The Good News of God’s Grace – Br. David Vryhof

Acts 20:17-38

I would like to direct my words this morning to those of you who are preparing for ordination and who are with us in retreat this week.  In classes, seminars and field placements, you have studied and practiced the skills you will need for the ministries you will soon be taking up.  But you may well feel that you have only begun, that there is so much more that you need to know.  And you will be right about that.  Your formation is not yet complete; in fact, formation is a life-long process that extends far beyond the formal training you have received.  You will need to be constantly learning, constantly observing, reflecting, evaluating, and growing. 

You have a worthy mentor in St. Paul, whose final words to the elders of the church in Ephesus are recorded in Acts 20, which we read as the first lesson last night and again today.  Paul explains to them that he is on his way to Jerusalem, “not knowing what will happen to [him] there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to [him] in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for [him]” (v.22-23). “But I do not count my life of any value to myself,” he says to them, “if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace” (v. 24).  We see here what is most important to Paul, and it is not his status or reputation or accomplishments or even the preservation of his own life.  He desires only to “finish the course” God has set before him and to be faithful in the ministry which God has given him.  And what is this ministry to which Paul has so whole-heartedly dedicated himself?  In his own words, it is this: “To testify to the good news of God’s grace” (v.24).

Having received this good news and having experienced the gift of God’s grace in his own life, Paul has made it his purpose and aim to share it with others.  His own life has been completely transformed by this good news of God’s grace.  The things that were once important to him he no longer values.  To the Philippians he writes, “[I was] circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless”(Phil 3:5-6).  I had it all, says Paul: a proper family, an excellent education, a stellar reputation.“Yet whatever gains I had,” he continues, “these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (v.7-9a).

Paul values “the good news of God’s grace” more than anything else – more than background or education or reputation or success; more even than his own safety and well-being.  “The good news of God’s grace” has transformed his own life, and he desires nothing more than to offer this same “good news of God’s grace” to others.  He has tasted the glorious freedom of the children of God and has given up striving for the things the world counts as valuable “because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [his] Lord.”

This glorious freedom is available to us all.  By God’s grace we have discovered the surpassing value of knowing Christ.  Now you are being entrusted with this mission, the same mission which was carried out by Jesus, God’s Son, and by Paul, God’s apostle to the Gentiles.  And what is this mission?  It is simply this: “To testify to the good news of God’s grace.”

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  1. Ruth West on January 30, 2017 at 18:40

    Br. David, in our Bible Study Class we are studying the Acts of the Apostles. Your sermon is so on target to those seeking holy orders, as well as to all of us. The story of Saul, who became Paul, is a perfect example of conversion. What a gift he has been to the church! Thanks for your message.

  2. Tudy Hill on January 25, 2017 at 10:37

    Your words make me reflect on how very difficult it is for me to admit that “status, reputation, my own accomplishments, and, especially my own life” are all so valuable to me. I needed to be reminded, again, that sharing God’s good news is more life-affirming for me… and everyone around me. Thanks be to God for such grace.

  3. Fr John E Harris-White on January 15, 2017 at 10:46

    Thank you Brother David. As a simple priest, now approaching my 83rd birthday, I very much value your words, and the riches of God,s Grace given over many years, since my priesting in 1963. To God be the Glory.

  4. Mary Clare of the Trinity on May 2, 2016 at 10:31

    I think a good sermon needs to make a point. One good point! The good news of God’s grace is engaging ~ no intellectual acrobatics necessary.
    Yes, this world needs help on many levels, and yes, the good news of God’s grace is the answer. For me God’s treasured gift of freedom from the negativity of mankind, and hope in what God is capable of achieving in our lives and the world is worth it all.
    With God’s grace the freedom to let go of the past and the future is possible. To live fully in God’s present grace ~ what a GIFT! Open up to the glory!
    Thanks be to God.
    Thank you Br. David

  5. clyde bantz on May 1, 2016 at 07:13

    My dear Brohers, Other then trying to be an example how does one witness to our neighbors particularly when they don’t want to be bothered or hear the word?
    Pax/Shalom in Christ,
    clyde ps> I was a friend to Father Maddux SSJE when he was at St. Peters on the Hill Baltimore

  6. Charlotte Weaver-Gelzer on January 25, 2015 at 08:51

    Since the readers today are not likely to be either ordinands or in field placement, as was the case when this sermon was preached, I take it that you mean the words about St Paul’s calling and dedication, his running the race, to apply to all in all orders, clergy and apostolate. The Church has burdened herself with a heavy construction of theology of privilege, isolation, and expectation, on top of that rather faint line between the calling to equip the saints at work in the world–that is, the clergy’s work of doing the housework in the household of God, and the apostolate calling to witness and convey the Presence of God in the world. This burden of separation, so top-heavy with privilege and special training, has strapped on us all a weight of assumed theological justification, now grown mightily, that is pulling the Body if Christ so out if true that clergy everywhere are sick in ministry, and the apostolate everywhere is either infantilized and unable to live into maturity, or, those who would be apostles have left the Church so they can grow up and find meaning in their lives not limited by tradition serving the institution, and those who benefit most from the institution. I say all this because, in this sermon, Paul’s words and description of life purpose are interpreted as pointing to (limited to?) the clergy. Try to imagine that a member of the apostolate, reading this, would have to discount something pretty serious either in her own calling to value and transmit the good news of God’s grace, or in her place in the congregation paying attention to the sermon. Actually, a great many of us in the apostolate have to engage in such feats of intellectual acrobatics as we contemplate the Gospel, the meaning of the orders of the church in our lives, as we cope with the shambles of institutional leadership and our daily tasks of routine and witness, that church exhausts us rather than equipping us. There’s nothing the matter with the sermon, per se; it just touches by assumption that division line which supports the construct laming and hampering the Body, and continues to go unaddressed. It seems worthwhile to the glory (the Presence ) of Christ, to bring it up. Thank you.

    • Mino Sullivan on January 26, 2015 at 09:45

      Since we are all one, and all is God, I assumed David was speaking to all believers. Though a dualistic thinker in many areas of my life, it never occurred to me to make any separation while reading and contemplating David’s or St Paul’s words.

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