Oct. 27, 2017: Reformation Sunday
Reformation Sunday: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
Zion Lutheran Church, October 29th, 2017
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The other day, I was slowly driving through a parking lot looking for a space. Suddenly, I was almost hit in the passenger side. A car was pulling out and obviously not paying attention. It came to stop just two inches from my car. My child in the passenger seat jumped.
I found a space a bit further down. I parked and we got out. The driver from the other car came by and stopped and rolled down the window. I said: “Wow, that was close.” The driver was not amused. She laid into me. I was going way too fast (I wasn’t). I am supposed to stop when someone pulls out, after all, she didn’t have eyes in the back of her head. More along those lines.
This incident upset me. Clearly, I had the right-of-way, but this lady was blaming me for what had almost happened. Why?
Why are we so quick to blame others for our mistakes? When caught in a fib, why are we more likely to dig in then admit we were untruthful? When making a mistake, why are we prone to cover up rather than admit a mistake?
All this brought to mind an article I had read about the sin that lies underneath all the other sins. The author claimed that this basic sin we all suffer from is a sense of insecurity. We are never quite sure that we are okay, that we are worthy, that we are loved. As a result, we feel the need to cover our shortcomings, the feel better about ourselves by lying or by putting others down, to prove our worth through the size or our income or house or car, to pretend we are someone we truly are not.
This began in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had everything they could possibly want for life. But then the serpent raised the voice of doubt: Is God holding something back from you? Why can’t you eat of that one tree? Does God really love you? Then why would he put such a restriction on you? Are you missing out on something great?
This made Adam and Eve feel insecure in God’s love, and they decided to do something to combat their insecurity. They ate the fruit and got themselves into a world of trouble. In the end, their action born of insecurity ruined their relationship with God, with each other, and with their environment.
Luther suffered from the same insecurity. After becoming a monk, Luther tried really, really hard to be the perfect monk, so that God would love him and be pleased with him. However, he never felt he was good enough. He was never sure of God’s love for him. No matter how much he fasted and prayed and read the Bible and confessed, he never felt it was enough. Constantly, he felt he was committing some sin or another and that God would hate him if he didn’t confess, and so he would constantly run to confession. At one time, his Father Confessor said to him: “Martin, every time you pass gas you come and confess. Relax!”
But Luther couldn’t relax – not until his study of the Letter to the Romans brought him to the section we read today. Suddenly a new understanding of righteousness opened up for him. Our righteousness is not something we have to earn, but something God gives us as a gift. A free gift. In Jesus Christ, God offers us a way to salvation through our faith in the Son. God’s grace forgives us and makes us the beloved children of God.
For Luther, this changed everything. No longer did he try his best to follow God’s rules in order to earn approval. Now he knew God loved him just as he was, and Luther expressed his gratitude for this love by doing his best to follow the law. Our works are not for climbing rungs on the ladder to heaven. Our works are a grateful response to the love God has poured over us.
As Lutheran Christians, we have this truth of the gospel. We know this truth. We believe this truth. And yet, we are always tempted to let the law slip back in. That basic insecurity is still there. Free grace? We mistrust everyone trying to tell us something is free. And so the pressures and demands of the law grab hold of us.
How do we recognize the voice of the law? The tell-tale sign is the word “should”. The law places “shoulds” on us. You should go to church more often. You should know the Bible better. You should have a healthier marriage and happier children. You should lose 30 pounds. You should recycle more. You should make more money. You should have your act together. You should be done grieving a loved one after a month. You should never take a sick-day, but be the perfect employee. You should have a clean and tidy house. You should have a tidy office desk. You should know all the cool singers and actors. You should know how to work the newest phone. You should, you should, you should.
In short, you should be better than you are. You are not good enough. Exactly how Luther felt. Like Paul writes: “No human being will be justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law.” It just doesn’t work. We might be able to pretend for a while, hanging out with the cool kids, putting up a happy façade, working our rear end off to get ahead. But sooner or later we will crash. Just like Luther was close to crashing when he read Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
What he read there was the most freeing thing imaginable. The best good news ever. God in scripture was telling him to stop trying so hard to be someone he was not. You are a sinner, God said. All people sin and fall short of the glory of God. God knows that. God knew that when he created people. God knows it will always be like that. People will always be sinners.
But God loves us people anyway. And God wanted us to know this. So God sent his son Jesus Christ to show us his love. Jesus constantly hung out with people whom society deemed not good enough: uneducated fishermen from the hinterland in Galilee, women of ill repute, tax collectors working with the hated Romans, foreigners, sick people, poor people, hungry people, doubting people. In Jesus, God loved them all. In Jesus, God said to them: “You are good enough for me. I love you just the way you are. Stop worrying about fitting in. Stop worrying about measuring up. Be true to yourself and know that I love you, and your life will be so much more blessed.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus calls the people to follow in his way to learn the truth, the truth about who we really are and who we are before God. The truth leads us to freedom in Christ, freedom from the law, freedom from all the “shoulds” that make our lives so miserable and hold us in bondage. Following Christ and believing in the grace and salvation he offers sets us free.
Unfortunately, our sin, our core insecurity, always tempts us to switch back into law-mode, because that is the mode the world operates by. The world teaches us if-then connections: If you want to be respected, then you must make a lot of money. If you lose 20 pounds, then you will be worthy of love. If you are a member of all the right clubs, then you will be happy. If you by the newest designer clothes, then you will be cool. Translated to church: If you follow the law, then God will love you. If you worship every week, then you get to have a say in the congregation. If you say the right payers often enough, then God will bless you.
Luther protested this kind of thinking, and we today need to protest is wherever we see it.
We are called to replace this with the language of grace, which is “because – therefore”. Because God loves you, you can live without fear. Because Jesus died and rose again, you can have forgiveness of sins. Because God adopted you into the family of faith just the way you are, you can have hope and joy and peace.
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber reminds us of the song in the Wizard of Oz: “Because, because, because, because.” Because God created us and loves us, because God know we are sinners and always will be, because God wants to be in relationship with us, because God sent us his Son Jesus Christ, because Jesus died and rose for us, because the Holy Spirit guides us and heals us, because God nourishes us at this table of grace, because, because, because, therefore we are free and blessed and love God and our neighbor.
On this significant anniversary of the Reformation, let us commit ourselves to living by God’s grace. Forget the “shoulds”. Forget the “if-then” of conditional acceptance. Forget the frustration of not ever being good enough.
Instead, let us replace all that with faith and trust in the grace of God. Let us rest securely in God’s love and forgiveness and salvation. Let us celebrate all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Because he lives, therefore we shall live also. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.