1. Back in England in 1725
a. a man by the name of John Newton was born.
2. by the 1740's
a. he had learned to captain a ship from his father,
b. had been forced into military service, deserted,
c. been re-captured,
d. forced to work as the servant of a slave trader
e. and was rescued by his father’s friend
3. And it was his father’s friend
a. who helped John find the career,
b. which would make him rich.
4. If John had lived in the 20th century,
a. perhaps his father’s friend might have advised him
i. to get into the oil business.
5. In the 19th Century
a. perhaps he would have been brought to the local steel mill.
6. But this was England in the 1740's
a. and the one business
i. which dominated the national economy
ii. and in which a man with some sailing skill could strike it rich
iii. was the slave trade.
7. That is what John became:
a. a slave trader,
b. and eventually, a very wealthy one.
8. What kind of person was John Newton?
9. On one level we cannot know.
a. He died in 1807.
10. But on another level, we can.
a. Because we see him all the time.
b. Any time we meet someone who has struck it rich,
i. no matter what the business.
11. They are powerful, and confident of their own power.
12. It isn’t that such people don’t believe in God.
13. Indeed, John Newton did.
a. It is just that when it comes right down to it,
14. such people put far more trust in their own power
a. whose results they can see,
b. Than in God, whose results seems far more ambiguous.
15. In a way we meet similar people today:
a. Jesus’ disciples.
16. Now Jesus’ disciples weren’t rich.
a. In fact, they had given up everything they had
i. to follow Jesus.
17. But make no mistake about it:
a. they saw this as a shrewd investment.
b. These men had given up the fishing business
i. and taken up the disciple business.
c. Because they believed it was only a matter of time
i. before Jesus became the king of a free Israel.
d. then he would be powerful.
e. and because they were his closest followers
i. so would they.
18. In fact, when we are honest with ourselves,
19. we meet people
a. like John Newton and Jesus’ disciples all the time
20. every time we look in the mirror.
a. Oh, we may not be rich,
i. and of course, we believe in God,
b. it is just that when it comes right down to it,
21. Who do we trust more?
22. God, whose power we cannot see?
a. or ourselves?
23. We never really have to answer that question
24. when times are good,
a. The disciples didn’t have to answer it
b. when Jesus was popular.
25. John Newton didn’t have to answer it
a. while sailing the calm waters of the north Atlantic
b. with a ship full of slaves.
26. It is when storms come in life.
a. That is when our trust in our own power is tested,
b. and an answer is needed
27. For the disciples
a. It was tested one night on the sea of Galilee
i. when during a storm
ii. their boat began foundering.
28. For John Newton
a. it was tested one night in the North Atlantic
i. when during a storm,
ii. his ship was in danger of sinking.
29. And for us it happens
a. whenever our business tanks,
b. illness strikes,
c. or a family member dies.
30. And what happens
a. when at that moment
b. they and we realize
c. that we are powerless
d. to stop the raging of the storm in our lives?
31. Usually that is when we run to Church,
a. hoping that God will not be indifferent to us,
b. even though for years
c. we might have been indifferent to God.
32. What did the disciples do? They ran to Jesus,
a. Sound asleep in the boat,
i. while the storm raged about him.
33. And John Newton? What did he do?
a. He wrote a song.
34. For on May 10, 1748
a. during that raging storm,
i. which threatened to tear his ship full of slaves apart,
b. John Newton realized
i. that he was not in control of his life, not really.
ii. and he surrendered to God.
35. After he survived the storm,
a. he continued for a time as a slave trader,
i. but ultimately, he gave it up,
ii. For something had changed in him:
iii. his heart was no longer in it.
iv. And the idea of one man owning another was something he could no longer profit from.
36. He became a minister in the Church of England
a. and wrote that song
b. which gave voice to his experience that night,
i. 273 years ago.
1. Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
2. That sav'd a wretch like me!
3. I once was lost, but now am found,
4. Was blind, but now I see
37. It was his experience of grace,
a. which for John Newton
b. was the experience of a God
c. who is never indifferent to us
d. but is always with us,
e. even during the storm,
38. This grace is what makes John Newton’s song
a. so important to so many.
b. Even to the descendants of the very people
i. that John Newton bought and sold.
39. For while it might seem odd to celebrate,
a. the white slave trader John Newton’s storm-tossed conversion,
b. while hundreds of half-starved future slaves
i. lay chained in unspeakable conditions
ii. in the hold of his ship,
40. It would be they and their descendants
41. who would take up his song and make it their own.
42. Why? Because they would understand
a. throughout the centuries of slavery,
i. the promise of emancipation which we will celebrate from this weekend on as a nation,
b. and in the grinding decades of Jim Crow in the south
c. and discrimination in the north,
43. That not only the well-off can be indifferent to God,
a. We all can be.
44. That we can run to Jesus in the bad times,
a. just like the disciples did.
b. afraid of our own powerlessness
c. in the face of the crises in our lives.
45. But as soon as the storms clear,
a. and we discover we made it through,
46. Though we might be amazed,
a. even afraid as the disciples were,
b. we go back to business as usual,
c. and miss what John Newton saw when he wrote
i. 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
ii. And grace my fears reliev'd
iii. How precious did that grace appear,
iv. The hour I first believ'd!
47. That is why Jesus yells at his disciples after the storm.
a. for while they might have come to believe
i. that they met something
1. amazing in Jesus.
ii. that indeed, God was with him,
48. They did not believe that in Jesus,
a. God was with them
1. And that God would always be there
2. with them and for them
3. when their power failed,
a. as our power always does.
49. For the disciples it would take other storms.
a. the storms of Jesus’ arrest,
b. His crucifixion
c. His resurrection
50. to teach them
a. what Jesus invited them to learn that night in the boat
i. when the storm threatened to overwhelm them
b. What John Newton was invited to learn
i. that night in the storm.
c. What God invites us to learn
i. whenever crises threaten to overwhelm us
51. And what people of color have learned again and again,
a. and invite so many others to learn
i. of every race class and way of life,
ii. when they join their voices
iii. to that of John Newton and sing:
b. Thro' many dangers, toils and snares,
c. I have already come;
d. And grace will lead me home.
52. After 6 weeks of Lent, 8 weeks of easter, after contemplating the mysteries of the Ascension, Pentecost the Holy trinity and The Body and Blood of Christ,
53. We have finally returned to the season of Ordinary Time.
a. Which we will be in
b. until the days shorten
c. and we enter Advent at the end of November.
54. The green color of this season
a. invites us to think about growth.
55. the readings invite us
a. to reflect on the growth of a group of people
i. from disciples who believe in their own power
ii. into apostles who have faith in God’s.
56. And the church invites us to do the same:
a. To grow by seeing in the storms of our lives
b. what the disciples missed in theirs, that night in the boat.
i. that God is always there with us,
ii. even when we are not with God,
iii. offering us the chance to surrender,
iv. and to grow into the people God creates us to be.
v. Even when we reject it, and God,
vi. again and again.
vii. That is grace.
viii. And that is what makes it so amazing.