Life Sunday #2 – 2016 LSB #352
Text – Ephesians 2:4-5
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.
A NEW HEART, A NEW LIFE
Imagine for a moment, standing right here: Amy. She’s 21 years old, a senior in college. The future she thought was about to arrive has changed. She grew up without a word of encouragement. She never felt valued or deeply loved, just tolerated & taught. It’s not that her family hadn’t loved her, they just never really said they did – didn’t show they did.
Life was mechanical for her parents. Say “please” & “thank you,” get good grades, be helpful, & that’s all there really is to life. So, throughout her days in college, Amy searched for a sense of value & validation through casual dating, catching the attention of, being wanted by any young man she’d meet in the bar.
It’s happened again, another night of bad decisions. She knew it was wrong, it was a mistake, & there are always regrets & guilt, but now, this time, there will be a baby. She briefly thinks of an abortion – but her childhood connection to God’s church & Word still give Him a voice in her heart so she dismisses the thought. But she is racked with guilt, regret & fear.
What will her parents think? What will her friends think? The child’s father? What does God think? Has she messed up too much? Will He still value her? She’s about to go home & break this news. Amy is a young woman in need of grace.
Now, picture Steven. He stands at the back of a church & wonders how his life came to be what it is. He spent 20 + years chasing after what he thought he wanted most of all – the high figure salary, the power & influence – climbing the corporate ladder & all that goes with it. Now he has it, yet he’s discovering that what he really wants is what he sacrificed for the illusion. It all comes clear when he stands at the back of the church watching another father walking his daughter down an aisle to give her hand to a young man he doesn’t even know. He missed every 1st day of school, every 4-H meeting, every tea party, & every softball game. He missed the heartaches & the growing pains, the 1st date & the prom date.
He left them behind when he was too busy chasing after HIS heart’s desires, too busy to see what his heart really should have desired. He wondered if she can forgive him, & if God might still want him. Three marriages later, watching his child’s wedding from the back row, the spectator’s row, the guilt & sorrow & regrets all swirl around. He is a man in need of grace.
Over here, picture Margaret. She’s alone now, at least she feels that way. Illness took her husband a few years ago, & she’s never come to terms with her new situation. She wants to blame God, cry out to God, or even lean into God – but instead she just feels numb. The friends they had together don’t seem to be there anymore.
The children have all moved around the country. She doesn’t want to burden them by moving in or even moving near. She feels like a 5th wheel at the card games or social nights, so she stays at home & watches TV. Loneliness has become the weight she can’t carry any longer. She wonders if God sees her, loves her, holds on to her still. She’s a woman in need of grace.
Picture Christopher – in his 2nd year of high school & hates most of his life. He suffers from depression. He feels awkward & geeky, blocked out of the “in” crowd. He’s a computer whiz, with too much acne & teeth a little too big for his head. His friends are found on the other end of cell phones or Xbox games. He never learned social skills. He can’t talk to girls.
He’s an introvert, afraid to say “hi” to almost anyone. His family assures him that he’ll mature & grow & things are better in college for most people – they say. But he’d give anything to simply hang out with the so called “cool kids” for a while. He feels invisible. He wonders if
the world knows he’s here & if God can even see him at all. He’s a young man in need of grace.
Wasted years; bad decisions; broken hearts & broken spirits – all people find themselves in a mix of emotions in the various trials & seasons of life. The message of Easter is that God answers all our needs with grace. We might question our own worth in the world, but God answers our questions through His grace, which is undeserved mercy.
We talk a lot about grace in the church & in our lives. We say grace before a meal. We enjoy a grace period from the bank. Dancers are graceful. Donors are gracious. We love the way the promise of grace fills the right verse in a hymn. I begin every sermon by offering, “Grace, mercy & peace to you from Your Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.”
But do you know the fullness of God’s grace? Can you explain to the non-Christian friend what we mean when we talk about grace? Do we really grasp the magnitude of God’s gift of grace?
You see, grace is what grabs hold of you. It shakes you around & wakes you up in your very soul. Grace transforms the core of your life. It re-shapes you, re-makes you, re-forms you into the likeness of Christ. By grace, God gives you a new heart.
A few years ago there was a young man named Chandler. His heart was broken – I mean, it was physically broken. He was a young man with what seemed to be a lot of life still ahead, but his heart was dying. He was weak & fading, unable to live the life he dreamed of &, well, without a new heart he wouldn’t live much longer at all.
You & I had the same sort of need in a spiritual sense. We were in need of a new heart. We needed God’s heart or we wouldn’t really be able to live. We couldn’t live the life God had in mind for us. As it turned out, Chandler received a new heart; in fact, he received Lauren’s heart. Lauren & her family were a part of the church family in a small town in western Iowa. She was seventeen & full of life. Her mom, Mary, led the youth group. Her dad, Rob, was head elder. Lauren was pretty regular in church attendance, & a bit of a wild child, energetic, hard-headed, outgoing, faithful & challenging – exploring all the possibilities life held in store for her.
She loved country music, goofing off & hanging out with her friends. There was so much life ahead for Lauren. But, sometimes, we’re reminded how fragile these bodies really are. The car she was driving was hit by a drunk driver. Lauren suffered a major head injury.
The helicopter got her to the hospital. Surgeries were tried. Prayers were said. Lauren spent eight days in a coma, her family at her bedside, her friends in sorrow. Finally, the tough decision had to be made. “Do we end life support?” they asked.
How deeply did God value Lauren’s life? He loved her so deeply that, centuries before, Yahweh had entrusted His own Son to the care of another young woman named Mary. God so loved Lauren that He gave His Son Jesus to live & die & rise again for her – & for you – and for Amy & Steven & Margaret & Christopher.
God loves each of us so deeply that He gave us Jesus who redeemed us & made us His own. God loves Chandler, the young man in need of a new heart. God loves Chandler through Christ his Savior. God loves Chandler through a tough decision that Lauren’s parents, Mary & Rob, had to make.
They didn’t know who might receive the gift of a new lease on life when they made that hard decision to donate her organs. As it turned out, Chandler received Lauren’s heart, a young, strong, life-giving heart. Eventually, when their hearts were ready, they sought Chandler out, he sought them out, & when they met, Mary & Rob got to hear the sound of their daughter’s heart still beating & giving life.
Doesn’t God the Father do the same? You see, God knew we were in need of new life.
We needed a new heart. That’s what grace does. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved. It is by God’s grace that you are made new. It is by God’s grace that you’ve been given new life. In fact, God had promised that new lease on life some 700 years before He fulfilled the promise.
He spoke through His prophet Isaiah, “He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine… I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” (Isaiah 43:1b, 3b ESV)
God created you in the womb. He formed your very being. He called you by name for His great plans. He made your life new through the Holy One of Israel. God gave you a new heart through Christ. God has loved you so deeply, & He gives you the gift of life so deeply, that He gave you the heart of Christ. HIS heart beats within you. THAT is God’s gift of Grace.
Amy is terrified of what the world will think, what her future now holds. She bears the weight of regret, guilt & fear. Yet, by God’s grace, she is still saved. God still loves her AND her child. He created them, redeemed them, & He calls them both into the life He will guide them through.
Steven can’t bear what he’s done with his life – what he did, & didn’t do, for his family. He needs a new start, a new set of priorities, a new discovery of the power of love. By God’s grace he’s been saved. By God’s grace he is being transformed. He is created, redeemed & called to live with a new heart beating for Christ.
Margaret needs to know she’s still loved. She needs friends & family & people around. She needs to know God is still with her. By grace she is saved. By grace she’s been created, redeemed & called to live in His peace that surpasses all human understanding.
Christopher needs to know that he’s valued & blessed, that he’s a beloved treasure of God. By grace he is saved. By God’s grace he is loved, created, redeemed & called to live in the light of Christ his Savior. And so are you. You might think you’ve made mistakes that can’t be forgiven, you’ve been broken beyond repair, you’ve been lost in the eyes of the world.
But the fact is, God has loved you so deeply that He created you, He redeemed you, & He called you to new life through that same Holy One of Israel. He gives new life here on earth, but an even greater & absolutely perfect life one day in heaven. Live this new life of faith here to the glory of the Father & the Son & the Holy Spirit, today & forever.
You don’t have to be afraid of losing this new life, because it’s nothing you’ve earned or deserved anyway. It has been given to you as a gift purely by the grace of God. Amen.
Bruise for me the serpent’s head that, set free from doubt & dread, I may cling to You in faith, safely kept through life & death. Then when You will come again as the glorious king to reign, I with joy will see Your face, freely ransomed by Your grace. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet