glory. And He can use you. You don’t have to work yourself up to be some sort of spiritual superhuman in order to serve Him.
2. The Bible is Mostly About Rules.
We often make the Bible out to be a rulebook. But when we view it that way, we will lose interest quickly because there is no connection made. The Bible isn’t about rules; it’s about Jesus. It’s designed to be used in the context of relationship. The goal in reading the Word shouldn’t be to get to a certain chapter, but to meet Jesus along the way.
In Crown Heights, NY, there was a Jewish man, Yankel, who owned a bakery. He survived the Holocaust. He once said, “You know why it is that I’m alive today? I was a kid, just a teenager at the time. We were on the train, in a boxcar, being taken to Auschwitz. Night came and it was freezing, deathly cold, in that boxcar. The Germans would leave the cars on the side of the tracks overnight, sometimes for days on end without any food, and of course, no blankets to keep us warm,” he said.
“Sitting next to me was an older Jew – this beloved elderly Jew - from my hometown I recognized, but I had never seen him like this. He was shivering from head to toe, and looked terrible. So I wrapped my arms around him and began rubbing him, to warm him up. I rubbed his arms, his legs, his face, his neck. I begged him to hang on. All night long; I kept the man warm this way. I was tired, I was freezing cold myself, my fingers were numb, but I didn’t stop rubbing the heat on to this man’s body. Hours and hours went by this way. Finally, night passed, morning came, and the sun began to shine. There was some warmth in the cabin, and then I looked around the car to see other Jews in the car. To my horror, all I could see were frozen bodies, and all I could hear was a deathly silence.
Nobody else in that cabin made it through the night – they died from the frost. Only two people survived: the old man and me… The old man survived because somebody kept him warm; I survived because I was warming somebody else…”
He goes on to say, “Let me tell you the secret of Judaism. When you warm other people’s hearts, you remain warm yourself. When you seek to support, encourage and inspire others; then you discover support, encouragement and inspiration in your own life as well. That, my friends, is “Judaism 101”.”
Christmas says: God sent God’s only Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to save those who are under the law, so that we might receive adoption as God’s children. We live in grace. We are no longer save to the law or resolutions, We are children, heirs of God. So maybe all we have to do in this new year is to reach out to God and to others. It may be that we are simply made to keep each other warm.
May it be so. Amen.
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