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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Epiphany, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 5, 2020

Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1: 10-18

‘Grace & Truth’

In the Bible passage today, John opens his book with the Prologue, or the beginning, so rather than start at verse 10, which began our reading today, I’ll take us back to the beginning.

Pay attention to the opening paragraph, and John doesn’t identify the Word as being human, except in the personal pronouns “him”. In verses 1-3 John introduces to readers that God was there at the beginning, and included The Trinitarian God using the words Creator (God the Father), Savior (Jesus Christ) and Light (The Holy Spirit). Light in the Bible stands for spiritual illumination and truth. 

The darkness that John speaks of is suddenly illuminated by the one who is light. It’s like a door being opened. That there is life in abundance for people welcome this opened door to the truth that - Jesus is the Savior, and He came to save the world, and He is the light to those walk in the darkness.

A lot of you probably don’t know much about me, except that I am an ordained minister of the words, and I work as a hospital chaplain. This knowledge is true, but this is not all that made me who I am today. Allow me to share with you a little bit more about myself.

I grew up in a privilege home. I know about God all my life, but I cannot say that I had a relationship with God. Conversation with God was more of asking God to provide me what I needed at the time. My requests were not always been answered the way I wanted. God and I were very much an acquainted friend. But it all changed in the year 1975, when I escaped from Vietnam, my birth country, with an attempt to get away from communism. During this escape journey, I was captured and placed in prison. It was a place where I experienced God’s mercy and grace at first hands. During this ordeal living as a prisoner of war, I was tortured. I faced death so many times. I had many questions to God at the time and God answered me – always - in silence.

During the prison time, I spent most of my time labored on the rice or corn field. A reward at the end of the day were less than a handful of corn kernels in my pocket. But it was good enough to make my dinner consisted of a watery cloudy thin runny soup became tastier and satisfied to my starving palate.  

During this time, I believed God has abandoned me, and God no longer loved me. Somehow the little voice in my head was able to convince me to believe that my sins were so great that there was no hope for God to love me again.

How wrong it was because the truth is God loved me no matter what. His love for me is the same yesterday – today - and forever. There is nothing I can do to make God loves me less or more.  This is the evidence of God’s grace and truth.

Grace is one of the key words in the Bible. It means mercy or forgiveness. It is a gift from God to you and me, although we don’t deserve it. We receive this gift of grace through our confession and repentance while seeking God’s forgiveness.  One of my favorite hymns is the hymn “Amazing Grace”. It talks about the generosity of God’s forgiveness, which offered to every one of us, even the most wretched of sinners. This is hope to me.

My story is a story fills of God’s grace. I did not live a life honoring God. I was and I am a sinner. I don’t deserve God’s blessings and love, but God loves me any way. He did not give up on me. He saved me from the prison, and He restored me into a person I am today, not perfect but it is a work in progress in God’s hands. I was once walked in the darkness but now I live in Christ, who is the Light for the world. I experience God’s grace and mercy every day even a little thing that I might not notice it. God’s grace reveals to me every time when I get accessible food to eat, water to drink, a place to lie down and sleep, or when I was able to get out of bed without feeling pain in my bone.

****Do you remember when was the last time you experienced God’s grace in your life?

In verse 16 – 17 John speaks of Grace and Truth that came through Jesus Christ. That all believers receive Christ’s blessings, this is GRACE, and Jesus has the power to meet all our needs, that God’s blessings are overflowing on us, and God’s mercy and grace renew every morning. This is A TRUTH.

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness – Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)

Grace comes at no cost to us. Forgiveness can never be earned – we can never do anything to earn God’s forgiveness, - it’s just the fruit of God’s love. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast - Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

Philip Yancey in his book ‘What’s so amazing about grace’ says: ”when we experience God’s grace, we learn that God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are. Grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us.”

 Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most of them would reply, "Be good."  But Jesus said differently “Repent” and seek God for forgiveness. Repent and turn to God so that He can forgive your sins” – Acts 3:19 (NIV). The need to repent our sins is a central belief in Christianity, and true repentance is the only true way to live an eternal life in heaven. Repentance is the doorway to God’s grace. And God’s grace is a gift of God’s unconditional love for us.

A Christian’s life is often compared to a light bulb, which can’t shine on its own. It needs electricity and it needs a switch to turn on the electricity. What good it would be if the electrical power is there but there is no switch to turn the light bulb on. The light only shines if it is connected to electricity and it has the switch turn on to allow the connection happened.

We are the light bulb, electricity is spiritual source from God and the switch is our power, willingness to say yes (switch on) to receive the spiritual strength from God into us.

Similarly, about God’s power. It is always available to us. God is always waiting for us to ask, and he’ll gladly give us the strength of will and spiritual determination to do the work He has for us. But we must make the connection, this connection can be through prayer, bible study, reading reflection on God’s words and believe that we can do anything, absolutely anything that God wants us to through the spiritual strength God gives us.

 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” - Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

Going back to my story. I was not a true Christian in the past. I did not commit to live my life for God. But God still chased after me. He did not forget me while I was in prison. He was constantly finding the way to communicate to me, to make known to me how much I am loved and how much God cared for me then and even today. I was very much a prodigal daughter, ran away and chased after my own dream, but God, a faithful loving God, always waiting for my return. And so, I did, came back and rested in God’s loving arms and to be reminded I am loved.

John wrote: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’-  John 1:14 (NIV)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us – Jesus came to earth as a baby in human flesh and lived among the people on earth.

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth – Jesus glory was his fulfillment of the task given to him from God the Father, his death on the cross for our sins (the gift of grace) and his resurrection from the death (the truth).

Yes, you and I, we experience God’s grace every day while we are sinning every moment of our life. We also experience and know the truth that we are imperfect in many ways, but still God loves us unconditionally, and we are His Beloved.

The amazing truth of all that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, to restore our relationship with God and to have an eternal life. Sin is death – Christ is life.

For the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT (charisma - Greek word – meaning the gift of grace) of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

I like the words of the song “I’m special” which I heard a long time ago at one of the Mission conferences. It goes like this:

I’m special because God has loved me,
For he gave the best thing that he had to save me.
His own son Jesus, crucified to take the blame
For all the bad things I have done.
Thank you, Jesus, thank you Lord,
For loving me so much;
I know I don’t deserve anything.
Help me feel your love right now,
To know deep in my heart
That I’m your special friend.

The words of the song affirm to me that each one of us is special in God’s eyes, because we are created in God’s image, and God loves us unconditionally. That we are loved – THE BELOVED.

THIS IS GOD’S GRACE, AND THIS IS THE TRUTH. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift of grace and truth.

Please pray with me

Thank you, God, for the gift of grace even we don’t deserve it. Thank you for not giving up on us despite that we constantly run away from you. Thank you for the Truth that our salvation is secured through what Jesus did on the cross for our sins; so, we can have a relationship with you again. You are an amazing and awesome God, and we love You and adore You.

Thank you for the gift of grace and the truth we have through your son, Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Minh Towner

Homily by Minh Towner