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The Lord Puts it Together
October 9, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ROMANS 8:28-39; EPHESIANS 2:8-10

How many of you are authors? How many of you have ever written a book, novel, story or poem? In a very real sense, you are all authors. Every single one of us is writing the story of our lives. In the early years, the cast of characters in the story was given to you. The place was given to you. The semblance of the plot, a semblance of a structure for the story was given to you. But you are the author! How the story turns out is entirely in your hands. Very early in your life, you began taking over the story. You began writing it your own way. Very early, you learned that when you got hungry, and you made a funny noise, they came running with food. You learned that when your bottom got wet, if you made that same funny noise, clenched your fist and put contortions on your face, they would come running and wait on you. You certainly learned early in life how to manipulate the people around you, to get them to wait on you so that you could little by little take over the story and make it your own. 

You are the author. No one else writes your story. Some people let other people write much of their story. They let their mother write part of the story, or some other important, strong people in their lives. But still, it's the decision of the author as to whom he or she will let write part of the story. The final authority and responsibility is in your hands. You write your story. But that's not the entire picture. On the one hand, it's a very refreshing and freeing realization that the authority for your life is in your hands, that you determine your destiny. That’s freeing on one hand, but on the other hand, it's kind of frightening—awesome, sobering. 

But the good news is that you do not need to write your story all by yourself. You are not completely alone, at least for the Christian. You are not left entirely dependent upon your own wisdom, your own ability or your own strength. You're not left entirely alone to write your story. And that's good news. For if I were to write my story entirely on my own, it would be pretty bleak. If I had to exist and depend entirely on my own resources, It would be a pretty sad story. But thank God, I've been led. I've been guided. I've been sustained. I've been encouraged by the grace of God. On one hand, we're free. But on the other hand, we're not entirely alone. 

Let's think this morning about the grace of God. Another way to say grace is to say, “the Lord puts it together”. Grace is the belief, and more than just an intellectual belief, grace is also the experience that God accomplishes in your life what you are unable to do for yourself. God acts in your life when you are unable to carry on, or you're unable to come up to the expectations laid upon you by yourself. God acts in your life. When you feel doubt, when you feel insecure, when you feel incapable, God acts and even more when you feel your sin, when you feel your weaknesses, when you feel that you're incapable of doing what you want to do what is right, that is sin. On those days when you're conscious of your sin, your weaknesses, your unworthiness, God acts in your life. 

Grace means the unmerited care of God for you—the unmerited, undeserved care, love and protection of God for you that you don't deserve, that you're unworthy of—that’s grace. We can't make this business of living all alone. It's just impossible, especially in this pressurized age, especially with all that's changing around us, especially with all the anxieties. We know we just can't make it alone. We can't write our story all by ourselves and have it come out right. Grace says that God will act. Trust in God's grace for salvation. Salvation to me means the best that your life can be. Trust in God's grace for salvation. That's the glorious good news. 

Now some of you may ask, “Are you saying that God acts in my life?” Yes. “Do you really believe that God acts in my life?” Yes. Look at your life. look at your past, look at all that you've been given to come to this day, to sit here today with your place in life, with the people around you, your family, your friends, with all that you have? Can you honestly say that you have come to this day entirely on your own? Have you made it so far in your life entirely on your own resources? Can you say that God has not acted on your behalf? What about the mistakes you made but yet it worked out? What about the days you felt you were having a nervous breakdown, and then there was strength? What about the decisions where the answers just weren't clear, but the answers either came, or you found the courage to take chances, take a risk and go ahead? What about all that you have been given? What about your spouse? What about your marriage? Would you say that your spouse coming into your life was just an accident or an act of fate? 

I tell couples before I marry them that the phrase in the wedding ceremony “instituted of God” means not only that we believe the order of marriage was created by God and is ordained in the universe by God, but “instituted of God” means that God created your marriage. God made you for each other. God called you to come together. That's a far better basis for marriage than some people who say, “Well, we'll get married because we love each other, and if it doesn't work out, we can always divorce.” That's a pretty weak basis for marriage. The marriage covenant can be sustained and held together when the marriage covenant is placed within the covenant of God—to believe that the covenant of the marriage was created by God, instituted of God and your spouse is a gift of God to you. Otherwise, would you dare claim that you deserve her? or him? 

How about your parents? You didn't choose your parents. By the grace of God you were given your parents and you were created to be born in this place at this time. My parents are here visiting but I say this even if they weren't here. If I were given the opportunity to choose a set of parents, I’d pick the ones God gave me for they are gifts of God. That's grace—unmerited, undeserved, unasked for. Your children are gifts from God. John Marshall Holmes Pollock was not chosen. He was a gift from God, and trusted into his parents’ care and our care through baptism, trusted into the care of the Christian community to take care of him and to nurture him. Grandchildren are gifts from God. That’s God's grace, acting in your life. How incredibly God has acted in your life to bring you to this day! How incredible, how great God is! 

And the future? Youths are worried about the future. It's changing so fast. What's out there for me? Will there be a job, what should I train for? Where should I go to school? What should I do? Trust in God. God's grace will see you through and will accomplish that which you are unable to do for yourself. I like what Paul wrote in the eighth chapter Romans, “Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Nothing. Think of that, nothing. He listed a lot of things that had meaning for the people in that day, things that scared them like principalities, powers, heights and depth—things that don't mean anything to us anymore. He listed things that scared the people in the day, saying that they cannot separate you from the love of God. And he said, “Not things present, nor anything that is to come can separate you from the love of God.” Nothing. And then he asked the question, “If God is for us, who is against us?” If God is for you, who is against you? Who or what is against you if God is for you? Who or what can ever get you down If God is for you? Who or what can ever conquer you, can over overwhelm you, can stifle you and kill you? Who—if God is for you? Nothing can separate you from the love of God. 

And then Paul says, “In everything, God works for good.” In your life, God works for good. In everything that happens to you, God is working for good. Therefore, take your dreams, take your ambitions, take your attempts, take your failures, take your mistakes, take your determination, take them all as pieces of a puzzle. Take them to God and the Lord puts it all together into a beautiful picture, a beautiful story called your life. 

Paul wrote in our New Testament lesson, “For by grace, are you saved through faith.” You're saved by grace, not by your own attempts, not by your own worthiness or unworthiness, not by your own works, but by God's grace. The work of Jesus was sufficient His life, his death, his resurrection are sufficient. “My grace is sufficient for you,” said Paul. The Lord puts it together. 

This week, we were at Pastor’s School. We heard many lectures and you'll be hearing their ideas for several sermons to come. One of them was a black lady preacher from Virginia—a colorful, beautiful woman. When a black person who has religion speaks, you know it. She told this story. She was assigned to a small little community in Virginia, a rural pocket of poverty. All over this country there are such small communities—communities that are poor, communities that have a mindset, communities out of which it's so difficult to break, especially when they're black. She was sent to this small little black church 

One day she said to Martha who was soon to graduate from high school (Martha was a sharp girl), “Martha, what are you going to do after graduation?” Martha said, “Do? You know what there is to do here in this place.” Of course, all there was to do in that place was to get married and eke out a living on the land. The preacher said,  “Martha, why don't you go to college?” And Martha said, “Well, you know.” Those two words—you know— conveyed all the heritage that she had, and that mindset conveyed all the limitations, all the obstacles, all the reasons. It was just unthinkable that anyone could break out of that pattern. Sister Kelly asked, “Martha, do you trust in the Lord?” Martha said, “Yes.” Sister Kelly said, “Then let the Lord take you to college.” Martha said, “If the Lord had wanted anybody to go to college, he would have done it sometime in the last 103 years.” That little church had been there 103 years and not one single person had ever gone to college. So the preacher said, “Martha, why don't you be the first?” It took one year to get Martha to college—to find the scholarships, to find the other money to sustain, to get her clothes, to get the equipment, to get all the junk that people take to college, They were not going to send a second class citizen to college! Getting Martha to college was a project of the church and the whole community. Everybody talked all year—Martha’s going to college! They saw themselves in Martha going to college. They invested themselves in her.

Then the day came. Four women drove to the college—Martha, her mother, her 82 year-old grandmother, and the preacher. Four women got out of the car, loaded themselves down with all the luggage and stood at the bottom of the steps that led into the dormitory. All of a sudden, it hit the grandmother and she dropped the stuff. They had been working on it all year but it hadn't got through yet. And grandmother—what a life she'd had for 82 years living in a depression. We talk about the Depression of the 30s, but people who live in those kinds of communities never knew there was a depression. They had a depression before and since—it’s always a depression. It’s always eking out, wondering if they have enough food for the next meal. All the work, all the labor, the pain, the tears, the agony of those 82 years just came to her as she stood at the bottom of the steps. She dropped her luggage. She looked at the dormitory and said. “My granddaughter is going to college.” 

She raised her arms and she sang, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see.” And teenage Martha wasn't embarrassed by her grandmother. She didn't say, “Oh Grandma, hush. Grandma, we’re in the white man’s school. Be good.” She didn't. Martha raised up her voice and they sang together, “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. It was grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” That was only six years ago. Such things still happen in our country. Martha distinguished herself and has been on the Dean's List ever since. When the preacher was transferred to another town, she went back to that community to give the high school graduation sermon this last spring. She said that after the ceremony, youth after youth after youth that she'd watched grow up, came up to her and said, “Sister Kelly, I'm going to college.” Martha broke the mold. And now new possibilities are there for them for their story. There are new possibilities for the plots of their stories. 

While you write your story as I write mine, we don't write it alone. When we hit obstacles and roadblocks, when the bridges collapse, when the bottom falls out, when life tumbles in, God's grace is sufficient for the Lord puts it all together.

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris