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Grace and Truth

This following message was shared on Sunday, January 3, 2021 at First Wayne Street UMC.

Our Scripture reading from John 1:1-14 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. In just fourteen verses, there are so many great verses to commit to memory. One of my go to verses is verse 5 – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. In times that seem dark and heavy, remembering that God’s light is still shining and the light will not be defeated brings great comfort.

In the verses speaking of John the Baptist, I am reminded of our call to point others to Jesus. Verse 8 says, He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. John knew who he was, he knew his call and he lived it out. We should find inspiration in that.

In preparing for this message, as I read this passage, two words in verse 14 really stood out. “Grace and Truth”. Verse 14 is a great verse that, in many ways, is a summation of incarnation –  the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Verse 14 tells us that the word, Jesus, came to live among us and that He was full of grace and truth.

Some look at this passage from John 1 as being a bit of a re-creation story. Some refer to it as “in the beginning, part two.” If you’re familiar with the Genesis creation story, that will sound familiar. It’s a reframing or re-creation through Jesus. As the Word, Jesus is the giver of life and light.

Of course, the reality is that it isn’t really “in the beginning, part two”. It’s more like, “In the beginning, the prequel.” In many ways, Star Wars fans should credit the Gospel writer and God for the idea of a prequel story. John 1 tells the story before the story. Genesis 1 tells the story of creation. John 1 tells the story of the creator.

In the beginning was the word…and all things came into being through the word. I love how Eugene Peterson paraphrase’s this in The Message, The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. No longer was God this mysterious, far off being…God, in Jesus, became our neighbor.

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Too often, we move too quickly past this moment. We are anxious to get on to the next thing. Today, I want to invite us to simply pause for a moment – to reflect – to remember just how incredible it is that God took on human form and moved into the neighborhood – through Jesus, God is with us – and now, through the Holy Spirit, God is with us

Maybe we just really need that – in this day of physical separation – of isolation – maybe we need to be reminded that God is still with us.

There is a lot of language in this short passage regarding Jesus being the light. The light reveals the way forward. For those who follow in the way of Jesus, he provides the light for our path.

Many times, we focus on light exposes the darkness. Certainly, we are fully aware that the light of Christ reveals those areas in which we fall short. The light illuminates our sin. We can’t avoid that. But, what if in addition to the light overwhelming and exposing the darkness of our sin, the light also illuminates the good.

What if the light of Jesus reveals our potential, our goodness, our capacity for love, kindness, grace, generosity, compassion? What if the light of Jesus is leading us to be people of grace and truth?

John 1:14 tells us that Jesus is full of grace and truth. I believe, as followers of Jesus, we should be striving to be people of grace and truth.

Let’s be honest, some of us have grace, but are lacking in truth. Some of us have truth, but we are lacking in grace. The goal Jesus sets before us is to be people who are full of grace and truth.

Grace and truth…these words should be our guide! Grace involves a call to be kind, patient, understanding, gentle, compassionate…it also is a call to be people who share the truth in love. If we are full of grace, but lack truth, I guess we’re just nice people.

To be full of truth definitely includes having a sound understanding of Scripture, theology and doctrine. But, truth is not just about acquiring head knowledge. Truth includes the ability to admit when something is an opinion, not fact; to admit when we are wrong. Truth, with a healthy balance of grace, should fill us with the courage to call out injustice and humbly work towards mercy, justice and peace. Truth should gracefully point us and others towards Jesus.

We, like John, are called to testify concerning the light, in both word and deed…with grace and truth. John was a messenger – someone to point others to Jesus. Author Christian Piatt writes that “John was tasked with stirring up hunger for the Messiah”.

Who has served as a messenger in our lives? Are we taking our call to be messengers seriously? Are we pointing others toward the light of Jesus? Are we stirring up hunger for the Messiah (or leaving people with a bad taste or spoiled appetite)? Are we striving to live lives that are full of grace and truth?

Some in Jesus’ day missed the light. Some continue to miss the light. When we are leading lives of grace and truth, we point others to the light. When we fail to be people of grace and truth, we are a distraction to the light. When we fail to be people of grace and truth, we are like a lamp shade diminishing the fullness of the light.

Jesus was full of grace and truth. As we strive to live like Jesus, we too should be full of grace and truth. Many of us are full of…well, something other than grace and truth! Ha! Just kidding (kind of)!

In a world that is full of noise, distractions, lies, bitterness, anger and misinformation, grace and truth is the hope we need. In 2021, my prayer is that we will commit ourselves to being people of grace and truth, that we will be a church full of grace and truth, that we would commit ourselves to loving and living like Jesus…full of grace and truth.

As we make a commitment to be a church and people of grace and truth, the words of the Wesley Covenant prayer help us to center and submit ourselves to what God desires. It seems like an appropriate way to begin our new year. I invite you to join me in this prayer, making a covenant to fully give ourselves to loving service for God.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.