Wishing You A Grace Filled Year

In the beginning was the Word. This first Sunday of the New Year we gather together to hear the Word of God. In the year that lies ahead may words spoken in this pulpit carry the Living Word, Jesus Christ, to our hearts and lives that we may carry His love to others. The whole process is dependent upon grace, the unmerited and undeserved favor of God towards those He calls daughters and sons.

I wish you a grace filled New Year and take as a text for this sermon words from Ephesians 1:18, “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling.” If we are to have a grace filled year, notice first of all,

It’s a heart thing.

Whilst religion involves the mind and the emotions, more than anything it is an affair of the heart. I don’t mean that efficient muscle that keeps our blood pumping but the purpose, the central reason for living, that lies at the center of our being; the reason we get out of bed in the morning; the hopes and ideals that give our lives a sense of purpose and meaning.

Jesus spoke of the heart as being the place from which everything else in a person’s life flowed. All evil and all goodness come from deep within our selves. Sometimes too deep for words or understanding. I don’t always understand why I react to certain things the way I do. Sometimes things touch us in a way or for a reason we don’t understand. A look in somebody’s eyes. A gentle act of kindness. An unexpected compliment or criticism. And it touches your heart.

We use the phrase “Their hearts not in it” to describe those who have lost their center and their purpose. Such a thing can all too easily happen to us in our Christian life. There was a time when all things seemed new and full of possibility but that radical edge has been stripped away by the passing of time. We no longer have the enthusiasm, the vigor, the feeling we once had for the things of God. How well that emotion is captured in William Cowper’s hymn, “O for a closer walk with God”;

“Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
of Jesus and his Word?”

There is a way out from that dilemma. It is captured in the words “Take Heart”. New Testament religion is a heart thing. Hear the author of Hebrews, speaking about the “New Plan” as Eugene Peterson’s translation of the New Testament, “The Message’, calls it.

“This new plan
isn’t going to be written on paper,
isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;
This time I’m writing out the plan in them,
carving it on the lining of their hearts.
I’ll be their God,
they’ll be my people.”
(Hebrews 8)

At the start of a New Year make sure your heart relationship with God is sorted out. Make sure your Christian life is a heart thing. Talk with God. Open up to God. Ask Him to change you and renew you, to give you that fire inside that John the Baptist spoke of. He offered the external sign of baptism but spoke of “kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.”

It’s a heart thing. But also, to have a grace filled life..,

It’s a hope thing.

Ephesians 1:18, “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling…”

What is the “hope of His calling”? When our inner life is nourished by God then we see things from a different perspective. There is a lot of hopelessness around. There are many who will tell us all is gloom and doom. There are always those to put us down or put us straight. And last year sometimes we spent too much time listening to them and not enough time listening to God’s Living Word.

Paul talks about “knowing the hope” that those called by God are to inherit. It is a hope based not on how the world is or how we perceive things, but on who God is and the ways of God’s Kingdom with the world

This hope tells us that life is not aimless or pointless but that every moment is one to be treasured and shared with God.

This hope tells us that the problems that come our way are not things to defeat us and destroy us, but things to work through, opportunities for us to learn of God how the Grace of Jesus Christ can carry us through.

This hope tells us that past mistakes are not things that we have to carry with us for the rest of our lives, but that, through Christ’s death on the Cross for us, mistakes are things we need to accept forgiveness for, things we need to learn from, things we need to get over and walk free from.

This hope tells us that it is not our past that will determine our future, but the present action of God’s Holy Spirit within our hearts and lives that will carry us forward.

This hope is based on Christ, the Jesus who was there at the Creation, the Word of God who still speaks loud and clear, the light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness can never and will never extinguish; Christ who walked through all the darkest experiences that life and death can bring our way, yet remained the overcomer, the victor, the champion of love.

This hope is based on the view that in God’s eyes, problems are things to be solved, injustices are things to be put right, hurts are something to be healed, sin is something to be forgiven, evil is something to be conquered.

This hope is something God wants our lives to be filled with, something He wants to be bubbling inside of us, some thing that changes the way we look at ourselves, at our situation, a lens through which we see our world and the world of other people.

“Oh”, we are warned, “Don’t go building peoples hopes up, they’ll only blame you when things come crashing down”. That’s not God’s word. God’s Word, as we enter a New Year, is “STOP PUTTING FENCES AROUND YOUR HOPES”. Stop thinking God can’t do this for us, or for me, or for that person, or that situation. Put your faith in God. As the Psalmist says, “Why so downcast O my soul, Put your HOPE in God”.

I know and you know that there will be times in this next year, just as there were times last year, when we won’t understand, when we will cry out, “Why, God, Why?” The answer may not come straight away, maybe not even in this life. But if we, even in the midst of struggle, can find that little spark of hope that says, “All will one day be well”, then that small flickering light will be our guide, just as it was a small flickering light in the sky that guided the Wise Men to Jesus.

And all that brings me full circle to where we started. True religion is a matter of the heart. As we open our hearts to Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit can build hope into our life, hope that goes beyond the way of the world and sees life, not from the limited perspective of our own experience, but from the Eternal view of God’s love. Hope that is based on acceptance of Christ as our Savior, God as our Father and the Holy Spirit as our Counselor and Guide.

It’s a heart thing, It’s a hope thing, It’s a love thing,
God can give the hope your needing,
If only you will believe Him.

May you find your life touched by Grace as we together share bread and wine.