By Faith Alone

“By Faith Alone”

sola gratia, scriptura, fide - Lutheran

Romans 3:19-28 (3:28) – October 29, 2017

Today is a festive day in the church. Reformation Sunday, the last Sunday in October every year when we remember the bravery and determination of Father Martin Luther, Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany.

This year is not just an anniversary, it is a huge anniversary. October 31, 1517. This year, on All Hallow’s Eve, countless people throughout the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and his posting of the 95 Theses, or grievances against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, on the chapel door in Wittenberg.

As I have said during the past few weeks, I care very much about this celebration. I was baptized and confirmed a Lutheran and spent two full years studying Luther’s Small Catechism in confirmation preparation. I was a history and theology nerd throughout high school, learning as much as I could about the Reformation of the 1500’s, and Martin Luther in particular. I can tell you that Martin Luther had his ups and downs as he was traveling the religious road through life. He really, truly wanted to know exactly how to get right with God.

Our New Testament reading today comes from Romans 3, and it starts in a not-very-good place. The apostle Paul talks about the Law of Moses. All of its statutes and ordinances and restrictions would tie people up in knots as they tried to follow every single little rule. That’s the situation everyone finds themselves in, if we start with Romans 3:19-20. We are all in the same sinking boat. From Eugene Peterson’s wonderful translation The Message: “So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the other people? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:”

Martin started out as a monk, became a priest, and eventually earned his doctorate in theology. He was extremely intelligent, and knew lots of different kinds of stuff. Bible, theology, mathematics, rhetoric, Latin, Hebrew and Greek. However, he seemed to have an inferiority complex. Or, to say it in a different way, Martin was scared to death that he would never measure up to God’s standards and the way God wanted him to live.

Martin Luther tried really hard to get into God’s good graces, for years. He was quite earnest about it. He would try and try to pray and meditate, to do things that would get him on the plus side of God’s righteousness ledger. However, he never could measure up, not on his own. Not even because he was trying as hard as he could to get on God’s good side.

Does that sound familiar to anyone here, today? Is anyone here trying desperately to have God approve of them? Did we all hear the scripture reading from the book of Romans? We are all—all of us—in the same sinking boat. What is more, there is no one who can say they are living the right way, God’s way. Everyone falls short.

From time to time, I look at an online discussion board where ministers share their ideas and insights about scripture readings for sermons and bible studies. This was a few years ago, but Pastor Erik from Wisconsin shared the following comment in a discussion about these particular verses from Romans 3:

“This Sunday we celebrate confirmation. As a part of their confirmation requirements, students have to meet with me for a brief discussion/interview. I ask them about faith, life, God, etcetera – see if they learned anything during confirmation. One question I always ask is “How will you get into heaven? How are you saved?” Most often I get the answers – “Pray. Go to church. Do good deeds.[1]

Martin Luther went to the extreme, in this respect. That would have been his answer, for years and years. Martin spent hours every week on his knees, asking God for forgiveness and confessing his sins to God and to his own personal confessor and spiritual director. He fasted, depriving himself of food and drink, regularly. Martin even went on pilgrimages, to try to gain special favor with God and show himself to be extra specially deserving of coming into God’s presence.

And then, he would meticulously chalk up the good deeds he did. Not to be loving and giving, as our Lord had told us to do, but in order to be super-religious, and to show everyone just how religious Martin was being. Just in the same way that the Pharisees were super religious and meticulous in their rule-following in the first century, when our Lord Jesus walked the earth.

What does Romans 3:23 tell us? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

I don’t know whether anyone here has ever used a bow and arrow. Has anyone? (I would really like to know.) One of my daughters has, plus one of my close friends. The apostle Paul uses an expression here used for shooting arrows—falling short and missing the mark.  Not hitting the target. What’s more, we can never, ever hit the target that God has set for us to hit, no matter how hard we try, because of sin. All of us sin. That’s everyone. No exceptions.

One of my favorite commentators had this weighty insight about sin. Dr. David Lose tells us that “When we talk about sin, it’s almost always in the plural – sins – as in describing bad things we’ve done. But sin described in [Paul’s writings] is not so much a thing as it is a force – the power that seeks to rob the children of God of abundant life.” [2] How about that? We are all stopped from hitting the bull’s eye by this unstoppable force called sin.

But, wait! There’s more from Dr. Lose. Sin is also “a condition in which we are trapped. In this second sense, the condition of sin is very much a state of existential insecurity – being fearful or anxious that you are not safe, not sufficient, not worthy of love and respect.” [3]

Worse and worse! We not only are being stopped by a force that eternally keeps us from hitting this bull’s eye of living God’s way, but this same unstoppable force convinces us that we are not safe, not sufficient, not able even to use a Godly, heavenly bow and arrow—so to speak. It’s the ultimate feeling of insecurity, of feeling less-than, fearful and anxious that we will never get to heaven and never be in God’s presence.

But, who will save us from this wretched situation? From this unstoppable force and condition of sin? How can we come into God’s presence and live God’s way, the way our Lord meant us to live?

Martin Luther was also a diligent student of the Bible. He would pour over Scripture for hours each week. Finally, in 1513, he found this mind-blowing idea in Paul’s letter to the Roman believers.   Verse 3:28:” 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”   Thanks be to God.

“God also loves us, accepting and loving the insecure, wayward persons we are. Not the person we’ve tried to be or promised to but, but the person we really are. And so God not only forgives us those sins (plural) we commit, but also promises us God’s unconditional love, acceptance, and regard.” [4]

Again, thanks be to God for God’s unspeakable, marvelous, glorious gift!

This sermon is called “By Faith Alone:” Sola fide! Last Sunday’s sermon was “By Grace Alone:” Sola gratia! Last week we looked at Ephesians 2:8-9, which says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

We know from Paul’s straight account that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that no one can boast about their good works, “that none of us can brag that we earned some spiritual star a long time ago. If anyone will boast, we will not boast of our faith; we will not boast about our good works.  If anyone will boast, we will boast about God, the God who forgives us and loves us.  We will boast about Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for you and me. We will boast about the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin.” [5]

We are gathered here in this building because of Jesus Christ, because of what He did for us on the Cross, because He conquered death, and because we are now His followers. What more wonderful expression of our faith is there than to say Soli Deo Gloria! Or, to God alone be the glory. Praise God! Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://javacasa.ipower.com/resources/dps_form_results/roma3_19.htm

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/10/ref-day-pen-20-original-insecurity/  “Original Insecurity and the Power of Love,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2014.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mother Teresa, Good Works and Faith  Romans 3:19-28 – ·  Reformation Sermons, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Advertisements

By Grace Alone

“By Grace Alone”

 

sola gratia, sola scriptura, sola fide

Ephesians 2:4-10 (2:8) – October 22, 2017

How many people catch their breath or look troubled when they see an ambulance whiz by, sirens blaring, and lights flaring? I think that is a common reaction. I feel that way from time to time, too. Sometimes, I feel helpless, even useless, just watching from the sidelines. Or, in some cases, the sidewalk. Working as a chaplain, I met ambulances in the Emergency Department where they would unload their critically ill patients.

This is so like the situation that the apostle Paul talks about in our scripture reading for this morning. Let’s read Ephesians 2:4-5. “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”

I know how difficult this discussion is for some people. Some of you or some of your friends or relatives might have traveled to the hospital, following that ambulance. I know, because I met with many families and loved ones in the Emergency Department. I’ve sat next to beds in the intensive care unit or other critical care units and prayed with seriously ill patients. I’ve comforted both patients and their loved ones. Sadly, I have been with a large number of people who died in the hospital. That is what Paul is talking about here. This is the situation. Paul says we—all of us—are dead in transgressions.

This is looking at things from a really dismal point of view. Absolutely! Sure, we might be walking around, physically breathing, hearts pumping. But as Paul tells us, we are dead because of our trespasses. Our transgressions. Our sins. Our thoughts, words and deeds that are not what God wants from us, and not who God wants us to be.

If you think of it in contemporary, even humorous terms, think of the whole human race like zombies—spiritual zombies. Sure, our bodies are walking and breathing, but we are all spiritually dead.

The apostle Paul is really clear about this. We—all of us—are spiritually dead in our trespasses and transgressions. Because of sin. What can we possibly do to heal ourselves from this spiritual death?

Some people might think they are not too bad off, not as bad as other people. I can hear them now: “I haven’t murdered or cheated anybody. I can’t be that sinful.” Or, “Look at that gal. She did all that illegal, nasty stuff. I’m not half as bad as she is.” Well, I have news for you. Really bad news. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Same apostle, different New Testament letter.)

For some, it might help if you can picture this. It’s as if each of us is in a spiritual boxing ring, boxing with the Devil. The tricky Devil flattens us with the one-two punch of temptation and sin. On our own, we are permanently knocked out, down for the count, forever.

Sin hits different people in different ways. Sometimes it’s sin like anger or envy or jealousy. Other times it’s the sin of pride or gossip or nasty words. Sometimes it’s the sin of mean, unkind thoughts—like Jesus told us, wishing you had something that belonged to somebody else—that is called coveting. Or, getting so angry at a friend or relative you call them, “You idiotic fool!” And, really mean worse than that. Jesus called all of that sin, too.

Let’s read from Ephesians 2:4-5 again: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Wait a minute. I’ve heard some people with another take on this sin thing. They try to work their way onto God’s good side. “There must be something I can do! Maybe, pray a bunch of times a day—really earnest prayers, too!” Or, “Maybe bringing some extra special offerings will make God happy. Maybe that will take away some of the black marks against me.” Or, “Maybe doing lots of good deeds. Maybe God will look at that and be satisfied.”

Paul says there is a problem with that. We cannot work our way to heaven by ourselves. What does Ephesians 2:8-9 say “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” In other words, the only way we can be accepted by God is only God’s doing. It is all God’s mercy, love, kindness and grace. Especially grace. Grace alone. Sola gratia. Not grace plus good works, no!

“Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace apart from works. If we were saved based on our works we would all be going to hell because our greatest works are filthy rags before God.[1] All we need to do to check that out is to read Isaiah 64:6 – “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.”

Stan Mast from Calvin Theological Seminary had this to say: “I love the old story about C.S. Lewis wandering into an august gathering of theologians in Britain in the last century. They were debating how Christianity differed from other religions. Was it the doctrine of the Incarnation? No, some argued, they found stories of gods appearing in human form in other religions, though not in the precise form as the Gospel. So, was it the Resurrection? No, argued others, there are stories of people rising from the dead in other religions, though not in the precise form as the Gospel. Eventually, Lewis, the great Oxford scholar, wandered into the room and asked what the rumpus was about. When told that they were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution to the world’s religions, he said, “That’s easy. It’s grace.” [2]

God’s grace. Amazing grace. Marvelous grace of our loving Lord.

As I said to the children at the beginning of the service today, grace is undeserved. We do not deserve it. A newborn baby cannot do anything to make his or her parents or grandparents love him or her. We don’t expect them to! Can the newborn baby say “I love you?” Can the newborn baby give people hugs? Yet, the baby’s family loves that tiny human very much.

Remember the definition of grace (actually, Carolyn Brown’s definition): “grace is loving someone even when they don’t deserve it and God’s grace is the fact that God continues to love us, care for us, and forgive us even when we really do not deserve it.” [3]

I used to enjoy taking my children to the park, to the playground with all of the play equipment. I would often bring a book and read while the children played for a good long time. Sooner or later, it would be time to go home. Occasionally, when I would call my children, one or the other of them wouldn’t be ready to leave. Every once in a while, they would take off running in the opposite direction. I would have to go running after them.

Sure, I’d get upset. Sometimes, I’d be afraid and even angry, because they might wander off the playground and run near a busy street. But, I wouldn’t stop loving them. I’m a human, fallible parent. How much more does God love my children? And, how much more does God love me? And, you?

I am okay with God speaking of me—of us—as a small child (which the Bible does, on several occasions). When you or I disobey or run away from God, does God keep loving us? Remember Carolyn Brown’s definition of grace? “God’s grace is the fact that God continues to love us, care for us, and forgive us even when we really do not deserve it.”

From the beginning, in the middle, and to the end, we all are saved, justified by God’s grace alone. By God’s grace, “we become the creatures God had intended from the beginning, God’s magnificent workmanship, God’s masterpiece.” [4]

God’s grace. Marvelous grace of our loving Lord. Amazing grace. Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] God’s Grace…… Earned or Freely Given?  http://www.reformedgnome.com/  Posted on February 9, 2016

[2] The Center for Excellence in Preaching, Stan Mast, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, illustration ideas, 2015. http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-4b-2/?type=lectionary_epistle

[3] Worshiping with Children, Lent 4B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015. 2012http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-fourth-sunday-in-lent-march-15.html

[4] The Center for Excellence in Preaching, Stan Mast, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, illustration ideas, 2015. http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-4b-2/?type=lectionary_epistle

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

In Christ Alone

“In Christ Alone”

Acts 4-12 salvation, sun

Acts 4:1-17 (4:12) – October 15, 2017

“How many of you remember a time when you were so excited about something that you could barely wait to share that news with another person? Maybe it was getting accepted to the university you dreamed of attending? Or maybe it was that you are finally pregnant after years of waiting? Or maybe it was that you have now been confirmed to be cancer free after lengthy treatment? Or maybe it was when your special someone asked you to marry him? Or maybe you got the job you so desperately hoped for? This exciting news is changing your life, and you want to shout it from the mountaintop!” [1]

With exciting news of that magnitude of importance, who wouldn’t want to share something so earthshaking that is turning your life upside down?

That’s the case here in Acts chapters 3 and 4, where Peter and John are in Jerusalem, telling people about the Messiah Yeshua, the risen Jesus, risen from the dead. Do you know? Have you heard? This news is so exciting that it’s changing my life! Anyway, that is the story that Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples are sharing in downtown Jerusalem at the beginning of Acts 4.

But then, there’s a hitch. A problem, a complication.  Reading from Acts 4:1-2, “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” In fact, these religious leaders are so upset, they toss Peter and John in prison.

Peter and John—and countless others throughout the centuries—were thrown into prison because of their beliefs, and because of their witness. It doesn’t matter whether it’s during the persecutions of the Roman emperors, the upheavals and persecutions of the religious wars of the 1500’s and 1600’s, or more modern persecutions and executions of the 20th and 21st centuries, people are still imprisoned for their beliefs. People are still persecuted for naming the name of Jesus Christ in a public forum.

This good news is an extremely important thing to proclaim. In many places in the world today and throughout history, this message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead is an extremely dangerous one to proclaim, too.

There must be something behind this God-sent boldness that energizes so many people!

“Solus Christus,” or “By Christ Alone” is another one of the foundational principles that sets Protestants apart. Another of the rallying cries of the Reformation, this important principle means Jesus Christ alone is the mediator between God and humanity. Not the priests as mediator between us and God, and not the sacrifices in the Temple as a necessary covering to allow us to come to God, but salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone.

Certain other faith traditions put extra emphasis on the saints, or the Virgin Mary, or on the church hierarchy. Yes, these ought to be honored. Absolutely we have the saints and Mary the mother of Jesus as our blessed examples and those we hold up as special before God. Plus, as the apostle Paul and Doctor Luke tell us repeatedly in the New Testament, we are all called saints of God, so we are all examples for one another.

Back to our passage from Acts 4. What happened to Peter and John? “The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

The religious leaders of Israel had thought they had gotten rid of their problem some weeks ago when they had a rabble-rousing rabbi called Jesus crucified. But, no! More and more problems kept cropping up, ever since they had “misplaced” this rabbi’s body, and then there were some scattered reports of Him being raised from the dead, being alive again.

The religious leaders brought Peter and John before them, and asked point blank: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
What is the foundational principle for Peter and John? Just as Acts 4:12 tells us, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

What is another way of saying this great Good News? “The message of Jesus entails “salvation” (soteria) — a divine reality that generates wholeness, restoration, and reversal of societal norms (“healed” in Acts 4:9 is literally “saved,” sesotai)” [2]

We can say for sure that Peter, John and the other disciples would absolutely agree with the Reformers: “Solus Christus,” or “By Christ Alone” are we saved.

That was one principle that Protestants were willing to die for, and did.

What about you? What about me? Are we willing to proclaim Christ? Why does Peter say it so clearly? Because he has been with Jesus. So, too, we are with Jesus. “By Christ Alone” we are saved, we are restored, and we are walking by His side.

Praise God, alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fourth-sunday-of-easter7#preaching

Preaching Helps and Worship Resources, Rev. Dawn Chesser, Prayers, Lectionary Hymns, United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship, 2015.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2388  Commentary, Acts 4:5-12, Troy Troftgruben, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

 

To God Alone Be Glory

“To God Alone Be Glory”

1 Tim 1-17 immortal, invisible, words

1 Timothy 1:12-17 (1:17) – October 8, 2017

When I was young, I was a member of a Lutheran church on the northwest side of Chicago, baptized and confirmed Lutheran, and well trained in liturgical practice and classic hymnody. Later in high school and into my twenties, I spent a number of years in Evangelical churches. I memorized dozens of bible verses, learned pietistic practices, and completed an undergraduate degree in church music from a local bible college. I sang many beloved old hymns and gospel songs, including “Rock of Ages,” “Amazing Grace,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “To God Be the Glory.”

It’s this last gospel song I would like to quote: “To God be the glory—great things He hath done! So loved He the world that He gave us His Son, Who yielded His life an atonement for sin, And opened the Life-gate that all may go in.”

“To God be the glory!” Exactly the topic of my sermon today. Pastor Kevin asked me to preach on one of the “solas,” the foundations or main principles of the Protestant faith. Soli Deo Gloria is one of the “solas” or “onlies” of the Reformation. As we remember Martin Luther and his posting of the 95 Theses, or grievances against the Catholic Church on that chapel door in the town of Wittenberg in October 1517, this October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of his brave act that sparked the Protestant Reformation.

“Soli Deo Gloria,” or, to God alone be glory, is one of the foundational principles that sets Protestants apart. One of the rallying cries of the Reformation, this principle meant that all glory (and honor and worship) is due to God, alone. Not God plus the saints, not God plus the Virgin Mary, not God plus the church hierarchy. God alone is worthy of our glory—and only God is to be worshipped. That was one principle that Protestants were willing to die for, and did.

Our Scripture reading today comes from 1 Timothy 1, starting at verse 12. Paul states: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me trustworthy, appointing me to His service.” Paul is just overflowing with thankfulness here. He is absolutely grateful to the Lord Jesus for extending His grace to Paul and designating Paul a worker for God, in the service of Jesus Christ.

Just to refresh everyone’s memories, the Apostle Paul was not always a follower of Christ. Before he had that sudden, come-to-Jesus experience on the Damascus Road, Paul was called Saul. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and an up-and-coming member of the Sanhedrin—the ruling council of the Jews in Jerusalem. Saul/Paul had studied at the equivalent of the University of Tarsus, a cosmopolitan city where he grew up, in modern-day Turkey. He saw this breakaway sect of Jews following some “false Messiah” as a clear danger to the worship of the one God who made heaven and earth.

Paul tells us himself what his personal situation was—in brief—in the next verse of 1 Timothy 1: “13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Sure, Saul/Paul was a fire-breathing zealot, ready to grab these “Christians” off the street and throw them in prison. As he himself states, Paul was formerly “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.”

How on earth could God use someone awful like this? A self-admitted bad guy, too! But, wait. This isn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot. Jesus steps into the picture.

What does Paul say in the next verse? “14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” What happened? Jesus Christ happened. God’s grace was poured out on Paul, and he had a true conversion experience. He once was blind but suddenly was given the gift of sight—spiritual sight.

Here in this letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul gives his testimony. He tells everyone what a rotten guy he was, and how God reached down and saved him, and what’s more, put Paul into his service. In many Baptist and Evangelical churches, “the sharing of testimony was [and is] a vital practice of faith. Such sharing of stories, such narrating of God’s faithfulness in our lives was not a moment to extol the speaker’s virtues as a follower of Jesus so much as a way to name God’s acting.” [1]

Paul certainly had a different kind of past life, before coming to Christ, and he definitely remembered aspects of that life. We can see that from these two verses: “15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.”

We can hear rumblings of several other “solas” from our Reformation in these verses, can’t we? Sola Fide—faith alone, and Sola Gratia—grace alone, and certainly Solus Christus—by Christ alone. It is at this earthshaking, deep emotional point that Paul can’t stand it any more and breaks into a glorious doxology: “17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

If we are paying close attention to what he just said, it is at this point that we—all of us—ought to join Paul on our knees and lift our arms to God in praise and awe and honor and glory. Here, in brief, is the tremendous order of events that Paul wrote about at the beginning of his letter to Timothy. Saul/Paul was “the chief of sinners,” came face to face with Jesus, went into God’s service, had his life amazingly changed, and wrote a glorious doxology about it.

Look at this Protestant principle from the point of view of the 1500’s. Was it God—plus the saints, or the Virgin Mary—that caused such a life-changing experience for Paul? I think not. Was it God—plus the church hierarchy—that made Paul do a complete 180 degree turn? No, not that either. It was God alone who brought Paul to his knees. God alone, God’s grace and mercy in Paul’s life, heart and soul had a life-changing effect on Paul. Heart-changing and soul-changing, too!

Sadly, in Martin Luther’s day, many people had (in effect) contingency plans for their salvation. Or, add-ons to get to heaven. For example, they would believe in Jesus Christ and His atonement—plus prayers to the saints; or Jesus Christ and His blood shed on the cross—plus the petitions of the Virgin Mary. All of these additional things were and are blessings, and were and are embraced by people all over the world. Just not to be elevated to the point of worship.

However, Martin Luther and John Calvin and the other Reformers said that it is God alone who was to receive our worship, honor and glory. That is what bursts out of Paul here in 1 Timothy 1. “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes. Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious—Thy great name we praise.”

Which leads us to our response. Yes, we can celebrate! Yes, such a marvelous God is truly to be given all praise. Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God and to the Lamb.

But, some of us do not readily burst into speech that might be mistaken as quotes from the King James version of the Bible. I was moved by several paragraphs of a recent book by the noted Christian author Anne Lamott. It comes from the third section of the book “Help Thanks Wow,” which is an exploration of three essential prayers that we all pray at one time or another.

“The third great prayer, Wow, is often offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unbidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace. “Wow” means we are not dulled to wonder.” [2]

Isn’t this another way of expressing Paul’s glorious doxology? It might not be as elegant, but if the Holy Spirit can take the deep, wordless groanings of our hearts and make them understood in prayer, why not the heartfelt, or exuberant, or awestruck simple “Wow!”

As the Reformers tell us, all of us are sinners, saved by God’s grace. So, all of us can say with Paul that God alone is to be worshiped—to God alone be the glory.

We can see from the life of the apostle Paul as well as from the lives of countless followers of Christ throughout the centuries, God can use anyone whom God wishes to use. Paul’s heart-stirring testimony can move us to pray, to serve, to live for God. Our Lord Jesus can take us, wherever and whomever we are, and use us. Here I am, God. Here are we. Send me. Send us.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3034 , September 11, 2016, Eric Barreto

[2] Help Thanks Wow, Anne Lamott, (United States of America: Riverhead Books, published by the Penguin Group, 2012) 71.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

By Scripture Alone

“By Scripture Alone”

2 Tim 3-16 Scripture God-breathed, script

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (3:16) – October 1, 2017

Who remembers going to Sunday school? Remember the bible lessons, and learning about God’s faithfulness? How God was faithful to people over and over in both the Old and New Testaments, and how God is faithful to us, today? Who remembers going to confirmation classes, and learning about God’s grace? How God extends abundant grace to us, today? Who remembers learning about Jesus, and how He came into the world to save sinners, including us?

The young Timothy learned lots of that kind of bible stuff, too. He grew up reading the Hebrew Scriptures, and was carefully taught about God and the ways of salvation and faith. Except, timid Timothy needed a knowledgeable mentor, an older brother in the faith, and he found one in the Apostle Paul. Paul zeroed in on the fact that Timothy grew up with the Scriptures. He praised Timothy for learning the Bible; “how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

I mentioned last week that I will be preaching this month on the five “Solas,” the five foundations or main principles of the Protestant faith. As we remember Martin Luther and his posting of the 95 Theses, or grievances against the Catholic Church on that chapel door in the town of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, this October 2017 is the 500th anniversary of his brave act that sparked the Protestant Reformation.

This week, I am preaching on Sola Scriptura, or by Scripture alone. This foundational principle sets Protestants apart. This was a big deal in Martin Luther’s day. One of the rallying cries of the Reformation, by Scripture alone was not the case in the minds of many, many people in Martin’s day. Not only clergy but also lay people in the 1500’s thought that they needed more stuff to add to the Bible, for salvation—to get them to heaven.

“I need the Scriptures plus the Pope to save me.” That was what some people thought. They considered the Pope’s pronouncements to be equal in weight to the Scriptures. That was one thing that Martin Luther publicly denounced in his 95 Theses, in several pointed statements.

Don’t get me wrong; I have highly praised both Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II from this pulpit, on several occasions. Francis is a spiritual, kind, caring and devout man, a marvelous representative for the Catholic Church worldwide. I could say similar things about John Paul II, may he rest in peace. Great leaders, and wonderful examples. Just not elevating their pronouncements to the level of the Holy Scriptures.

“I need the Scriptures plus church tradition to save me.” That was what some people thought. Yes, Holy Scripture was important. But many, many people for centuries thought that the doctrines and traditions of the Church Universal were of equal importance. The creeds and confessions and catechisms of the church were considered of equal importance, too.

Guess what? Doctrines, traditions, and creeds are all human creations. That means that humans made them. In most cases, very carefully. They checked and double-checked to make certain they agreed with Scripture. However, sometimes these faulty humans made mistakes. Sometimes these fallible, sinful humans goofed and put down their goofs on paper, for posterity to see. Sometimes sincere people of good conscience passed rules stating that certain things were good or positive or “the way things should be” or “it’s always been that way.”

“Over the centuries, doctrines have been developed with the interests of the Church in mind.  These doctrines have come to us from human hands and minds.  They are imperfect.” [1]

One vivid example? In 2017, we now understand that slavery is immoral. 150 years ago at the beginning of the American Civil War, sincere people of good conscience in certain denominations split ways over the biblical condition of slavery, described numerous times in the Scriptures. They did not reconcile for many decades. Similar to people at the time of Martin Luther, many were bound to tradition and following the church leaders of past centuries.

What about today? Is this still true? I think, yes. Today, “men use the Bible to enforce patriarchy.  Bigots use the Bible to justify discrimination.  The calling to serve the poor falls on deaf ears.  ‘Healing the sick’ is not a community responsibility, lest we have to pay more in taxes.  [Many] Christians use the Bible to satisfy their desires, promote their own interests, and express their own fears and bigotry.” [2]

How can people so blindly follow tradition, we might ask? To illustrate , here is a short story. “The new bride is making her first big dinner for her husband and tries her hand at her mother’s brisket recipe, cutting off the ends of the roast the way her mother always did. Her husband thinks the meat is delicious, but says, “Why do you cut off the ends — that’s the best part!” She answers, “That’s the way my mother always made it.”

Bothered by this, the young bride calls her mother and asks, “You know the roast brisket recipe? Why do you cut off the ends of the roast before you put it in the pan?” Her mother answers, “That’s the way your grandmother always made it.”

“The next week, they go to the grandmother’s house, and she prepares the famous roast brisket recipe, again cutting off the ends. The young bride is sure she must be missing some vital information, so she asks her grandma why she cut off the ends. Grandma says, “My dear, that’s the only way it will fit in the pan!” [3]

What does Paul tell Timothy? “How from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. We, too, have learned Scripture in Sunday school, in confirmation classes, in bible studies and sermons over the years. “The one tradition, the one Scripture we are to continue is the one that has been nurtured in us, which points to only one thing: salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” That is a foundation stone of our faith. By Scripture alone.

Returning to the words of the Apostle Paul, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” So, Scripture is God-breathed. Divinely inspired. Breathed out by the Ruach ha Kodesh, the Holy Spirit.

The important part? “The descriptive words here are important: teaching, correcting, training. The Scripture invites us into a pattern of gospel living. It does not provide “yes” and “no” answers to every situation, every question, every dilemma.” [4] What the Bible does offer us—these blessed, holy Scriptures invite us into a pattern or example of gospel living. In other words, live like Jesus.

Is this an easy example to follow? No, but it is straight-forward. What would Jesus do?

As John 1 tell us, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Do you hear? Holy Scripture equals the Word. The Word equals Jesus, the Word made flesh, come down from heaven.

We look to Scripture for our nurture, our faith, and our salvation. We look to our Lord Jesus to save us from our sins. We look to the Word made flesh, the Word we celebrate and remember in Communion, today. Praise God for salvation. Praise God for Scripture.

[1] https://modernlectionaries.blogspot.com/2013/10/making-sense-of-god-sound-doctrine-and_20.html

“Making Sense of God: ‘Sound Doctrine’ and Divine Inspiration,” Richard Mario Procida, Modern Lectionaries, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.snopes.com/weddings/newlywed/secret.asp , adapted.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=725

Commentary, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)