Saturday, March 14, 2015

By Grace We Are Saved - Ephesians 2:1-10

Ephesians 2:1-10

 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 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. 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. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

        I used to live and work in a part of Atlanta, Georgia, that is just north of Stone MountainStone Mountain is well named because it is mostly just a big granite, stone mountain with only a small part of it covered by trees and grass.
On the face of the mountain, carved by many of the people who once worked on Mount Rushmore, are giant carvings of the one of the three horsemen of the Confederate Apocalypse – Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee.
I used to walk up the hiking trail from the bottom of the mountain to the top – hundreds of people seemed to do that every day.  It was interesting because there was not only a nice panaramic view to reward you at the top, but there were also lots of places where people had carved graffiti into the stone over the years.
        In one spot there is an elaborate inscription that includes the year in old and fancy script, 1879.
        In many places, there are inscriptions made by lovers. Mary Ann and Greg, December 18, 1979 -- followed by the symbol for infinity. One can only hope they are still together.        In one place there is another such inscription by a young man in love. He starts with his name, "Nick." Nick is inscribed in even, well spaced, deep lettering. I can imagine Nick working long and hard and then looking at his handiwork and thinking, "Good job!"

               Then he continues carving, leading to the message, "Nick and..."

        But there is no other name. What was it supposed to be? Nick and Betty? Nick and Bobby Sue? Nick and -- who?

        I can imagine Nick being up there on that mountain and working long and hard and then as he is about to start on the first letter of his girl friend's name he suddenly begins to rethink this thing about commitment. Stone Mountain is a type of igneous intrusion that was formed 300 million years ago. Now when you love someone enough to inscribe your name and your girl's name on a 300 million year old slab of rock, that's commitment!

        When Nick realized that he must have picked up his hammer and chisel and walked back down the mountain -- and now we will never know whom Nick loved.

        Now right near the top of the mountain, just beyond the steepest part of the trail where there are handrails for the hikers, there is one very large and very elaborate inscription.
        It is near the top of the mountain, so whoever carved it was probably tired before they even began their work. And it is large enough that one can imagine someone going night after night to work on that inscription.
        The inscription reads - Jesus Saved the Carpenters, 1868.

        This bit of graffiti captured my imagination, and of many others who have hiked that trail. It is easy to imagine someone bundled up and making his way up the trail at night, taking out a hammer and chisel and beating out the letters, night after night for weeks, until the work was finished.
        And it is also easy to wonder ... Why?

        Let your imagination run wild and it is possible to conceive of a sinner who had led such an immoral life who thought that getting on his knees and carving out the words JESUS SAVED THE CARPENTERS on the face of a granite rock was the only way to repentance.
        In fact, according to the inscription, Jesus didn’t just save one man, but the whole family.  JESUS SAVED THE CARPENTERS. 

        In my imagination, I have often wondered who this man was trying to convince.
        Were the Carpenter family members so naïve that they thought some hiker might someday see those words and suddenly think:  “Of course, I need to be saved too!”
        Probably not – because this carving happens to be along the tree line, and is difficult to find.  It is well off the beaten path.
        I finally decided that it possible that Mr. Carpenter was simply trying to convince himself.
        Perhaps it was not with the commitment of Faith that this man carved the words JESUS SAVED THE CARPENTERS.
Perhaps instead it was with the HOPE that Jesus Saves.  And maybe he carved those words to convince himself, as well as others, that those words were true.
Subconsciously, there is within many of us, a stirring of doubt, a twinge of fear – “Jesus Saves, doesn't he?  Or does He?  What if he doesn't?  What if?”
A recent article in a church magazine some findings about a church growth program in a metropolitan area church.  Part of the program was to interview and survey those who were already members.
Only half of those interviewed were sure of their salvation.  The rest were trying to convince themselves that there was truth in the words...JESUS SAVES.
After the sermon today, we will sing a stanza from the familiar hymn, BLESSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE.  But for far too many of us; that statement becomes a haunting question....BLESSED ASSURANCE???   IS JESUS MINE?
Behind those doubts and fears is a question....what must I do to be saved?
What must I do to be saved from the results of my own sinful nature, how am I saved from eternal death?
In the religion of Islam, the purpose of life is to live in a way that is pleasing to Allah so that one may gain Paradise. It is believed that at puberty, an account of each person's deeds is started and continues until the day the person dies, and this will be used at the Day of Judgment to determine his eternal fate. Good living results in salvation.
In Hinduism, the view of salvation has changed over the centuries, but it involves a nearly endless series of rebirths in which a person is reincarnated over and over through the lower castes, to the highest caste of the Brahmins.  Good living results in salvation. 
In Buddhism, salvation is expressed in terms of excaping suffering and attaining enlightenment, and in order to accomplish this one must follow the so-called Noble Eightfold Path, consisting of the eight practices of self-training.  In other words, good living results in salvation.
In virtually all religions, salvation is accomplished through hard work and devotion. 

Even in Christian churches one will find many people who believe that the good go to heaven and the bad guys end up in hell – but is this really what our faith teaches?
In George Bernard Shaw's play, MAN AND SUPERMAN, an old woman dies.  Much to her despair, she is not quite sure where she is.  So she approaches another soul and asks.
To her greater despair, the answer is that she is in hell.
"Hell" She exclaims.  "How can I possibly be in hell?  I was a faithful member of the church.   I was a solid pillar of the community.  How dare they send me to hell....I was a GOOD person"
To that the other condemned soul replies..."There are a lot of good people in Hell.
The truth illustrated by this imaginative play  is that if we try to life the good life as a means of salvation, then we will find that we can never be quite good enough.
Paul in one of his New Testament letters --- the one to the Roman Church, said that All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
John in one of his letters, wrote "if we say we have no   sin....then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."  

Which is not good news at all for those who are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or one of any number of other faiths on this planet.
If you can’t be good enough to earn salvation, what hope is there?But as the old hymn says, “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and his righteousness.”
Or as the New Testament lesson says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works…”

Christianity is the one religion in which our salvation is not dependent on our living the good life – it is a result of God’s love and mercy toward us.
And you know, it should not surprise us that it it is as simple as this. After all wrapped up in these words is a simple reaffirmation of the Gospel.
Time and time again, we are told in the Scripture that salvation IS as simple as this.
Jesus himself reminded us in what has become the most familiar of all Scripture verses, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, so that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life."
It is as simple as that:  To believe.

To believe -- in Jesus Christ.

         Now for some of us here, this is perhaps a revelation of something new, and to those I say take heart, for by grace you have been saved.  You do not need to make the effort to earn your salvation.  It has been freely offered.


         But for others here today, this is something we have known for so long that perhaps we have grown apathetic.  This is something we take for granted.


         How many of us have received gifts for which we have failed to send a thank you note, or which has been received but left unused.  We have been offered the free grace of salvation, and an apathetic response is not appropriate.


         In Ephesians, the very book that reminds us that we are not saved through good works tells us at the end of this morning’s reading, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

         Yes – we are created FOR good works, and good works is the response to our gift of grace and salvation.  So let us not be apathetic, but let us show gratitude for salvation by showing good works.

         We are not saved by works, but good works follow our gratitude for salvation.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.