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Overwhelming, abundant grace

A few years ago I visited St. Petersburg, Russia, the city the Czar Peter the Great had built on the delta of the Neva River. The huge museum, the Hermitage, has so many paintings that if you were to stop and look at each one for a minute, it would take you six years to go through it — overwhelming! And there was this fountain right on the Neva River itself, there were fountains everywhere, but this one was spectacular, water gushing upward out of the river, in all directions, up into the air 67 feet; I think it had been built for a recent G8 summit there. It was a huge torrent of water rising out of the river, overwhelming, extravagant. And that image, those images of overflowing, glorious, stunning extravagance are appropriate for the way Paul sees God’s amazing grace.

In I Timothy 1:12-17, Paul is writing to Timothy, the young man who has been with him for so long and now is on his own, staying in Ephesus while Paul is continuing on his journeys, and he’s giving Timothy instructions and warnings. But in the middle of those warnings and instructions comes this passage, a passage of thanksgiving to Jesus for his grace and his mercy. I am grateful, says Paul, I thank Christ Jesus, the one who has strengthened me, I thank him for considering me faithful and appointing me to his service, even though — and Paul here acknowledges what he had been — I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, a violent man. The Greek here comes from hubris, a man of pride and self-importance. Even though I was all these things, Paul says, Jesus showed me mercy, the grace of our Lord overflowed, was poured out abundantly, and this is where those images of that fountain come into play, extravagant, overwhelming. That’s how Paul sees Christ’s grace for him — stunning, amazing grace, that this miserable sinner, persecutor of Christians was saved — and given such a role of trust and faith. Paul says look at this example, I was the worst of sinners, yet Christ in his unlimited patience showed mercy on me, and Christ’s extravagant, overwhelming, overflowing grace doesn’t save just me, it saves all, anyone who believes in him will receive eternal life. All we have to do is acknowledge our sin, repent of it, and God’s grace is there to drench us as if we were in the middle of that fountain. Overwhelming, extravagant, overabundant grace.

REV. DALE BROWN is the pastor of Cumberland and Guinea Presbyterian churches. He can be reached at dalembesq@aol.com.