lass=MsoNormal>I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - Amen
I have asked this question before from the Pulpit but I will ask again
Why do you believe in God?
Why do you think that God exists…?
What is it that makes you believe in God?
When you consider these questions, we all might approach them from different starting places
o It might be because your parents told you
o it might be because the Bible says so
o it might many, many reasons
I am sure that each and everyone of you is here today because you do believe in God
I am sure that you have committed this time in your week because it is important
In today’s world with all the pressures in life, with most families having both parents working outside the home, just to make ends meat, there are countless things that you could be doing with your Sunday morning
So I am sure that you are here because your faith, your belief matters to you
And I think if we spend some time and considered the question why “I” believe in God and why it matters… underneath it all: …in one way or another we have all experienced God in our lives
I believe that deep down we have all experienced God in some form
- it might be in the prayer
- it might be in nature
- It might be in the healing grace God has delivered to you or a loved one - “beyond expectation”
- It might be in the reading of the bible
- where you connected with God by the power of the Holy Spirit
- where you understood what the writer was telling you - and who it was that was really doing the writing
- and it might have been in a lonely time in your life
- when God reached out to you and assured you that you were not alone
In all these situations or however God reaches you … in all of them, ….you experienced God
God interrupted your life and made himself known to you
And by making himself known to you He told you that He loved you,
You matter to God
In our reading from Galatians today we have a brief account of God’s calling St. Paul
God telling Paul that he mattered and that God loved him
And we here from the hand of Paul why and what God called Paul to do
That he was called for a purpose
This passage is a very important one and some scholars have even titled it ‘Paul’s Thesis statement’
It is Paul’s reason for believing what he believes and doing what he is doing
St. Paul starts out the passage by saying
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ”(Galatians 1:11-12)
Paul tells us that he believes what he believes, not because others taught him - but that he experienced God
- It is directly from God, that Paul has the message of the Good news that he preaches
He goes on to explain to them how it is ‘free from the teaching of others’ by presenting a brief autobiographical account
In the midst of this account Paul states that:
“from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles
So in this short passage, known by some as his Thesis statement, we have Why Paul believes
And we also have the purpose of that belief…
But as we consider the forest, let’s not lose sight of the trees
It is vital to understand ‘the payout’
- the result of Paul’s calling and for what purpose
but in his story we have another important message
You see God did not just call anyone to proclaim that Jesus the Christ is Lord
in the hostile world, where only Caesar was supposed to be Lord
God called Paul to proclaim a message that was upside-down from the world’s expectation - by ‘someone’ which God turned right-side-up
In Paul’s brief account we see a transformation that only God could achieve
We see a great reversal from a zealous proponent of the traditions of Judaism to a proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ
In St. Paul’s story we see God’s power to transform
… transformed for God’s purpose
When I read this passage I immediately connected with it.
I connected with it personally as I know that I was transformed by God
But I also connected to it because of the countless stories I have read or heard about how God works dramatically and profoundly to transform a person’s life
Transforms people from former ways that were in complete contrast to a righteous life and transforms them for a purpose
I would like to share with you one such story
He was born in 1725, in London near the Thames river. His father was a shipping merchant who was brought up as a Catholic but had Protestant sympathies, and his mother was a devout Independent. She had hoped that her son was to become a clergyman, but she died of tuberculosis when he was six years old. For the next few years, he was raised by his distant stepmother while his father was at sea, and spent some time at a boarding school where he was mistreated. At the age of eleven, he joined his father on a ship as an apprentice; his seagoing career would be marked by headstrong disobedience.
As a youth, he began a pattern of coming very close to death, examining his relationship with God, then relapsing into bad habits. As a sailor, he denounced his faith after being influenced by a shipmate. In a series of letters he later wrote, "Like an unwary sailor who quits his port just before a rising storm, I renounced the hopes and comforts of the gospel at the very time when every other comfort was about to fail me." His disobedience caused him to be pressed into the Royal Navy, and he took advantage of opportunities to overstay his leave and finally deserted to visit a family friend with whom he had fallen in love. After enduring humiliation for deserting, he managed to get himself traded to a slave ship where he began a career in slave trading.
He often openly mocked the captain by creating obscene poems and songs about him that became so popular the crew began to join in. He entered into disagreements with several colleagues which resulted in his being nearly starved to death, imprisoned while at sea and chained like the slaves they carried, then outright enslaved and forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone near the Sherbro River. After several months he came to think of Sierra Leone as his home, but his father intervened.
Upon leaving Sierra Leone and while aboard the ship Greyhound, He gained notoriety for being one of the most profane men the captain had ever met. In a culture where sailors commonly used oaths and swore, He was admonished several times for not only using the worst words the captain had ever heard, but creating new ones to exceed the limits of verbal debauchery. In March 1748, while the Greyhound was in the North Atlantic, a violent storm came upon the ship that was so rough it swept overboard a crew member who had been standing where He was moments before. After hours of the crew emptying water from the ship and expecting to be capsized, he offered a desperate suggestion to the captain, who ordered it so. He turned and said, "If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!" He returned to the pump where he and another mate tied themselves to it to keep from being washed over. After an hour's rest, yet still exhausted he returned to the deck to steer for the next eleven hours where he pondered what he had said.
For several weeks before the storm, he had been reading The Christian’s Pattern, by Thomas à Kempis. The memory of the uttered phrase in a moment of desperation did not leave him; he began to ask if he was worthy of God's mercy or in any way redeemable as he had not only neglected his faith but directly opposed it, mocking others who showed theirs, deriding and denouncing God as a myth. He came to believe that God had sent him a profound message and had begun to work through him.
His conversion was not immediate, but he contacted his childhood’s love’s family and announced his intentions to marry her. Her parents were hesitant as he was known to be unreliable and impetuous. They knew he was profane, but they allowed him to write to her, and he set to begin to submit to authority for her sake. He sought a place on a slave ship bound for Africa, and he and his crewmates participated in most of the same activities he had written about before; the only action he was able to free himself from was profanity. After a severe illness his resolve was renewed yet he retained the same attitude about slavery as his contemporaries and continued in the trade through several voyages where he sailed up rivers in Africa—now as a captain—procured slaves being offered and sold them in larger ports to be sent to North or South America. In between voyages, he married his love in 1750 and he found it more difficult to leave her at the beginning of each trip. After three shipping experiences in the slave trade, he was promised a position as a captain on a ship with cargo unrelated to slavery, when at thirty years old, he collapsed and never sailed again.
Working as a customs agent in Liverpool starting in 1756, He began to teach himself Latin, Greek, and theology. He and his wife immersed themselves in the church community and his passion was so impressive that his friends suggested he become a minister. He continued his devotions, and after being encouraged by a friend, he wrote about his experiences in the slave trade and his conversion.
The man was John Newton
And he is the author of the most famous hymn ever written “Amazing Grace”
It is a hymn that is so often selected for funerals because it has a deep message of God’s love and comfort
But I think it is famous for another reason - It strikes a cord with so many people because it is very personal
When we look into our own hearts and consider the choices that we have made, we know that we have fallen short and sometimes… really fallen short and so this hymn’s personal questions reach us where we are and make God’s Amazing Grace that much more amazing
And once you know that John Newton was the worst of the worst of already rough group of sailors – that he was a person that profited by the sale of human beings in the slave trade
The line “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” carries incredible resonance
Today were heard from St. Paul and he wrote in Galatians
“For you heard of the former way of my life”
And now you have heard of my John Newton’s former life
I pray that you will see his story - God’s work to transform his heart for God’s purposes
He was transformed from a person that some might say was the worst of the worst transformed into not only a follower of Jesus but a leader in Christ’s church
He has influenced millions and millions with his hymn
And it is said that he was a significant influence on William Wilberforce who took on the cause of abolition in the British government.
Wilberforce himself wrestled with the call to ordain ministry or a life in politics and selected politics as a place where his ministry could take on the greatest influence for good
His campaign started in 1787 and continued through to lead the parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807, 20 years later. and didn’t conclude until 26 years after that, as he continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.
John Newton’s former life had a deep impact on history and God transformed the uglness to serve His Grace
And as we consider our scripture for today, I believe that St. Paul’s faith - St. Paul’s message was so much more impactful because of what God transformed - him - from
As our scripture finishes today:
“The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”
Triumphantly concluding with: “And they glorified God because of him.”
So whatever skeletons that you have in your own closet – whatever is “your former way of life”
God’s Amazing Grace is there for you to accept
Accept… and be transformed… by God… for a purpose
Let us pray
Lord, may our love of you… our belief in you - fueled by whatever way we have experienced you and your love… lead us in all our lives - lead us in those times when we feel all alone… lead us in those times when we hear the needs of others, which only you can fill … lead us to Glorify you by being your agents of love into this world - Amen