Theme: Grace #2 – All Are Welcome
10:45am Traditional Worship Prerecorded Service – Sunday 5th July
Bible Reading: Mark 9:33-41 & Hebrews 4:14-16
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Last week we looked at Grace – the free gift from God of his love, forgiveness and mercy not because of anything we have done to earn it, but through his grace. We heard a story about a runaway girl and how her family welcomed her home – just like God will forgive us and accept us if we come home to God.
I finished with a quote from Philip Yancy
There is nothing you can do to make God love you more
And there is nothing you can do to make God love you less
God just loves you. – Philip Yancy
Today – I want to double down on this message and make sure that we all understand that God is ready to welcome everyone! There is no barriers when it comes to God.
Jesus – in whom we see the fullness of God’s love and grace – in our bible reading said this. When the disciples were trying to put up barriers to stop people getting to Jesus, Jesus told them off. “Let the little children come to me”. All are welcome.
Jesus wants everyone to come – there is no barrier.
When the disciples tried to exclude another person from doing the work of Jesus, “because he was not one of us” … Jesus response one of grace and inclusion … anyone who gives a cup of water in my name is included. All are welcome
When Jesus said that he was the Way, the truth and the life that no one comes to the Father but through him … we can get this wrong impression that Jesus is like a Bouncer at the throne room – dismissing people who are not good enough to come into God’s presence.
But Jesus is not the bouncer, but the welcomer. Through the cross of Jesus, the doors have been thrown open and all are welcome. All we have to do it respond.
Which brings us to our second reading. This reading holds so many promises of God
- We have a great high priest – Jesus – who understands what we are going through because he has been through it too.
- Jesus had tough times, hard times, tempting times … and Jesus remained firm and strong throughout … and he can help us too
But the line that really excites me in this bible reading is that we can approach God’s throne of Grace with confidence because there we will find mercy AND find grace to help us in our time of need. Grace to help us in our time of need. What a promise!
But how does that work out in practice…
Let me finish with a story … a story of a man who first rejected God and the love and grace that God offers. But like the story of the prodigal son … he found himself in a desperate time of need and called out to God for mercy … and discovered that there was grace to be found to help us in our time of need. You have probably heard this before, but it worth hearing again. This is the story of John Newton.
Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean.
When John was eleven, he went to sea with his father. People noted his skill as a sailor and he was promoted to being a soldier on the Naval H. M. S. Harwich. Unfortunately it was not a happy place on board so Newton deserted his post and became a seaman on a slave ship called the Greyhound which sailed between Africa, America and Europe.
Although he had had some early religious instruction from his mother, who had died when he was a child, he had long since given up any religious convictions. Slave ships are manned by pretty bad people, but Newton soon got the reputation of being the worst of the worst. Newton was as far away from God as anyone could be.
However, in March 1748 while on a homeward voyage back to England he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm. The storm was so rough it swept overboard a crew member who was standing where Newton had been moments before. The storm was so bad,, Newton and another mate tied themselves to the ship’s pump to keep from being washed overboard and waited to die. There was no way they were going to survive this one. It was in this desperate time of need that Newton cried out to God, “Lord have mercy upon us!”
The storm lightened just enough for Newton to take the wheel again. For the next 11 hours he wrestled with the storm and wrestled with his thoughts. Later in his cabin (after the storm had passed) he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. About two weeks later, the battered ship and starving crew landed in Ireland – and God continued to work within Newton.
For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, a day of humiliation in which he subjected his will to a higher power. He was a bit of a poet and wrote a poem which later was made into a song. See whether you recognise these words… “Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
God continued to work in Newton life. Because he experienced God grace and mercy – he wanted to make sure that others experience God’s grace too. Newton not only became a church priest, he worked alongside William Wilberforce in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Newton continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. He died in London December 21, 1807 where that grace would lead him home.
John Newton certainly was a recipient of God’s amazing grace – it didn’t matter how far away he found himself from God, how bad his language was or how evil is actions were – he discovered that God was ready to welcome him home. He discovered that when we cry out to God – God is full of grace and love and mercy. Newton could attest to the promise in our scripture today … Newton knew that because of Jesus’ love, mercy and forgiveness he could approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. Newton story shows us that the promise of scripture is true … that when we cry out to God, we do receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.
May we too also understand and receive that amazing grace. May we see that God is ready and waiting for us.
All are welcome. Amen.