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Prevenient Grace

Prevenient Grace

(Lectionary Starters)

Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

January 19, 2003

1 Samuel 3:1-10, Psalms 136:1-6, Psalms 136:13-18, John 1:43-51

Jim Killen, a minister of the United Methodist Church, Beaumont, Texas

Do you know the expression, "prevenient grace"? It's O.K. if you don't know the words, but you really need to know the reality that they represent. Prevenient grace is the expression theologians use to talk about God working in our lives for our salvation before we know anything about it or do anything to cause it to happen. Some folks keep saying, "If you will do this, this and this, then God will come into your life and save you." The truth is that God is always reaching out to us and working in our lives to move us toward the fulfillment of our highest possibilities. The trick is for us to recognize what God is doing in our lives and to be receptive and responsive to it.

I. The Scriptures give us many examples of how God works in our lives to save us.

The psalmist who wrote Psalms 139 was very much aware that God was always present and that God always knew all about him. "Lord, you have searched me an known me." He said that God knew all about him even when he was being formed in his mother's womb. He said that he knew there is no place to hide from God. That gives us a spooky feeling, doesn't it. In this age of computerized information, we struggle to retain just a little bit of privacy. And, to be honest, there are things about most of our lives that we would rather not have God watching or listening in on. But the fact is that God is always present and that God knows us better than we know ourselves. It is a good thing that God loves us.

The story of little Samuel and old Eli tells us that God has a purpose for our lives and for our world. The text tells us that this story took place during a time when people weren't seeing much divine activity -- or expecting it. Old Eli was a good man and a faithful servant of God, but his sons were completely corrupt. God was working in the subtle ways that God often works in the affairs of people to put an end to their abuse of power. And God was also working to bring something better into being to replace it. He picked young Samuel to be a prophet who would be God's agent for the beginning of a new age in Israel's history. God called and, with Eli's help, Samuel responded.

In the New Testament, John tells us that Jesus surprised Nathaniel by knowing about him and believing in him before Nathaniel had ever paid any attention to Jesus. That relationship eventually grew into a very important one that changed Nathaniel's life and caused him to be used him to change the world.

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