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September 10, 2019, 8:53 AM

Amazing Grace - Eventually


In just the eight months I’ve been your priest-in-charge, I’ve presided over more than five funerals. It is a great privilege of being a priest – walking with families through their grief. But, honestly, I’m beginning to develop a complex. More than five funerals in eight months?

Anyway – for at least two of those funerals, the families have chosen to sing the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” It can be a truly comforting song for people in mourning, helping them to know, and trust, and believe in God’s amazing grace – even in the midst of their sorrow.

Time for a quick history lesson. The hymn, Amazing Grace, was written by John Newton, an Anglican priest serving in England in the late 1700s. John Newton was not always a priest, however. His life’s history is much more interesting than that. John Newton was first employed as a sailor, just like his father before him.

And, just like his father before him, John Newton actively participated in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. He worked on slave ships and saw, firsthand, the terrible ways the people were treated. On one of those hard journeys across the Atlantic Ocean, there was a terrible storm. When the ship was saved from certain doom, John Newton had what he considered a conversion experience.

He did become convinced of God’s amazing grace, but his conversion experience did not result in immediate changes in his life. Newton continued to participate in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade for many years, despite the strength of his conversion convictions. I don’t know what exactly brought about a change in Newton’s life, but he did eventually stop participating in the slave trade.

After his eventual ordination to the Anglican priesthood, Newton began composing hymns, one of which is “Amazing Grace.” And, because of God’s amazing grace, Newton’s life changed even further. Instead of working for the slave trade, Newton eventually became active in the effort to end the slave trade in England – an effort that was eventually successful six months before Newton’s death.

The word “eventually” shows up frequently in John Newton’s story. He eventually became convinced of God’s amazing grace. He eventually ended his participation in the slave trade. He eventually became an Anglican priest. He eventually put his belief in God’s amazing grace into the words of a hymn. He eventually began to fight against slavery.

I was thinking of the word “eventually” when reading today’s second lesson from Philemon. In this short book, Paul writes a letter to Philemon, a slave holder, about one particular slave: Onesimus. Instead of scolding Philemon for the decidedly un-Christian behavior of trying to own another human being, Paul tries to convince Philemon not to punish Onesimus for running away.

The fact that Paul does not order Philemon to free Onesimus immediately has frustrated theologians for hundreds of years. In fact, passages from Paul’s letter to Philemon have been used by slave owners to actually justify slavery. People who argued that slavery is a Christian institution saw Paul’s example of returning Onesimus to Philemon’s ownership as proof positive that God wanted slavery to continue.

Eventually, with God’s amazing grace, Christians came to see that slavery was, in fact, not at all Christian. Eventually, with God’s amazing grace, Christians moved to the forefront of the movement to end slavery. Eventually, with God’s amazing grace, Christians became convinced that God desires freedom and not slavery for all people.

Even if we have never been involved in something as awful as slavery, we might be able to recognize some “eventually” moments when it comes to God’s amazing grace. We might be able to recognize how God’s amazing grace eventually changed our lives. We might be able to recognize how God’s amazing grace eventually brought new life, new peace, new hope to our lives.

In an alternate version of the hymn, Amazing Grace, one of the verses has changed slightly. This version now says, “I once was bound, but now I’m free.” Because of God’s amazing grace, we are free of whatever once bound us.

God’s amazing grace is available to us, over and over, anew every day, through our faith in Jesus. Whatever holds you bound today, I pray that God’s amazing grace will eventually free you. Amen.


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