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Leading the Laity: Reviving and Extending Grace

Posted: February 28 2024 at 08:53 AM
Author: Eugene Williams, Conference Co-Lay Leader

To my sisters and brothers of the Northern Illinois Conference and our siblings in the Wisconsin Conference, I greet you with the love and peace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Let us celebrate anew these forty days of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Psalm Sunday and finally, to Resurrection Sunday. This is a sincere time for prayer, reflection, repentance, and forgiveness as we consider the very essence of what, who and whom we are as United Methodist siblings. We are in fact, children of the Most High. We believe in and live in the covenant of grace under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  

The 2016 Book of Discipline and The United Methodist Church Handbook (published by United Methodist Communications) describe our Wesleyan heritage of a theology of grace. It is profound and flows from God’s love for us. I draw on those for these reflections. 

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We live out the prevenient grace of God, which goes before us and surrounds us prior to our consciousness or awareness of its presence—yes, blessing us while we were yet in our mother’s womb. It is unmerited and undeserved and there is nothing we can do to earn it! Siblings, prevenient grace stirs within us a desire to know the God who actively seeks us. God’s grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil. It allows us to choose good over evil and moves us to turn toward God through repentance to accept God’s gift in faith. 

We also believe that God reaches out to us repentant believers, with justifying grace through accepting and pardoning love. Then the guidance of the Holy Spirit brings about a decisive change in the human heart. In justification, we are, through faith, forgiven for our sin and restored to God’s favor. We acknowledge our human condition and seek to make a conscious decision to turn toward God and a life of service as a disciple of Christ. This process of salvation involves a change we call “conversion.” It represents changes of belief, spiritual outlook, and manner of life. 

Sisters and brothers, what a mighty God we serve! Because the acceptance and pardon that come through justifying grace do not end God’s saving work towards us. It continues as the Holy Spirit enables us to grow in knowledge and love of God and neighbor. John Wesley called this dimension of God’s grace “sanctification,” “holiness,” or “Christian perfection.” Wesley described sanctifying grace as a heart “habitually filled with the love of God” and he understood it to be a continual process of being made perfect in our love of God and each other by removing our desire to sin. 

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I confess that I still have quite a way to go on my spiritual journey to achieve sanctification and Christian perfection. Nevertheless, the seeds have been planted and I will continue in my effort to be more like Jesus every day. As we move forward through this season of Lent and beyond, we will face many challenges in life of our denomination, in the upcoming political landscape and the many acts of senseless violence in our streets (and yes even during parades and celebrations). For every challenge that may arise, I invite you to RECEIVE AND EXTEND GRACE in our interactions with each other. Let us continue with our theme from Laity Convocation: “Growing Together in Love” through courageous and respectful conversation as we extend to others the grace that God has given to us.   

Whatever lies ahead, let us remain on task for the mission before us; to make disciples for Christ. Let us continue to RECEIVE AND EXTEND GRACE, not just during Lent, but on every day. May God’s grace continue to bless us. Always remember our baptism and keep it holy. 

The Board of Laity thanks you for your support of our Laity Convocation, especially our hosts, Rev. James Bell and the First Belvidere congregation. 

Watch a recording of the Laity Convocation worship and speakers here.

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