The Rev. David M. Dubay
St. Philips Church, Charleston ,SC
Sunday, October 15, 2006
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Before a farmer plants a crop, the fields must be prepared, plowed, fertilized, cleared of debris. Before the Artist paints a portrait, the canvas must be stretched, it’s surface cleaned and primed before the painting can begin to take shape…
On a football field, if the quarterback decides to make a run for the goal line, it is the big boys on the offensive line who must clear a path for him. A quarterback without a good offensive line is simply target practice.
Many, many times before a rector has been called to this parish, the people in our pews have prayed for the grace of God almighty to prepare for St. Philips, the hearts and minds of the men called to lead in ministry and to prepare their families for the road ahead. Well before they arrive…well before their names are known….We ask God to stretch into our futures and order the path to His glory and for His purpose. We did the same thing for our Bishop-elect just this year.
That kind of grace, that forward looking, future tense action that God does for us has a name. It’s called “prevenient” grace. Say it with me… Prevenient Grace.
If you go back and read today’s collect ..you see the word proceed. Even though that particular version is called the “traditional version” the “orginal version” once translated into 16th century English says this:
Lord, we pray that your grace may always prevent and follow us
That my sound odd. In today’s English prevent means to stop something before it happens to you. But when you break the word down to it’s Latin origins you find pre meaning before and venti from venire… to come…. so prevent means to come before to be there before I get there or lead the way…
Those are important words to remember because they are part of the nature of God that exists whether or not we have an opinion about them.
To God there is no time. And His will Will be done. He has a say in what has occurred and what will occur in our lives. We might as well get used to that.
Jesus began his ministry knowing that way down the road in Jerusalem he would be crucified and resurrected. All of His ministry was done knowing how it would end up…We know this because he kept telling his disciples ..over and over..
Who do you say that I am Peter? The messiah? Let me tell you what that means, I’m going to die and then in three days…I’m coming back
He told the people in the temple market, destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days….the temple was the son of God…the three days were Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
Jesus’ whole message to us is about the foreknowledge of God.
The Lord gave the ancient Hebrew people and us the law knowing that in the future He would fulfill that law in Jesus Christ. Many times in the Gospels Jesus says… you think you know what Moses meant…but the future truth is this….and he told them…and it was to some a revelation and to some, whose necks were stiff…blasphemy.
But this grace that moves ahead of us is not just about God’s delight in time travel and knowing the future… this is about the nature of our Creator…His love, and Grace ….are given to us in abundance without the barriers of time and space…
Because the God of the Universe does not work in our world and by earthly rules alone…He also, and most profoundly, works on a level beyond our abilities and beyond our understanding…
Just take a second to contemplate Baptism. At the moment of Baptism God moves and blesses in ways we can’t fully comprehend. God moves ahead of that child in time and gives that child’s parents opportunity, and hopefully the desire to prepare for that baby the way for a life of faith and selflessness and connection to eternity through Jesus
… At the Communion Table…Jesus is present in the Eucharist in a real, sometimes palpable way
…a way that has confounded theologians for centuries.…
Whole denominations have been created because of that mystery and our inability to just say…Yes Lord, you are with us in this meal. You meet us here at this cross section of the kingdom of heaven and this world…Your grace is more than we deserve, more that we can understand and thank you for it.
Grace is what God is all about… as humans we understand mercy, we understand pity, we even understand forgiveness… but Grace… God’s Grace, is almost beyond our comprehension… Grace is when God gives us what we need instead of what we deserve. God’s grace is giving us what we need even when we don’t know what to ask for. God’s grace is preparing a path for us that leads to a full and Christ filled life even when we work against Him at every turn.
To see God’s grace, to compile a list of the Lord’s gracious acts we can look back over our lives to this point. We can look at the map left behind. We can review our lives in a way that reveals where God’s grace has made all the difference.
Look there, my marriage was saved….over there I was able to walk through the grief of the death of my father because I knew that I was not alone….next to that I see how by God’s grace I have been led to my career and family. And look there’s where the gamecocks won a game….God’s grace….
But as the saying goes…hindsight is 20 20.
What about the future…? What about the unknown? Is Jesus there? Waiting for us in the mist? The bible says he is…
Come to me all ye that travail and are heavy laden and I will refresh you…
It doesn’t say…I’ll refresh you and then you can spend your time trying to figure out what it was like…
Jesus walks before us leaving us miracles in our path that we come upon and are blessed by and which give us our bearings…which act as our compass if we let them. But all too often we are willing to chalk them up to coincidence, to luck, to our charmed lives…to the fact that we deserve all the good that comes our way…. when in fact it is Grace we’ve blundered into…it is eternity we’ve collided with…it is a gift from heaven that we’ve labeled an indiscriminate roll of the dice.
Not Providence but the law of averages….
I have yet to understand how people who rely on chance to define their lives make it through life without just giving up completely.
I mean if it’s true that when you drop a piece of toast it will land butter side down 50% of the time and you equate that with love, and faith, and life, and relationships….you might as well give up. Because flipping a coin in the middle of chemotherapy is NOT what God calls us to.
So what happens if we buy into this Grace lying waiting for us in our future, preparing our hearts, leaving us hints, giving us choices to live Christ like or the alternative…
What does that look like…in real time.?
Does God promise a painless life? No.
Does he promise that our goals will be met and that success will be ours?
Not always our goals and not necessarily by our measure of success.
Does he promise that God’s will will be done in our lives if we surrender to Him… Yes…
Let me repeat that: God’s will gets done through us if we say yes to Him…
I believe that our one goal….our one task on this earth, according to scripture should be to do our best to seek the will of God and set our lives in line with that will.
Rising, running, falling, repenting and rising again.
And one does that by first Believing in Jesus as the unlimited, omnipotent, omnipresent Savior,
From that all good works spring…all God blessed behavior emerges…and God’s will is done…in us.
You will find that when you start tubing down that River of Life that flows from the mouth of God…that you may slowly develop urges…
Urges to read and study the Bible,
Urges to pray regularly and honestly, and not just at supper or before bedtime or in church.
Urges to put our hearts, minds, and souls into worship and to encourage others to do the same.
Urges to stay in honest, ethical and Christ-like relationships with our neighbors, relationships that ask for nothing in return, relationships that reflect how God loves us and forgives us.
Make no mistake…
God walks before us…calling.
Many of us here have heard that call and returned to the faith. Some of us here today may have returned to worship for the first time in a long while.
It is clear to me…that God has called you from your future saying… I have more for you…come back to me…Here is Life abundant!
The Gospel of John tells us that “we loved God because He first loved us.” That takes a lot of the burden off doesn’t it…
No one here today is in their pew or their choir stall or in this pulpit by accident.
St. Paul tells us in his letter to the church in Rome that “all things work together for God’s glory.”
I have found that if I expect God to do something in my life while in worship, then He does it. Every single time.
Sometimes it frightens me… Give me joy in worship today Lord….and he does…and on those days you may even see me raise my hands ….as joy fills my heart.
Jesus Christ came before us so that we all might know that joy in our lives. Hands up or hands down… If we open the door to the grace of God that precedes us we tap into eternity, we get glimpses of what is to come, we are held tight in the bosom of our Savior…
I leave you with a mighty prayer. The prayer known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate…
Listen to the ancient prayer that asks Jesus to be more than present and past but future as well…
If you come to Jack’s Priestly ordination, which you all should, you will probably here this sung…it’s a manly, “Braveheart” kind of hymn… it is bold in it’s request…it is shocking in it’s disregard for physics….it is comforting and a blessing to those who committed it to memory.
Remaining seated in our pews let us pray…
Christ be with me, Christ within me,Christ behind me, Christ before me,Christ beside me, Christ to win me,Christ to comfort and restore me.Christ beneath me, Christ above me,Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,Christ in hearts of all that love me,Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Open our eyes Lord…be our future…Amen