The very first time I was in Arthur, Illinois, I was meeting with the search team of Vine Street Christian Church so that we could best discern God’s wishes for their vacant Minister position. You might not be surprised to know that the visit went very well. I wasn’t surprised.

All the previous phone interviews were truly spirit-led, and I and the members of the search team were being spirit-fed. God was working in our midst in a tangible way that we could feel, and hear, and see. And, after my first visit, God continued to show us the way of His will, and ultimately God brought us together. 

But there is one thing about that trip that has continued to stay in my heart; the drive out to The Great Pumpkin Patch to meet Bruce Condill. Seems the search team thought it might be a good idea for me to meet the man who serves as the “wise sage” farmer in the field of spiritual harvesting. They were right. 

The visit to the Patch to meet Bruce further affirmed to me that God had a vision for me and for your church to be joined together. 2 specific things I remember about meeting Bruce. 

One, he showed me some of his book collection, and I immediately noticed a Wendell Berry book on his shelves – Wendell Berry being an old country farmer from Henry County, Kentucky, just like me … kinda. Another sign to me from God.

And two, Bruce offered me a copy of an essay written by Paul Tillich, a name I’m willing to bet none of you know. Except for me and Bruce, that is. You see, Paul Tillich, a great theologian of the 20th century, came directly into my life during seminary, when my senior seminar professor assigned Tillich to be my “conversation partner” for my final thesis paper. 

It’s not that I actually got to talk with Paul Tillich, and have a real conversation with him. No, being a conversation partner meant that I was expected to read every word Tillich had ever written, and then use that immense knowledge to help support my arguments in my thesis paper. How did that work for me? Let’s just say … I survived!

That Paul Tillich essay that Bruce gave me, was read by me within a few hours. I remember that now because I pulled out that essay this week and it was filled with my underlining and margin notes. That essay is called, “You Are Accepted,” and Bruce professes that this essay made a significant impact on his own spiritual walk. You may have heard him talk about it. 

Like I said, I pulled it back out this week and noticed that I should probably give it a re-read for Lent. And I did. And now the essay has many more underlines and margin notes than it had before. You see, that essay that was given to me by Bruce some three and a half years ago, was actually meant to be read by me this past week. All in good time … All in God’s time. 

The essay is a tad scholarly and a bit deep (unlike this essay, you’re probably not thinking!), so it’s a pretty good slog through the 6 pages for most of us. But it was worth the effort. The essay aged like fine wine, and filled me up with the presence of God as I drank in every drop it had to offer. 

I learned all over again that sin is not something I do, but rather part of who I am. I learned that sin is what causes me to be separated from God … as well as from other people and from myself. And I learned that deep down, we all have this feeling that we are missing something important in our lives, something that would fill our emptiness and remedy our separation issues. 

Then, after that gut check, the miraculous cure was revealed! Grace! I learned, all over again about God’s soul-saving Grace. That’s the part of the essay that had been waiting from me since I was first given it. Tillich reminded me that real grace is not what many of us think it is. 

Here’s how he defines grace: “Grace is something overcome; Grace occurs in spite of something; Grace occurs in spite of separation; Grace is the reunion of life with life; Grace is the reconciliation of self with self; Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected; Grace transforms fate into a meaningful destiny; and, Grace changes guilt into confidence and courage.

Next, I learned about the paradox between sin and grace, which we all struggle with as individuals, and as community. Tillich quotes the Apostle Paul to reveal to us whether sin or grace wins. And the sacred truth is that “in spite of all the sin in our life and in the world, grace abounds even more.” (Rom. 5:20)

For us, a good and honest Lent can stimulate more of God’s grace in our lives. Since sin never wins in the end, we don’t need to be afraid about spending some honest “me” time with God, to talk with each other. Lent is a “right now” opportunity. When you decide, then it starts. Listen to a Lenten Veteran like me, the time you put into Lent will not be regretted. I assure you. I promise you. How do I know? Because in the end, grace always abounds more. 

See you on the Lenten path,

Pastor Bob <><