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

David Shows Compassion

2 Samuel 9:1-13 (9:7) – June 25, 2017

2 Sam 9 word cloud

“David Shows Compassion”

Three and a half years ago, I started a computer blog called #ayearofbeingkind. I blogged every day for a year. (That’s 365 consecutive days.)

Since I have the spiritual gifts of helps and mercy, every evening I would blog about my experiences being kind, or helpful, or of service. I learned so much from that year. It was, simply put, an eye-opening experience. This blog and the marvelous challenges and opportunities God sent my way in 2014 are two of the reasons I wanted to share this summer sermon series with you: our summer series on Compassion.

The bible reading for today comes from 2 Samuel 9. We don’t usually focus on the Hebrew Scriptures in our sermon. This is now the third week we have talked about people from the nation of Israel being kind and compassionate towards each other.

We’ve just heard this unexpected and beautiful story read to us. One problem: this chapter of 2 Samuel starts in the middle of the story. For the previous parts in our story, we need to turn back to 1 Samuel 20 and 2 Samuel 4. Before David ever became king of Israel, he was a great friend of Jonathan, the father of Mephibosheth.

Jonathan was the eldest son of King Saul. As young men, he and David had a very special relationship. Yes, Jonathan knew his father King Saul was a bitter enemy of his best friend David. Plus, Jonathan was aware that his father the mean King had his army chasing David all over the kingdom. As the eldest son and heir of King Saul, Jonathan stood to inherit everything, as a future king of Israel.

He could have ratted out his friend David, but their great friendship was more important. David and Jonathan promised each other they would show each other kindness and compassion, even if something awful happened. They not only made this promise to each other, they decided to up the promise to the next level. David and Jonathan made a covenant before the Lord.

Let’s come back to our reading for today. It’s now been a while since King Saul and his son Jonathan have died in battle. King David remembers again his covenant promise to Jonathan, and wishes to keep it. From 2 Samuel 9: “David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

David was taking his covenant responsibility very seriously. Even though Jonathan was dead, David still wanted to find out whether anyone was left alive of any of Jonathan’s children. Sometimes—like King David—we show kindness and grace to someone out of the love and caring we have for someone else.

Reading again from 2 Samuel 9, “Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” “At your service,” he replied. The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”

It is seldom we hear anything of someone who is disabled in the Bible. Yet, here is Jonathan’s son, disabled—or lame—in both feet. For that part of the story, we need to turn to 2 Samuel 4. The author tells about a number of things with other, more important people, including the outcome of the battle where Saul and Jonathan died. Yet, one particular sentence stands out. 2 Samuel 4:4. “(Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.)”

Today, when an accident happens and someone breaks some bones in their feet, what do they do next? They go to an orthopedic surgeon and have reconstructive surgery done on their feet. Sure, it’s painful and sometimes a difficult surgery, but then they go through rehabilitation and eventually learn to walk again. And often, their feet are almost as good as before.

But, what about Jonathan’s small son Mephibosheth? His nurse just found out about the death of King Saul and Jonathan on the battlefield. Filled with fear for the boy, she was running with him in her arms, and she tripped and fell. The boy fell to the ground, too. Somehow, his feet got crushed, and he became lame in both feet. This was a long time ago, and they did not have the ability to go to orthopedic surgeons. The small boy grew to be a man, and his feet remained crippled. He remained disabled.

I don’t think David ever knew about Jonathan’s disabled son Mephibosheth before. When he found out, he was greatly concerned and called the grown man before him.

Let’s look at this from Mephibosheth’s point of view. For years, he had been living his life quietly, under the radar. (At that time, according to the code of the day in every country, all close relatives of a former king were often killed.) Suddenly, he gets called into the presence of King David! I suspect Mephibosheth had no idea why he was being summoned into the king’s presence. He must have been really frightened.

Reading from 2 Samuel 9: When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied. “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Imagine what was going through Mephibosheth’s mind. Wow! Double wow! Imagine someone powerful showing you undeserved kindness—compassion—grace. This is all for the sake of someone else. David did not know Mephibosheth at all, and the young man did not deserve it. Yet, David was doing this really kind thing on behalf of—in memory of Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan.

What parallels are here, using this narrative? Similar to Mephibosheth, we were separated from our heavenly King because we didn’t know God or God’s love for us. Our heavenly King sought us out before we sought Him. The King’s kindness is extended to us for the sake of another. The heavenly King’s kindness is based on covenant. [1]

This reminds me of our God’s love for people. All people. God extends an invitation to all of us. When God looks at you and at me, what does God see? Does God see all the bad things we have done? Does God count up all the unwholesome thoughts that have gone through our minds? Does God remember hearing all those mean words that came out of our mouths? I don’t think the Lord holds those bad things over our heads. Instead, God is loving and remembers the covenant with God’s much beloved people.

To say it simply? God extends kindness and compassion toward us, too. God loves us. All of us.  

Sometimes we show compassion and grace to someone out of the love we have for someone else—like how David decided to honor Mephibosheth because he loved Jonathan so much. Think about someone in your life you really love—maybe it’s a parent, a friend, or someone else. Who could you give generously to in honor of that person you love? Who is someone in your life in need of your grace and kindness? Is there someone who does not get much attention–like Mephibosheth? Is there someone in your life who might not feel like they deserve compassion and kindness?

This is our opportunity to show God’s compassion and kindness—and love!—to others, every day. Go and do likewise. Amen.

 

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_2Sa/2Sa_9.cfm

@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!)

Well Pleased

“Well Pleased”

Baptism of Jesus Coptic icon

Baptism of Jesus
Coptic icon

Luke 3:22 – January 10, 2016

It’s a joyful day indeed when we celebrate a baptism in church.

We follow the command of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, showing to all an outward sign of an inward change. Here in this church, we often celebrate infant baptism, showing the sign of God’s grace to all who are present. The congregation has an important part, too. They promise to teach the little one the ways of God, and to help the family bring up the child in a manner pleasing to God. Truly, a joyful, grace-filled sign and sacrament!

Well, that’s today, here and now, a long time after the first century. That’s one common understanding we now have of baptism.

Our Gospel reading today features John the Baptist, baptizing people in the wilderness. John was a prophet of God. He was set apart for a special purpose, to give out a special message from God. Here John the Baptist preaches to the nation of Israel, before our Lord Jesus has even started His ministry.

This message ought to be familiar to most of us. We heard some of John’s prophetic message read as our Gospel lesson only a month ago. Doom and gloom! He identifies everyone in the crowd as part of the brood of vipers—as sinners! Exactly what John the Baptist has been saying to the people of Israel for some time.

Another way of looking at John’s message is: “You are dirty, inside and out! Come get clean, both symbolically and physically!” Through God’s grace, John offers the people the opportunity to be obedient and to clean up, to show God and to show others that they repent and turn from their sinful, wicked behavior, speech and thinking. Many people respond. It’s a mini-revival going on at the River Jordan. Amen! Hallelujah!

Let’s pull back for a moment, and consider the larger situation.

At that time, the nation of Israel was an occupied country. Under the boot of the Roman Empire, the people of Israel were oppressed and subjugated. Many people in Israel were looking for the promised Messiah, the Anointed One of God, who would be a Savior for Israel. We can see from our Gospel reading today. Verse 15: “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.”

John does not mince words. He does not pull punches. John identifies his listeners as a brood of vipers, as sinful and separated from God.

Just think about identity today. How do people identify themselves? In an excellent commentary on this Gospel passage, David Lose says many of the traditional elements of a person’s identity have been diminished. Think about it. The majority of people today change jobs and careers frequently. The majority of people live in multiple places and different residences rather than growing up and living for their whole lives in a single community. He comments, “fewer families remain intact – there is a craving to figure out just who we are.” [1]

John tells the people of Israel straight out, ““I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John the Baptist responds with a clear message: he offers the people baptism to remedy that flawed, sinful, separated identity. They can identify themselves with God, and be identified as God’s beloved children.

And then—and then—Jesus shows up. Jesus is about to begin His public ministry. But before that happens, He comes to the River Jordan to listen to His cousin John the Baptist. And, to get baptized.

Lo and behold, the companion Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark tell us that John is surprised to see Jesus there. But Luke’s account makes Jesus’s appearance natural. The next right thing that happens. Verse 21 says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” At first, John is the star actor, the one doing the main action of baptizing. Jesus is the next one baptized, along with many others. However, what happens next?

The spotlight shifts in the following sentence. Dr. Luke turns his focus on Jesus. “As [Jesus] was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove.”

Can you see this on a movie screen? We open to a wide shot of the River Jordan. Large crowd of people on the river bank, and a number lined up in the water, waiting their turn. John the Baptist in a rough woven tunic with a leather belt around his waist. John is doing his thing—baptizing people who have repented of their sin. And—Jesus is one of them.

The camera pans in to a close-up shot on Jesus. Next in line. John slowly takes Jesus, baptizes Him. We are not sure whether John dunks Jesus in the water, or whether he pours water over Jesus’s head. (I prefer the idea and the image of pouring the water.) Regardless, everyone gets pretty wet. Next thing we all know, the heavens open wide.

Can you see it? The bright light from heaven? Perhaps sound effects, too? Heavenly music? Maybe even a low rumble of thunder? Dr. Luke paints a show-stopper of a scene. He tells us the Holy Spirit appears as a dove, descending on Jesus. The capper of the scene is the voice of God. Quoting from Luke’s account: “A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.’”

Just in case anyone was not sure, God’s own voice tells us the identity of Jesus.

Jesus is God’s own beloved Son. Not only that, but God is well pleased with Him, too. Plus, the Holy Spirit as a dove is a visible and physical sign of the presence of God.

Here in this act of baptism, we find out about identity. As the commentator says, “The voice from heaven is addressed to Jesus in the first person: “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Baptism teaches us who we are – God’s beloved children – and confers upon us the promise of God’s unconditional regard.“ [2]

God not only proclaimed Jesus’s identity, on the banks of the Jordan River, God also proclaims our identity. We belong to God. It is not our doing, but God’s, instead.

Did you hear? Do you understand? No matter what happens, or how often we fall short, we cannot erase or eradicate God’s love. We love God because God first loved us. God has given us that sign, that seal of baptism, sealed by the Holy Spirit.

It does not matter whether we have been brought to baptism as a baby or a child, or have come as a young person or an adult. Perhaps there are people here who have not been baptized yet. God calls for all to be baptized. God calls for all of us to remember our baptism, as well.

God’s arms are open wide. God’s grace is abundant, for you and for me. God’s grace is poured out freely upon us in baptism. We are cleansed to do God’s gracious work in the world. Can you hear God’s voice talking to you? Telling others about you? “This is my beloved child. With you, child, I am well pleased.”

Alleluia, amen.

[1] Preaching a More Meaningful Baptism – David Lose, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1624 .

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!