Reformation Sunday B – October 28, 2018

Last October was such an exciting time here at St. John’s. Remember, we had the beautiful organ concert with 500 years of Lutheran Music? Do you recall The Reformation 500 Book Sale? The Colonial Theater in town showing the Martin Luther Movie? Iron Hill Brewery was serving up lots of Heavenly Indulgences beer for us (and everyone else who wanted to enjoy a good hearty brew). And, like this year, we couldn’t walk through our doors without the life sized Martin Luther on display. We did a fine job of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation! It’s hard to believe that a year has already gone by.
Our readings today are traditional Reformation Day readings and the one from Romans is really hard to understand, I think. And it seems that Biblical scholars also struggle with translating parts of it. But the big take away from what we read in Romans is that it is good news for us!
In case you weren’t around for it last year or forgot part of the story, Martin Luther was at one time, arguably, just a normal guy. He was like many other people in his day in that he didn’t know if he did enough good works to earn him a spot in heaven. He desperately wanted to go to heaven and was terrified that he wasn’t good enough to get in.
All along Martin Luther fretted about where he stood with God. He knew he was a sinner. He knew he didn’t measure up. He knew he couldn’t prove his worth to God. And he was terrified. In some respects, he was right. He couldn’t prove his worth. Part of today’s reading from Romans references Psalm 143:2 For no one living is righteous before you. This passage is from the Old Testament, which is before Jesus.
Martin Luther ended up dropping his plans to enter law school and became a monk and spent a great deal of time studying the scriptures. Eventually he stumbled upon a passage in the Bible that he read in new light that gave him an awareness, an insight, of what we call justification by faith, that we are not saved by our good works. No amount of good works could ever earn us a spot in heaven, but rather, we are covered by the righteousness of Jesus and made right with God by grace. By God’s grace.
When Martin understood this truth he was filled with excitement because the weight that he had been carrying was removed, and at long last he was at peace for he understood he was right with God.
Martin Luther realized that it wasn’t about anything Martin could do or had done or did. It was all about what God did. It wasn’t Martin, Martin, Martin. It was God, God, God. It was all God. God is righteous. God allowed Jesus Christ to “cover our sins”. God gives grace. God acts.
And just like Martin, we can stop making our relationship with God one based on performance.
And this is the good news because it’s not about us; it’s about God.
Whew! What a relief. The burden is off of us! We can do nothing to earn forgiveness; God has acted through Jesus Christ. God is faithful and God is righteous. This is good news #1.
Good News #2: Our righteousness through faith demonstrates God’s great mercy. We are made right with God by grace. God’s Grace is a Gift. In Romans 3:24 we read, “And they are now justified by his grace as a gift.” Initially, Martin was shackled by his sin. He couldn’t let go of it, because he didn’t know that Jesus willingly took it away from him.
And God’s grace is for all of us. No one is to be excluded. The Book of Romans is one of those books of the Bible that, if you can, is best read all in one sitting. I know it sounds like a lot, but it really helps to understand it when you read it all the way through at one time. As we read further in Romans, Romans 5:20 “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. The translation that I like (and it’s a less common translation), “but where sin abounded, grace superabounded.” What does this mean? God’s grace cannot be contained! …One more verse and notice that there is a very big 3-letter word in the middle of the sentence: Romans, 6:23. For the wages of sin is death BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is very Good News. Believe it, Accept, Receive it. It’s a gift!
Good News #3: We now can have a great relationship with God. Because of Jesus and God’s grace, we no longer need to live in “terror” of God; God accepts us as the sinners we are.
It is possible that we may sit here today asking, “God, How do you feel about me? How do I measure up? I know I have messed up and done plenty wrong. I want to be worthy of you and your love, but I’m not sure that I am. And sometimes, if I think about it too much, I am terrified I won’t be right in your eyes, much less make it to heaven someday.”
The situation is that we humans are sinful. We just are. We have all messed up. God understands this and loves us so much. God loves us very much! So God sent God’s son Jesus, who is faithful to God, and Jesus is the means of forgiveness for all of us. And it is by the grace of God that we are made right with God, by placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus and the cross.
We may struggle at times and hang onto our guilt. We may really have a hard time letting go of what happened in the past. Martin Luther sure did. But we don’t have to clutch on to any of that. Instead, we can release and trust that Jesus hangs onto us, drawing us into relationship with him and that he will never let us go.
What does this mean for me? Just this week I heard a pastor tell a beautiful story of how he needed to get his little girl down from a high, unsafe place. When he told her that she should wrap her hand around his wrist, she explained to him that his wrist was so big, too big for her to hold onto. So he said, “Don’t worry. I’ll wrap my hand around your wrist, so you won’t fall.” We can all know that our heavenly father desperately wants us to stay close to him.
Let us go into our next year celebrating that we are loved and that God’s grace cannot be contained. As we grow into our strategic plan, may we share the gift of grace and love with one another, growing our faith deeper. Amen.

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville