SERMON TITLE: “Saved by Grace: A Sinner Transformed”
SERMON TEXT: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: September 24, 2017, at First UMC
I’ve been thinking a lot about history lately. Like many of you, I’ve been watching the PBS series on the Viet Nam War. I’ve also been reading a biography of Martin Luther, since this fall is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Catholic church in Wittenberg, Germany. Earlier this year, I also started reading a thick biography of Francis Asbury, the circuit riding preacher and bishop of the early American Methodists.
Luther and Asbury are interesting comparisons. While Luther lived mostly in the 1500s, Asbury lived mostly in the 1700s. While Luther lived in Germany all his life, Asbury started out in England and then came to America when he was 26 years old. Even though Luther began his adult career as a celibate Roman Catholic priest, he eventually got married and lived happily that way. Francis Asbury, on the other hand, started in the Anglican tradition in which clergy were allowed to get married. Yet, Asbury never permitted romance to get in the way of his single-minded mission, and he did everything in his power to dissuade his young circuit riding preachers from settling down with a wife and family.
It’s also interesting to compare the two men’s theology. Martin Luther was primarily concerned that the Roman Catholic Church had made salvation too hard and complicated. The adoration of the saints that had originated as a blessing had become burdensome and expensive, and put salvation out of reach of many. So Luther’s teaching and reforms allowed people more freedom to bypass some of the cumbersome structures of the church and to have a much-more direct, faith and grace-based relationship with Jesus Christ.
Francis Asbury agreed with Luther that people could and should have a direct relationship with Jesus. Asbury’s preaching was all about the grace that made that possible. But Asbury also worked his whole life to connect people, communities, and churches throughout the 13 colonies and the American frontier. The creation and early success of the Methodist Church in America was largely a result of Asbury’s tireless efforts to advance the organization and structure of the Methodist connection. Asbury devoted himself to this cause because he believed that the Methodist connection had the power to deliver the gracious salvation of Jesus Christ to the people wherever they were.
The gospel of salvation through grace and faith in Jesus Christ didn’t only belong to Protestant reformers and early Methodists, however. That was also the original message of the earliest Christians and New Testament writers. In this great historical tradition of Christian faith, I invite you to consider with me First Timothy chapter one. Let’s see what we can learn as we read about the Apostle Paul, a sinner transformed.