Sermon delivered May 9, 2009 by Harold Cunningham

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

The Meaning of Grace

Ephesians 2:4-9

(RealAudio Version available)

Good morning saints and sinners.  You know who you are, right?  Huh?  Well that’s what we’re going to be talking about, a little bit about today.  About who you are.  I know who I am.  Well I mean, I am Southern.   I can’t hide that when I talk.  It just drips, you know.

By the way, a little side-bar here.  Pastor Cook, where I come from, any fish we catch, we don’t photograph and we don’t mount it.  You’d have that with some cheese grits and hush puppies later.  Everybody would have known how big it was.

If you know who you are, like I know who I am.  I mean not that stuff.  I'm talking about the stuff that comes from the inside out.  My motives, my intentions.  I know who I am.  You too?  Not the ties and suits and sabbaths.  I mean, who we really are.  Do you know who you are?  If you know who you are, who you really are, and you wish you could be something different, from the inside out, like I do, or you wish you could be what you ought to be, or what you could be, then this is extremely good news for you today.  It is the gospel.

It all started in a classroom that I was in, in systematic theology, and it was a life change.  One day in a classroom has the potential to change a person's life forever.  You believe that?  If the Gospel’s proclaimed it can, right? 

We had our textbooks open.  A college professor who I’m going to call Professor Martin Van Buren to protect the guilty.  Professor Van Buren had asked us to open our textbooks and we were studying Ephesians, chapter 2.  The very Scripture reading that was read here today.  Matter of fact, let's just pretend like this is our classroom today I'm going to invite you to open your Bibles to Ephesians, chapter 2.  Just going to cover the same few verses that we had in our Scripture reading today, and to set the stage.  Because our gospel presentation this morning evolves out of two passages of Scripture.  One from Ephesians, chapter 2 and another from Romans, chapter 4.  The same divine author and even the same human writer, who brought us that.  So let me move over here to Ephesians, chapter 2, while you're looking to it.  I'm going to read it out loud, make just a few comments and you'll read it to yourself.  Today I'm reading from the New King James.  Yes, the King James.  But I love this passage in the New International.  Compared it to the both of them and the essence is captured in both.  So you read yourself while I read aloud, but let's begin in verse four.

So you get the situation.  We’re in a classroom and here is a guy, a theology student, who's never been, that it was difficult to capture, let me put it this way, it was difficult to capture my attention in class.  And this particular fall day, I remember I was sitting on the second floor.  The window was open, and I was watching two squirrels play in an oak tree that was rising up right by the window.  But this captured; I caught this and it captured me and I opened my textbook.  The passage was written in the textbook and I began to follow it with my finger.  I know that caught my professor off guard, right there.  And so again today, beginning in verse four, “But God, who is rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us,” verse five, “even when we were dead in trespasses.” 

I mean, there's more than one kind of death.  There’s a physical death, and it's not easy to bring someone back to life from physical death.  But I would propose to you, because of my own experience, you think within yourself this morning and see what your answer would be, is that I would say that resurrection from spiritual death is equally or more challenging.  Hm?  I mean with a word He could call Lazarus.  But what does it take to transform a man from spiritual death to spiritual life?  Well, we'll find out here.

“Even when we were dead in trespasses He made us alive together with Christ,” and then in parentheses, you may read this.  I'm not sure in your Bible, may be with or without, “by what”, is the next word?  “By grace, by grace you have been saved.”  Ok.  So this transformation of character from being dead in trespasses and sin to alive again in Jesus Christ, there is a catalyst for it and that is what?  Grace.  Ok.  Good.  Alright now, let's finish it.  Let's go to verse six.  “And raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ.”  Verse seven.  “That in the ages to come, He might show the exceeding riches of His grace.”  Now whoa, whoa whoa, wait a minute now.  You see, we have a little rule in south Georgia, you know?  When the preacher pauses that’s either an “amen” moment or you say the answer. Ok?  So I'll back up, ok?  Now we're going to do this again, alright?  So here we go.  It says.  “Even when we were dead in trespasses He made us alive together with Christ and by grace you have been saved.”  Verse six.  “And raised us up together with Him and made us sit in the heavenly places with Christ.”  And now I'm coming up to it, in verse seven, “that in the ages to come, He might show the exceeding riches of His” [audience, grace].  There you got it now, ok.  “Of His grace, in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  And then this classic passage, ok?.  Classic Adventist passage.  If in fact, and we know it is, the third angel's message is in verity the message of righteousness by faith, this passage is as important to us as it was to the reformer Martin Luther.  Can I get an amen?  Ok.  And so let's read this together, ok?  I'm going to pause at that critical part, so you tell me when we get there, “For it is by [audience, grace] that you have been [audience, saved].”  

Now I was mesmerized because I know who I am and I knew who I was then.  Just like you do, too.  As you sit here today, you know who you really are.  What you ought to be.  What you should be.  What you could be.  And what you are.

I shocked my professor.  I raised my hand.  He took off his glasses, looked and put them back on and looked again.  He says, “Mr. Cunningham, is that you raising your hand?”  I said, “It is me.  It's possible for a man to be something other than what he is?”  “Yes,” he smiled.  “You’re right.”  “It's possible to be resurrected from spiritual death to life?  To have a transformation of character?  Am I understanding that that's what you're saying?”  He says, “Yes! Yes! Yes!  That's right!”  “And am I right that this happens as a result of something called grace?”  He said, “Oh my goodness, this is a molten moment for you.  I've never seen you respond in class before.  Yes! Yes, yes!  That's right,” he said.  “You're right.  It's grace!”  Then I said, “What-  is-  grace?  What is grace?  How do I get it?  How do I get that?  Where does that come from?  What does that look like?” 

He paused.  I spent a few years in classroom in academy.  Not only did it take me a long time to graduate but I actually went back and taught sometime and spent quite a while in a classroom.  Some of the most poignant, pregnant, some of the most powerful moments in a classroom happen in moments of silence.  Silence can do the heavy lifting, a lot of times.  Remember that, men, when you're tempted to respond back to your better half, with a solution, when all she wants is to be heard, ok?  Silence.  Let silence do the heavy lifting.  And that's what he did, he paused.  Then he said, “Close your textbooks.”  I mean, this message, this gospel presentation today is just, I'm just sharing what happened, one day in a classroom, that changed the direction of my life.  Powerful, poignant moment. 

“Close your textbooks,” he said.  “Now open your Bibles.”  I had my Bible in my hand.  I knew something good was coming.  I was anticipating it.  He said, “I want you to find Romans, chapter 4.”  You too.  You too.  Romans, chapter 4.  We’re all in that classroom today.  We’re all in that classroom today.  Romans, chapter 4.  He started little bit before this but I'm going to pick it up so we can get to the heart of it sooner.  Beginning in verse 16.  Romans four and verse 16.  And I was wondering, so what does Romans four have to do with Ephesians chapter 2.  You know, Ephesians, chapter 2 is talking about death, life, spiritual life, even though we’re dead in our trespasses we were resurrected.  Faith.  Grace brings it about, so I had remembered reading Romans, chapter 4, but somehow, well, I was curious to see where he was going to take us on this.  And let's begin in verse 16.  “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace.”  There it was.  I said, “Ok, I'm getting the connection here, ok?”  “So that the promise might be sure to all who are of the seed.  Not only of those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.”  Or where I'm coming from, Paul would have said, “Not only to those of you who are blood kin to Abraham,” is that a term you’ve heard before?  You know, blood kin, “Not only to you who are blood kin but also those of you who have been adopted into the family,” ok.  We can be thankful we’ve been adopted in.  Right?  That the gospel is not just for those who are blood kin to Abraham, but to those who became grafted in.  I'm pausing.  That's a good amen moment.  Right?  And we wouldn't be here today without that.  Right?  We wouldn't be here if God hadn’t ordained that to be.  Let's move to verse 17.  “As it is written, I have made you a father of many nations.”  Not just one nation.  Not  the Jewish nation, but all of us, “in the presence of Him whom He believed.”  “Now Paul,” he says, “Now gentlemen,” the professor says, “Now, gentlemen.”  He says, “I want you to focus on, the question is, what is grace?  Don't lose it here.  We're moving into it right here.”  So I actually had my Bible open.  I had my finger scanning.  I'm bent over forward.  That's always a good sign in a classroom when students are bent forward.  And he reads this passage to us.  He concludes with this.  He says this, “Now Paul tells us who and what the God of Abraham is.”  So this is critical.  Ok?  “The God who gives life to the dead.”  “Ah yes,” I said.  “I get it.”  That goes back to Ephesians, chapter 2.  He can resurrect us from spiritual death and transform us, but then he says, “No no no no.  This last phrase is the heart,” he said in his South African accent, “the heart of the passage.  He is the God which calls to life the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”  “Who calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”  And I love the N.I.V.'s, how it's phrased in the N.I.V.  “He calls what is not as though it were.” 

That is so critical to where we're going today in understanding the meaning of this passage and answering the question, “What is the meaning of grace?”  I'm going to ask you to say it back to me.  Ok?  Because here Paul says that our God is the God who calls what is not as though it were.  Ok.  So let's say it.  Say it with me.  He’s the God that calls what is not as though it were.  One more time.  He's the God that calls what is not as though it were.  And it is.  Because when He says it, it is.  That's a pause.  He calls what is not as though it is, and then he closed his bible and he stepped back for a moment and he said, “I will tell you a story.” 

He had me right there.  Had me wrapped around his finger, right in the palm of his hand, and about 25 of the rest of us there too.  He said, and I can't, Brother Keet could do this so much better than me.  I just love to hear him talk.  No matter how I try to make this sound like a South African accent it always comes out like some kind of dirty Scotch-Irish kind of, with a southern twang to it, you know, but he says, “I was born in South Africa.  My father worked in the mines.  My father got up before light and ascended in darkness, went to the mines, descended in the darkness and when he came up out of the mines the sun had set and he ascended back into darkness.  My father lived his life in darkness,” and I knew he was talking about more than physical darkness.  Are you with me?  You too.  I knew he was talking about more than physical darkness.  He says, “My father was a mountain of a man,” and I still remember his description that day in class because he says, “Biceps like sinew of oak,” and he says, “and a chest like a band of steel, for it took that kind of man,” he said, “to work 30 years in the mines below ground.  So he had the body but he also had an appetite for alcohol that matched his physical strength, and when you combine the two, you got a nasty outcome.  Yes, my mother and I knew the result of that combination of brawn and alcohol.  The physical abuse in our home.  We wouldn't speak of it anywhere outside there we were so embarrassed and humiliated by it, as well as the emotional and the verbal abuse.  But my mother,” he said.  In honor of Mother's Day I use his words.  He said, “But my mother,” and he paused and closed his eyes, he said, “she was a saint, God rest her soul.”  Amen.  Somebody’s mama’s not going to be happy if you don't amen that right there. 

He said, “We lived in a little wooden clapboard house that was unpainted.  Two rooms.  Bathroom outside.  We had a screen porch.  Oh, not a screen porch.  We had a porch that leaned and it shouldn't, wasn’t built to, but that's the way it was now, with a little fence with pickets missing and a gate hanging on one hinge off on the side.”  And he said “You walked over a hill, down the hill from our house till you got to the dirt road and then you took the dirt road to the gravel road and then you took the gravel road to the paved road, and that's where you would wait for the school bus.  Aw,” he said, “school, school.”  He said, “Yes gentlemen, I don't know how you feel about school, but let me tell you that for me,” he said, “school was…”  And I loved it.  He would roll his r’s.  “Redemption.” 

He said, “At school was a sanctuary, a refuge.”  He said, “School is where I go that no one knew about all that.  No one knew about my father.  No one knew about our poverty.  No one knew about where we lived and how primitive it was.  At school I was a hero.  At school I made good grades.  At school I was the captain of the soccer team.  I played in the band and in the choir.  The teachers loved me.  The principle would use me as an example.”  He says, “And I had delightful friends.”  He said, “As a matter of fact, my best friend in school was Peter Kruger.  His family, Peter Kruger's family, owned the very mines where my father worked.  But school is a great equalizer and there no one knew about all that.  I could be someone else at school.”

“One day,” he said, “I stayed late for soccer practice, and I missed the school bus.  I was trying to figure out how I’m going to get home.  I was standing out in front of the school on the sidewalk.”  He said, “I didn't have money for public transportation and it didn't go to my house anyway.  And we didn't have a telephone for me to call home.  When I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned and there was my best friend Peter Kruger.  Peter said, ‘Well Martin, what are you doing here?’”  He says, ‘I stayed for soccer practice, I missed my bus and I’m in a jam.  I don't know how I’m going to get home.’  He says, ‘Aw, you don't worry about it.  Go home with me.’  He said, ‘No, I couldn't do that.’  He says, ‘My parents would be worried.  My Father…’  And Peter said, ‘Aw, it’s not to worry.’  He said,  ‘We could go by there and drop you off.’  He said, ‘No, no, no no.  We don't want to do that.’  He said,  ‘Well we could call them on the telephone.’  He says, ‘Naw, no, no, no.  I don’t want to do that.’  He said, ‘Well I think you only have one other choice.  You have to come home and spend the night with me.’  He says, ‘Well, I, I don't think…’  He says, ‘Well you can stay here or you can go home with me.’  ‘Ok, I'll go home with you.’

“So,” he said, “in a few minutes, a limousine pulled up.”  He says, “A chauffeur got out and opened the back door and we two boys slid into the back seat.  He took our book bags.”  He closed his eyes, our professor, then breathed in.  “I can still smell those leather seats, and we drove through town and we began to enter one of the finest parts of town and we drove into a gated community and then up to this fine mansion.”  He said, “I can still hear those tires as we rolled in, crackling on that white pea gravel in that U-shaped driveway as we pulled up in front of this huge mansion.  A butler came out of the double doors of this mansion, came down, opened the door for the boys, they slid out of the leather seats, he took their book bags.”  He says, “Why don't you retire to Peter's room until dinnertime.”  So he says, “We went up the huge winding staircase to the second floor to Peter Kruger's room.”  He says, “Where there were two sets of French doors opening up into a balcony.”  He said, “I'd never been at that altitude before.  I went out through the French doors out onto that balcony,” and he said, “It literally took my breath away,” he says, “to look and see what you could see from the second floor from there.  It was just an amazing view overlooking the city.  Just powerful view.” 

He says, “Directly the butler came back up and said it's time for dinner so we went out,” he says, “and we sat at a table as long as from here to that piano over there.”  And he said, “Just the two of us, with crystal goblets and real silver and china and linen tablecloths that were imported from somewhere,” and he said, “I didn’t know what to order so I just watched what Peter got and I said, ‘I'll take the same’, you know.” 

He said, “You know, the next day after I was dropped off back at school after this experience of spending the night there,” he said, “I made up my mind.  This I know.”  He said, “This I know.  I love Peter Kruger.  He is my best friend in all the world, but I must be on guard.  If ever I thought this before, I'm more, now I know I must never let his world know about my world.  Never.  Never.” 

“Well,” he said, “I had a little problem with buses.  The very next week we were in Johannesburg.”  He says, “We were on a field trip to a museum.”  He said, “I was so enthralled by it, rarely ever going to town I was very enthralled by it.”  He says, “When I looked at my watch it was five o'clock.  The school bus was supposed to pick us up at three o'clock.”  He says, “I ran out into the foyer of this museum and everybody was gone.  I ran out onto the street.  There was no one I recognized.”  He said, “I realized I was in a mess.  That I'd never taken public transportation before.  I didn’t even the money for public transportation.  I didn’t have a dime for a telephone and even if I had the money for a telephone we had no telephone on our home so I didn’t know what I was going to do.”  He says, “I was trying to figure out how am I going to get myself out of this one.” 

He says, “Now class, what I want you to do is go back to my school and imagine what was happening there.”  He knew and you'll find out in a minute why.  He said, “The headmaster of the school was walking back and forth looking at his watch.  He had a roster in hand and he looked at all the students in the school and this class that had gone off on this field trip today and he looked and there was one still missing.  And that was Martin Van Buren.  He described him this way.”  He says, “A very academic man, little man, with his glasses down like this, you know, and a permanent furrow in the middle of his brow, you know, and he paced back and forth worried, fretting, and finally realizing he was going to, he went back into the office and got the address, the physical address for Martin Van Buren and he realized, ‘I'm just going to have to get in my car and drive out of the city to this place, to his house, to let his parents know what has happened.’”  So that's what he did.

Professor Van Buren said, “I finally made my way by hook and crook and hitchhiking and everything else back to the paved road, then walked the gravel road, then walked the dirt road and then I came on the dirt road and at the bottom of the dirt road was a car that was parked.  I recognized this as the car of my headmaster, of the principal,”  He said, “And I wondered, ‘What can this be?’  Terror, you know.  Oh no.  Someone from school is actually here at my home,” so he said, “I ran up over the hill and as I did,” he says, “I caught this.”  He says, “The headmaster knocking on the door to my home, this wooden unpainted clapboard home, my mother comes to the door, asked, ‘How can I help you?’  He says, ‘Well, I am the professor, I’m the headmaster of your son's school, and we have just a wee problem.  A wee little problem here.’  She says, ‘Well what would that problem…’ and while she was in mid-sentence she was physically removed from the doorway, and that doorway was filled with my father.” he said.  “And my father pushed the screen door open and said, ‘Who are you and what are you doing on my front porch?’  He said, ‘Well, I'm the headmaster at your son's school.  I'm here to report, I just want to work with you and work through a wee little problem we have.’  He says, ‘Well, what's the wee little problem?’  He said, ‘Well, it's nothing to be worried about I'm sure we can.’  He said, ‘Well what is the problem?’  He said, ‘Well we seem to have misplaced your son.’  ‘What do you mean by that?’  ‘He says, ‘Not to worry, not to worry.  We've got it narrowed down to just Johannesburg, you know.  We’ve got it narrowed down to the city.’  At which point,” he said, “I saw as I was coming up the path, I saw my father grab the headmaster, literally, quite physically, jerked him up off the porch, slammed him with his feet dangling against the clapboard, held him with one hand, pointed a finger at him and said, ‘You have my son back here.’  Didn't see him coming up the path.  ‘You have my son back here by sunset or someone else is going to go missing.’” 

He said, “He released the headmaster who crumpled in a heap, jumped up, and shot down the path back to his car.”  He said, “He passed me.  I said, ‘Headmaster, headmaster’, and he was gone.”  He said, “I was terrified.  My father went back inside the house,” and he said, “I noticed that the headmaster's, one of the headmaster's shoes was actually still on the porch.  He had jerked him up so violently he had lost one of his shoes.  I grabbed that shoe, ran down the path.  He had already started his car and was beginning to chug away.”  He said, “I ran by the open window on the driver’s side and said, ‘Headmaster, headmaster.’  He says, ‘Not to worry not to worry.’  He says, ‘I've got your shoe back.  I'm home, no problem.  No need to ever mention this to anybody.  No need to repeat anything you've seen, heard or been exposed to here today,’ and the headmaster,” he said, “you know, his brow was wrinkled, his face turned red, and he says, ‘I shall not forget this Martin Van Buren.’  In that moment,” he said, “in that instant, my life changed.  I realized I had to change my strategy.  I could not go back to school and be whoever I was before.  Because it's obvious in just, this was Friday, by Monday,  someone's going to know different.  People who love me, people who think I'm good.  So,” he said, “I thought and thought and thought all weekend and then I decided, ‘I know what I'll do.  I'll become invisible.’ 

Now I taught for 14 years in high school. I had students who became invisible.  Have you ever met invisible students?  You do it the same way Professor Van Buren said he did it.  He said, “I immediately went back to school on Monday morning and dropped all my offices.”  That's a big deal for a fifth grader.  “Then I went and dropped band and choir and I joined study hall.”  You want to become invisible as a student you just join study hall.  “I went out and told the soccer coach, I’m not on the team anymore.  And then,” he says, “I went into my classroom and asked my teacher if I could change desks.  ‘Of course.’ she said.  ‘[A] student.  Sit wherever you want.’”  Where’d he go?  You know.  Yeah.  In the corner.  Yeah.  The back, in the corner.  At lunchtime Peter Kruger found him sitting by himself.  First time ever.  Found Martin Van Buren, Professor Van Buren, Martin Van Buren sitting by himself.  Peter Kruger came and said, “‘What's the deal?  You dropped choir, you dropped band, you dropped your offices, you quit soccer, you’ve joined study hall and now you’ve moved your desk.  We've set together for five years in class, side by side.  What's going on?’  He said, ‘Ah, that reminds me. You’re no longer my friend.  I divorce you as my friend.’  He says, ‘You can't divorce me as your friend.’  He says, ‘I do.  You're not my friend.  We won't be sitting together.  We won’t be talking.  We won’t be playing.  That’s it.  Our relationship is over.’  He says, ‘What are you talking about?’  He said, ‘I'm ending this friendship and all friendships here.  I'm just Martin Van Buren, friend to no one and of no one anymore.’” 

“The next day,” he said, “Peter Kruger showed up at his lunchroom table and said, ‘Hey, I know I'm not supposed to talk to you cause you're not my friend anymore, but I am your friend and you may divorce me as your friend, but I will never divorce you as my friend and one day, one day I will go home with you, just like you came home with me that time.’”  He says, “At which point I exploded.  I said, ‘You'll never go home with me.  That's the point and no you're not my friend,’ and he says, ‘Well, say what you will, but I want you to know this.  Look inside my book bag.  What do you see?’”  He said, “I looked in there and I saw something red in there”  He says, “‘I don't know, I see something red.’  He said, ‘Yeah, you see something red,’ and he pulled them out and snapped them and it was a full set of red flannel pajamas.  He says, ‘I'm carrying these pajamas in my book bag to the day you ask me to go home with you.  I will go home with you one day and we will be friends again.’  ‘Never!’ he said.  ‘You might as well throw those in the river on the way home.’”

He says, “That was before I realized about social studies project that our teacher announced the next Monday.  And the teacher said, ‘Students. Got a surprise for you.  We have a special social studies project.  You’re going to delight in it.  I've divided you up into pairs.  I’ve divided you up into twos and this coming weekend each of you will go home with another student and then come back on Monday and tell all the other students in the classroom, what it was like to live there for a weekend.’  To which,” he said, “I stood and stomped my feet, in this very strict English oriented classroom, and said, ‘Mum! No mum!’  She reached immediately for the rod on the chalkboard.”  Some of you still remember what those were, right?  She pointed it at him and began down the aisle, she raised it and he says, “There was a blur in front of me and when I opened my eyes it was Peter Kruger standing between me and the teacher, and he says, ‘Wait mum.  Uh, what he means is, we've already arranged that I'm going home with him.’  She said, ‘That couldn't be true, it's highly unlikely.  I have not communicated.’ He says, ‘Well, word gets out, you know.’”  And he said, “I suppose because he was from a very, very wealthy family, she let it go.  And he sat down,” he said, “with this appalling smile on his face, looked over at me and winked.”

“And so Friday,” he said, “I find myself with Peter Kruger who had never been on a bus in his life, getting on the yellow school bus heading out of town and when the blacktop stopped they dropped us off and he and I walked on the gravel, which he’d obviously never done before, and then the dirt and then over the hill and then here came our little two room house into view and he stopped me and he said, ‘Martin.  Is that where you live?’”  He said, “I hung my head.  I didn't even want to say.  I said, ‘Yes, it is.’”  And he said, “The only response was, ‘Hmmmm.’”  He said, “We stepped up onto that porch that was slanted outward downward but shouldn't have been.  We started to go in the door.  I didn't say anything.  All I wanted to do was just be in a bubble somewhere away from all this,” and he says, “We stepped on the porch and before we opened the screen door he stopped me, and he turned around, he put his hands on his hips and he looked out from our front porch and he looked over everything and he said, ‘So. So this is what you see when you look out of your bedroom in the morning.  Hmmm.’” 

He said, “We went inside.  My mother greeted us.  A little bit of redemption.  She had some fresh apple pie she had baked.  She cut a slice.  We set down at the table.  I said nothing.  I ate in silence.  Peter Kruger was trying to keep a conversation going.  He said, ‘Oh mum.  This apple pie.  What chef, what restaurant in Johannesburg baked this?’  ‘Oh my land,’ she said.  ‘Child, no restaurant baked that.  We just got old wild sour apples and sugar them down til we can eat them and then bake them and make a pie, you know.’  And he said, ‘Hmmmm.’” 

“Then,” he said, “my nightmare came true.  Down the path to our house I could hear my father singing up.  Obviously he had stopped at a pub on the way home in his drunkenness slurred kind of song he was,” and he said, “I just buried my face in my hands as I heard his heavy steps on the front porch and from the minute he stepped in it started,” he said.  “The first thing he did is he let out a string of profanities that would make a sailor jump overboard and then when that didn't seem the impact that he wanted he looked straight at Peter Kruger and said, ‘Well well well, what do we have here this weekend?  Little Jewish boy come to entertain himself with our poverty.’  And then,” he said, “he began to tell one profane ethnic joke after the other as if it was really funny,” and he says, “I just buried my face in my hands on the table and didn't look up,” and he said, “until I heard a little chuckle after one of those profane, profane ethnic jokes.” and he said, “I heard a little chuckle, ha ha, huh, huh, huh.”  He said, “I looked up and it was Peter Kruger looking my father straight in the eye, and he says, ‘Mr. Van Buren, I have to tell you I've heard a lot of Jewish jokes and that was a new one that you just pulled on me right there.’”  He says, “His Father, furious, would've used his fists, but dare not in this case.  Said jumped up and looked about the room, and there was an old six string guitar he kept there with only four strings on it and all four of those were out of key and he picked it up and he sat down face-to-face with Peter Kruger and in his drunkenness, you could smell the alcohol on his breath, he frapped on that thing a few times and he began to sing the Tennessee Waltz.  [singing] I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee waltz[],” and he says, “I was just, I was just mortified.  My life is over, he thought,” he says, “when I heard, when I heard a high tenor come in on the chorus.  [singing] I remember the night of the Tennessee waltz[].  I opened one eye and there is Peter Kruger with one hand on my father's shoulder singing high tenor to the Tennessee Waltz.  My father with no ace of singing, he had one ace left, he believed, and he grabbed my mother, looked at Peter Kruger and me as if to say ‘What are you going to do about this?’, threw her over his knee,” and he said, “he did something that is the ultimate in mortification for a fifth grader.  He kissed my mother in front of us, lip to lip.  Lingering.  I was never so glad,” he said, “when Sunday evening came and the chauffeur driven limousine showed up on the gravel road and I waved goodbye to Peter Kruger.” 

“I dreaded Monday morning.  I dreaded Monday morning like I dreaded death,” he said.  “And I got off the school bus that morning and I waited around the corner for everybody to go inside.  I let two of the bells ring knowing that probably everybody would be gone inside by then, so I came around the corner,” he says, “and what do I see but Peter Kruger and my class, only my class.  All the rest had gone.  My class standing around and he’s very, with great animation, describing something to them.  And some are aghast and some are laughing and some are amazed.”  He said, “I knew exactly what was happening there at that moment,” and you do to.  Now don't you?  He said, “I shuffled forward with my head down and one little girl stepped out and said, ‘Martin.  We know all about you now.  Peter Kruger told us everything.  Told us all about you.’ And another one stepped forward and said, ‘That's right.  He told us about where you live,’ and a little boy said, ‘Yeah.  He told us that when you stand on your front porch and look out, it's one of the finest views in all of South Africa.’  And another said, ‘And he told us about your faaaather.’  Another one said, ‘He told us about your father.  He said your father has a vocabulary unparalleled by anyone he's ever met.’”  And he said, “Another one said, ‘Yeah and he told us about your father’s sense of humor.  That he has a natural sense of humor.  That the jokes just roll, and the humor just rolls off his tongue.’  And another one said, ‘Yeah and he told us too about your father.  He said if he lived in America, he’d practically be a country and western star.  And he told us about your mother's apple pie.  Said that it's the finest he’s ever eaten, even at the finest restaurants in Johannesburg, and I’ll tell you we’re upset with you because we had a home and school Association fundraiser last week and we could have used an apple pie like that but did you bring it?  No. You held it to yourself and gave it to Peter Kruger.’  And another little girl stepped forward and said, ‘Some people get all the luck.  Half of us, our parents aren’t even married any longer together.  Peter told us about your parents.  Said they’re so in love.  They're not afraid to display their affection for one another in public.’  

With that the third bell rang, and everybody dismissed except,” he said, “except for me and Peter Kruger, face-to-face.”  Moment of truth.  “‘Is that,’” he said to Peter Kruger.  “‘Is that what you saw when you came to my house?’  To which Peter Kruger,” he says, “put his hands on both of my shoulders and said, ‘You are my friend.  I call it the way I see it.’”

Then Professor Van Buren stepped back and said, “Gentlemen,” speaking to us students.  “That is the meaning of grace.  When God calls what is not as though it were.”

I invite you to stand and let's sing about that grace. Hymn 108.  Amazing Grace.

Now a benediction for you.

Our father in heaven.  The benediction or blessing that we would ask for ourselves as we leave this place is pretty simple but profound.  That you would call what is not as though it were, and we’re talking about ourselves.  In Jesus name, all the people said, amen.

Hymn of Praise: #71, Come, Thou Almighty King
Scripture: Ephesian 2:4-9
Hymn of Response: #108, Amazing Grace

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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 5/28/09