REFORMATION Sunday Sermon – Pastor L. Harold, October 27, 2013
Grace and peace to you from God, the father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
First, I want to thank Pastors Carol and Jim for inviting me to preach on this Reformation Sunday.
However, it will be a challenge for a couple of reasons.
First, it is a challenge because Pastor Jim preached an excellent sermon on Martin Luther last Sunday as part of our Oktoberfest celebration.
It is also a challenge because today’s readings include at least three Reformation themes: law and gospel, justification by faith, and grace.
Certainly, we living here in the Spotsylvania area of Virginia “get it” when we hear St. Paul’s claim that whatever the law says it speaks to those living under the law. For, we live in country ruled by law.
During the last few days I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to live in a country without laws.
For one thing, I imagine that traffic on streets and highways would be chaotic! Cars and trucks and motorcycles would zip along at whatever speed their drivers desired.
After all, vehicles are manufactured to go at speeds well over 100 MPH. So it stands to reason that some drivers would feel compelled to do so – with no law to slow them down.
Why traffic on I-95 would be a far worse mess than it is now!
Without traffic laws, who, who among us would be brave enough to drive on any public road!
I imagine that most of us can agree that our secular laws are intended for our good order and safety; not only for traffic, but for other aspects of our daily lives.
Similarly, it is likely that God first gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai for the Israelites good order and safety.
But, more importantly God wanted to establish and keep a right relationship between God and the God’s people.
And, in addition God wanted the people to keep the Law joyfully; though it didn’t quite work out that way.
For, the people weren’t merely embarrassed when they broke one of God’s laws – as we are when we get a speeding ticket. Rather, they felt deep shame and separation from God.
So, instead of the Law being a joyous way of keeping them in close relationship, the Law only made them painfully aware of their shortcomings: their sins.
That is why, throughout the Old Testament God gave them many glimpses of the Gospel.
One glimpse is found in our reading from Jeremiah. The prophet writes that that God says the day is coming when “…I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
The Law could not do that; the Law could not forgive them. The Law could not forget their sin.
However, God through the suffering, death of God’s Son, Jesus, did forgive sin.
That is the good news of the Gospel.
St. Paul sums it up this way: “…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by …grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…effective through faith.”
That is justification of faith.
Did you catch St. Paul’s word that we Lutherans freely toss around to describe God’s gift of forgiveness - “grace”?
God’s grace is a true grace – not a grace that we still have to earn. Rather, it is ours free and clear - forever.
We can think of God’s grace this way, as, Martin Luther writes to aspiring preachers:
“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true [,] not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners.
Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for Christ is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we…sin…; Pray boldly – you too are a mighty sinner.” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 48, p. 281-282).”
Luther tells us that because of grace we don’t need to let the fear of failing or of making mistakes – sinning - control how we live anymore.
On the other hand Luther isn’t giving us permission to go around sinning all the time – as if we need permission to sin!
In fact, some people have personal “problem” sins – sins that they are addicted to.
We each know our sins – and how hard it is to stop sinning.
Those who say they don’t have a problem keeping the Law – the Ten Commandments – are only kidding themselves.
Then, the sin becomes the sin of self-pride. Probably for Christians that is the worst sin of all.
What I am saying is that every single one of us continues to need God’s grace because we get complacent sometimes about how we measure up as Christians. I have a corny story to show you what I mean:
A Christian died and met St. Peter at heavens gate. St. Peter said: “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven.
You tell me all the good things that you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was.
When you reach 100 points you get in.”
“Okay,” the man said confidently. “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”
“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter.
”That’s worth three points.”
“Three points?” the man said, slightly concerned. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.”
“Terrific!” says St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth another point.”
“One point?” the man groaned, getting really worried. “I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for the homeless.”
“Fantastic, that’s good for two more points.” St. Peter said as he put two more marks in the ledger.
“Two points,” the man exclaimed. “At this rate the only way I can get into heaven is by the grace of God!”
St. Peter nodded, saying, “Bingo! 100 points! Come on in!”
Indeed grace is what God has already done for us through Jesus sacrifice on the cross – there is nothing further we need to do.
So, we do need not worry about bargaining with St. Peter – for we are already free members of God’s household - forever!
That is grace.
Thanks be to God. Say Amen. (Amen!)