Love as Jesus Loves

“Love as Jesus Loves”

John 15-12 love one another, words

John 15:9-17 (15:12) – May 6, 2018

Love, love, love. When you think of love, what comes to mind? Valentine’s Day hearts and heart-shaped boxes of candy? Bouquets of roses? What about popular love songs from musicals or the radio? Or, do you think about loving your family—your parents or children, or grandchildren? Loving your spouse, or your pets? Or, how about dear friends?

At first glance, this seems like something natural, common sense. Of course, I love my children. Of course, I love my husband. Of course—when they were alive, years ago—I loved my two dogs. Of course, I go out of my way for my loved ones. I bet we all do those things.

But, is that the kind of love Jesus is talking about here? Jesus gives His friends the command to love: what does that look like?

Some people say they love one another. They talk really big. You know the kind I mean. They might speak of loving all different kinds of people, and put on a great show. How much they talk the talk of love! Telling everyone how big their heart is. But, when it comes to doing anything related to love, and caring, serving, and helping others, where are these people? Do they walk the walk of love? Do they practice loving like Jesus loved?

When I was in kindergarten, my parents started me in piano lessons. As the youngest of six children, I followed all of my older brothers and sisters in having at least a few years of playing the piano. And, practice I did. As I practiced over the years, I became better and better at playing the piano. I had a teacher to show me how to play an instrument, and I practiced.

The same could be said for anything people want to become skilled at. Practice! Whether it’s playing baseball, football, hockey or tennis, when we practice an activity, we can’t help but become better at doing it. Whether it is sewing, dancing, painting or whatever else we are striving to get better at, practice doesn’t necessarily “make perfect,” but it does help us to improve. A teacher or coach helps us to become more comfortable and accustomed to doing whatever thing we are trying to do.

Let’s go back to the blowhard, the one who says they love everyone. Can you hear them bragging and boasting? Look at them! They are so tremendous at loving. In fact, no one loves half as well as these super-special lovers.

Question: is their talk of  “love” only self-serving and selfish? Or, do they walk the walk of love? Can we see the genuine effects of their loving, in their families, among their friends and acquaintances, and out in the community?

Let’s take a closer look at the Gospel reading for today, from John 15. Jesus starts His command with a few words of preparation: “10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

The big thing I get from this introduction to our Lord’s command? Jesus tells us to keep His commands. This ought to be a no-brainer. We all need to keep, or follow, Jesus’s commands. Piece of cake, right? Walk in the park! No problem, Jesus.

Well, not so much. Jesus must have known how much of a problem we all would have with this command. He said, “IF you keep my commands.” I am assuming we are not braggarts and blowhards like some people. No, we really mean to try to love others. So help us, God! But, it is not so easy. That thing called sin gets in the way, snarling and tangling us all up.

But, why does Jesus say this? He wants us to be filled with His joy. It says so, right here in this reading. We all have the possibility for the joy of Jesus of be in each one of us. Not only the joy of Jesus, but the complete joy of Jesus. Chock full to the brim! Filled with His joy!

I don’t know about you, but I think that being filled with the complete joy of Jesus sounds amazing. Beyond awesome.

However, I keep coming across this problem. I know very well that my heart is sinful. I have sinful thoughts, and sometimes I say sinful words, and do sinful deeds. Self-serving things, selfish, bragging, and boasting. I wonder whether you might do or say selfish things, too?

I suspect Jesus knew that this was the case, which was why He phrased His command in this way. But, wait! There’s more. The next thing out of Jesus’s mouth: “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Now, wait a minute, Jesus! What do You mean? Sure, “love one another,” that I get. But, “love each other as I have loved you?” Didn’t Jesus sacrifice a lot? Didn’t Jesus love people with an unconditional love? Jesus finishes the command by not only telling us about unconditional love, but He shows us what it can mean.

I consider these words of loving command serious words, indeed. Show one another unconditional love, just like Jesus. Let me tell you how one commentator’s mother followed Jesus’s words of command to love as He loved.

“My mom started a backpack program 8 years ago with an elementary school down the road from my parents’ church that has morphed into a partnership. Among many other ways that they support the school’s students and teachers, congregation members pack food every week for more than 100 children who may not otherwise have anything to eat during the weekend.

This story was relayed by the mother of a child who receives a weekly backpack.

“This mom watched from her window as her child and his friend got off of the school bus one Friday afternoon. Her son took his food bag out of his backpack and started unpacking some food at the bus stop. This little one shared half of what he had with his friend. When his mom asked him about what she saw, he told her that his friend needed some extra food, too.

“Word got back to the school counselor. We sent extra food in this little one’s bag, until we could get the new child enrolled in the program. We added a note telling him how proud we were of him and that we would send extra food for him to share with his buddy until he could get his own bag of food on Fridays.” [1]

That weekly commitment – shopping, packing, delivering – is a way to put action to the words of love, a way to show others we care. We have the opportunity to stop being selfish. That makes possible other acts of self-giving and generosity. It’s a way to love with actions, the way that Jesus would love.

What self-sacrificing love! This kind of love is not self-centered. It does not brag or boast, it does not get all puffed up and just blather on about how loving they are. No, this kind of love is love with workboots on. Love that rolls up its sleeves and goes to work, for anyone. Loving one another, no matter what. Loving people the way Jesus would love them.

I ask periodically, “what would Jesus do?” Would Jesus roll up His sleeves, get in there and pack backpacks for kids who did not have enough to eat? I think so. What can we do for Jesus? How can we roll up our sleeves and show others that Jesus loves them?

We all have the opportunity to follow the commands of Jesus. Love one another. Go and do. Go and love, in Jesus’s name.

[1] http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2015/05/what-is-love/

“What Is Love?” Anna Macdonald Dobbs, Ekklesia Project, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Into the Wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11 – March 5, 2017

jesus-temptation-wilderness

“Into the Wilderness”

Have you ever overheard a conversation at a restaurant where someone was absolutely raving about the food served? About how delicious it was, how well seasoned, or well prepared? The magnificent desserts, or the fantastic dishes? “Out of this world!” or, “It’s to die for!” I’ve even heard a few people say, “That was positively sinful!”

Enjoying our creature comforts so much, we are not able to focus on anything else. Not able to focus on each other, and reaching out to the needy, sick and hungry. Not able to focus on God, either, much less worship God’s name regularly.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Yes, back to the very beginning, the book of Genesis. Eileen just read for us several verses from chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis, where Adam and Eve are tempted by the Devil.

We find out that the garden from Genesis has everything a person could want—except for one thing. There is one prohibition: a tree in the middle of the garden. Adam and Eve already have been told never to eat from that tree. Never, ever, ever eat from that specific tree. (Or they—we—shall surely die.)

We all know the story. The Tempter comes to Eve in the form of a snake, plants doubt in her mind, and convinces her to eat the fruit of the tree. What’s more, she gives some to Adam and he eats. And because of this sin, this disobedience, Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden of Eden.

What got in the way between Adam and Eve, and God? Adam and Eve said “Yes” to the serpent. In saying “Yes” to the snake, they found themselves saying “No” to God. They renounced the God who created them, who loved them, and who gave them all things. And, they were sent into the wilderness.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we find Jesus led out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. For forty days Jesus fasts and prays, away by Himself, in the wilderness. Jesus was preparing Himself for His time of ministry ahead, as well. At the end of this time, the tempter comes to a weakened, depleted Jesus, and tempts Him. The devil tempts Jesus with food, with control, and with power. The devil very much wanted to get Jesus to say “Yes” to him, to say “Yes” to at least one of the temptations he brought to Jesus.

At the beginning of each Lenten season, each year, the lectionary readings begin with the Gospel reading of Jesus and the temptation. The devil tries very hard to get Jesus to say “Yes” to him and the phony, flashy, fake things he offers. And by saying “Yes” to the devil, Jesus would end up saying “No” to God. The devil wanted to get Jesus to renounce His heavenly Father.

The period of Lent as a time of fasting, penitence and self-examination was followed early on, in the church’s history. The Church Council of Nicaea in 325 discussed a 40-day period of Lent, but did not get that period codified at that point.

What was a common practice by that time was an extended period for people intending to prepare themselves for baptism on Easter Day. Yes, this did include fasting, penitence and self-examination, along with learning the catechism of the Church.

The rest of the congregation did not take it easy during this 40-day period. They had to fast, be penitent, and examine themselves, too. We still do this today, remembering Jesus and His time of fasting and penitence in the wilderness just before He began His ministry. A time when He renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways.

Renounce. Renounce what? This is a confusing term, for some. But—what gets in the way between us and God? What tempts us to turn from God and the good things God wants for each of us?  What does it mean for us to follow after Jesus, and to renounce the devil?

The first temptation was that of hunger. The devil tempted Jesus with bread. (And, not just physical hunger.) “It is about all of those things that we use in an attempt to fill ourselves up, to satisfy our many hungers. We have a problem with excess.  We eat too much.  We drink too much.  We buy too much.  We spend too much.  We have too much.” [1]

Augustine, that great saint of the Church, said there was a God-shaped hole inside of each of us. We try to fill that empty hole, that void, with all kinds of things. Both physical as well as spiritual.  “And the food and clothes and jewels, all the drugs and alcohol and sex and movies and vacations and entertainment and money and toys in the world, aren’t going to be enough to fill up that empty space inside us.” [2]

The second and third temptations are all about control and power. And, putting God to the test. Do we try to take control of our own lives? Or, how about micro-managing everyone around us? Do you know anyone who willfully, stubbornly goes off on their own, whose theme song is “My Way” by Frank Sinatra? Not following God, not putting themselves into God’s caring, loving hands. Perhaps making bargains with God?

The commentator says this week, “Do we worship our lifestyle? The (fill in your nationality) way? Military power? Economic domination? The rich and the famous? Football or [baseball or hockey or] other sports? The almighty dollar?” [3] What do we need to renounce in order to come back into a close, loving relationship with God?

We can take for our example how Jesus responded to the devil. Three different temptations, and three times Jesus responded with the Word of God.  

Do we remember baptism? Not necessarily our own baptisms, but the more recent baptisms that have happened here. Several months ago, I baptized Claire. Part of the liturgy for that service includes several questions. The pastor says the words “Will you encourage this child to renounce the powers of the devil, his works and ways, and to receive the power of new life in Christ?” The parents and the sponsors respond, “We will, with the help of God.”

It doesn’t matter where we are, we have promised, on our behalf or on our children’s, to encourage ourselves or our loved ones to renounce the devil. With the help of God, we will say “No” to the devil. It says so, right here in the service of baptism. That is exactly what Jesus did, at His temptation, and we’re encouraged to say “No,” too!

It can be as simple and straightforward as saying “No” to the tempter, to his works and ways, and saying “Yes” to God. Turning our backs on the tempting things that beckon to us, lure us in, and instead, following after Jesus.

Whether having to do with our bodies, desires, excess, addiction, power, control; in deserts, gardens, the country, cities, mountains—wherever we find ourselves, we need to consider renouncing the devil. Refusing to follow after the devil’s pied piper flute.  Lent is not just giving up chocolate or sweets, or meat on Fridays, but this is a special time to follow Jesus, to examine ourselves, and to learn and practice the works and ways of God.

Whether we are in the wilderness or not, I encourage all of us to follow after Jesus. Say “Yes” to God, and “No” to the devil and the seductive power of evil. And, God will be with us, in the wilderness, on the mountain, in the cities, wherever we are. Thank God! Amen.
[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/first-sunday-in-lent7#preaching

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

@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!)

(Thanks so much to the good folks at UMC Discipleship.org! I am following their Lenten series. Their online Lenten sermon notes and worship helps are invaluable.)

Christ is All!

Colossians 3:9-15 – January 15, 2017

col-3-11-christ-is-all-words

“Christ is All!”

Did you ever get a brand-new suit? A lovely new dress? Were you dressed in new clothes from head to toe? What about when one or your children or grandchildren was dressed in a wonderful new outfit? That can cause a person to feel brand new, all over.

That’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about, here in Colossians 3, verses 9 and 10: seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self.” That is exactly the word picture Paul is using, about taking off an old shirt or coat, and putting on a new, clean garment.

Paul not only is talking about our new selves and our new identity. He is also alluding to what happened at baptism. He makes mention of it in the letter to the Galatian church, and he mentions it here, too.

In the early Church, people often got baptized as adults. They would go through a several-week period of preparation, teaching and study, and finally be pronounced ready to be baptized. After the time of baptism, which often took place on Easter, the newly-baptized person would put on a new, clean white garment. This would show everyone that they were washed clean and ready to claim their new identity in Christ.

Some people might be wondering what I am doing up here, with no robe. I wanted to show everyone what Paul was describing here. See, I am just plain old me. Nothing special, nothing to write home about. But, now, I am going to take off the old self. Take off my old jacket. What is it that Paul said, again? I put on—we put on the new self. Like, right now, when I put on my robe. I am clothing myself in Christ. We all have done this, already! It has already happened, and is a blessed reality!

However, there is a problem. Paul reminds us about that. Did you know we can fool ourselves into thinking that this has not happened? Paul says exactly that, in verse 9: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices.”

Paul knows how easy it is to lie. Maybe not tell big whoppers, but certainly bend the truth. Some people lie a little, and others lie a lot. Whether it’s a lot or a little, whether it’s lying to other people or lying to ourselves, some people can act like they still have their dingy old clothes on, and haven’t put on their brand new Jesus garment yet. Some people can talk like they haven’t had much of an acquaintance with Jesus, either. Jesus is not affecting them much at all. Not in the way they talk, or act, or think.

We all know how easy it is to stretch the truth to other people. It’s just human, after all! This might be a challenge for us to hear, but, let’s think about lying to ourselves. Yes, not acting or talking like we have put on Christ. What about when we fool ourselves a lot, or beat ourselves up? When we say, “no one will ever know!” or “I guess nobody ever expected much,” or even, “what’s the use? I never can measure up.” Settling for cut-rate, lying to ourselves that whatever we are doing is okay, or giving up, not even trying at all. It’s a really difficult habit to break.

That is a big, big problem! What are we going to do about such a state of affairs?

Sometimes, people do end up stuck in the middle. Right before the scripture passage we read today, in the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul mentions a laundry list of practices and other things that can get in the way. Things that come between us and God.

We believers may think we have gotten rid of the malice, impurity, even blasphemy that Paul describes in verse 8. Yes, Paul matter-of-factly ticks off bad habits and sinfulness from the list, but spiritually, these people haven’t put on their brand-new Jesus garment. Do you know people like that? I’m afraid some people are too focused on themselves, either in a puffed-up self-centered manner, or in a negative, self-defeating way.

I discovered verse 11 of this chapter a long time ago. Paul says, “you have clothed yourselves with the new self…. In that renewal, there is no longer Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

One commentary I consulted was particular about the translation of this verse from Greek: “There is no such thing as Greek and Jew (the difference of privilege between those born of the natural seed of Abraham and those not, is abolished), [no such thing as] circumcision and uncircumcision (the difference of legal standing between the circumcised and uncircumcised is done away with)—and [no such thing as the difference between] bondman, freeman.” [1]

So many people just skim over this verse, not even considering the inclusiveness and social justice that the text implies. Instead, they are—we are—still focused on ourselves, as if we all are wearing blinders. They—we celebrate the day they were “saved”, but fail to do the work of God’s realm, including the removal of barriers. Those who are stuck halfway between their old, sinful clothes and their new, clean Jesus garment may even be creating new barriers.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. In August 1963, he made his “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on the Mall in Washington, D.C. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

That sentence resounds with the quality and the content of this verse from Colossians, as well as the similar verse from Galatians 3:28, which talks about neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile, and neither slave nor free. All of us—that is, everyone—are one in Christ Jesus our Lord. Or, as Colossians 3 states: “Christ is all, and in all!”

Martin Luther King was highlighting people’s insides, not their outsides, and looking at the quality of their character, not the color of their skin. Or how nice their clothes look. Or how expensive their shoes are. Or whether they have been to college or not. Or which side of the train tracks they are from. Or what ethnicity or culture they grew up in.

“There’s a great line from a movie where two African Americans are walking past a whites-only church, and one of them says, ‘I’ve been trying to get into that church since I was a kid.’ His friend responds by saying, ‘That’s nothing, Jesus has been trying to get in there for a lot longer and he hasn’t gotten in yet.’” [2]

The larger church is hurting. Most believers have witnessed divisions and separation both inside and outside the church. Hurt, grief, anger, dashed expectations, frustration, fear…. a mass of emotions. Hurting people, hurting each other.

Jesus will help us. He will not leave us alone, hurting and separated from others. He will not leave us wearing old, dirty, sinful clothes, but will help us to put on a brand-new, clean Jesus garment. Jesus will come alongside of each one of us. He wants all of His children to come together, to love each other, no matter what.

I close with the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, chapter 15: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” No matter what. How much did Jesus love us? He loved us this much. (spread out arms) Alleluia. Amen!

[1] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/jamieson/jfb.xi.xii.iv.html  Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871). When

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday18ce.html “Real Life in Christ,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@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!)

 

Rejoice, Proclaim!

“Rejoice, Proclaim!”

Zeph 3-19 God will rejoice over you

Zephaniah 3:14 – December 13, 2015

Doom and gloom! “You brood of vipers!” and “Flee from the wrath to come!” Exactly what John the Baptist has been saying to the people of Israel for some time! And what about in this little, tiny book of the prophet Zephaniah? That is pretty much what he has been saying in the first two chapters, as well.

Why was Zephaniah so upset? In a commentary by Anne Stewart, she says “The oracles in the majority of the book announce cosmic destruction as divine judgment for the sins of [the nation of] Israel and, specifically, the priesthood. With vivid and at times disturbing language, the prophet envisions the arrival of the Day of the Lord, the time in which God will act to restore justice and to bring judgment on faithless, sinful nations.” [1]

But, what do we find in the third chapter of Zephaniah? A sudden turn-around. The people are told to rejoice! Not only rejoice, but rejoice with all of our hearts!

What gives here? What if God barged right into the middle of St. Luke’s Church, right here this Sunday morning? What if God came right into the middle of our daily lives with this message of rejoicing? What would happen then?

This is what Zephaniah says: “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away your punishment, God has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.”

Before, life was bad. Awful! Doom and gloom! Horrible stuff! Yes, we were sinful. Yes, we were far away from God. Just as Zephaniah said—just as John the Baptist said—the people here on earth have fallen away from God and have been disobedient. God proclaimed judgment on everyone, for sure!

But, what now? Great question!

One of my commentaries tells us: “Imagine Zechariah and the people of God celebrating, with God there in their very midst. All are singing and dancing in the streets, and God is singing loudest of all. There is rejoicing because the people have been forgiven. They were imprisoned in sin, but all are forgiven and their sentence is commuted. God is their salvation and is coming into their midst to save them.”

This isn’t just a pause in the storm of judgment, but instead a get-out-of-jail-free card. We all—that is, you, me, everyone—are freed from sin, permanently. Did you hear? God is our salvation! That not only is Good News. That is absolutely Great News!

The prophet Zephaniah tells the people to rejoice. The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally “Rejoicing Sunday.” Our third Advent candle lets us know we can rejoice. Several of our Scripture lessons for today tell us to remember to give thanks for God’s great gifts to us.

Our commentary tells us that Zephaniah speaks in past, present, and future tenses. In terms of the present, the right now—Jesus Christ is in our midst. He is here with us, right now, of that we can be sure. What about the future? The prophet also lets us know about Christ’s coming again, in the second coming. There will be a time still to come when we will have our final homecoming with God, the greatest celebration of all.

What about the past? Zephaniah’s words are fulfilled in the coming of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem. That will be what we celebrate a week from Friday, on Christmas Day. We can see that Jesus “does not watch from a distance, but enters into the life of the world. This God enters even into human flesh, in the mystery and wonder of the Incarnation.” [2]

This third Sunday in Advent, we speak of joy. We look forward to joy coming into the world. We speak of the joy of a people redeemed and restored! And, God responds. As our reading from Zephaniah tells us, God sings. God shouts. God rejoices! Alleluia!

We will sing all four verses of “Joy to the World” in just a minute. That’s # 125 in our hymnals. But before we sing the carol, I would like everyone to follow along in the hymn books as I point out these opening lines as follows, verse by verse:

Why can we sing “Joy to the World” right now?

  1. No matter how bad things might be at the moment, “The Lord is come”, i.e. God is with us.
  2. The Savior, not any old king or mean dictator or nasty bully is in charge, is in charge of the world.   (Who is the savior?  Jesus is!)
  3. Given that, we don’t have to get upset or snowed under in our sorrows or caught up in all the bad stuff that happens.
  4. And, like all good last verses, this last verse is the summary.  We can rejoice and sing “Joy to the World!” because God rules the world with truth and grace. [3]

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2700

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=468

[3] Worshiping with Children, Advent 3, 2015, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!

 

 

By Grace through Faith

“By Grace through Faith”

grace = by grace through faith Lutheran

Romans 3:24 – October 25, 2015

I have a confession to make. I was raised a Lutheran. Baptized and confirmed in a Lutheran church on the northwest side of Chicago, I loved everything about that church. When I was in grammar school and high school, I learned all I could about my church, about being a Lutheran, and even about Martin Luther. I studied Luther’s Small Catechism during my two years of confirmation classes in seventh and eighth grades. So, you could say I know a thing or two about Martin Luther and about the church that to this day bears his name.

This Saturday, October 31st, is the 498th anniversary of the day Martin Luther tacked up the 95 Theses, his 95 points of disagreement he had with the Catholic Church. In 1517, the priest and doctor of theology Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany, at the university where he served as professor. Thanks to the printing press, these 95 points of disagreement spread like wildfire. Not only in Germany, but throughout Europe. The Reformation began in earnest.

Why was Martin so upset? To understand that, we need to take a closer look at Martin’s beginnings. When he was a very young man, Martin Luther felt unworthy of God’s love. He felt lower than a worm sometimes, and tried his hardest to get into God’s good graces! He would go to confession several times a week, do penance after penance, and he made several pilgrimages. All of these things and more to stop feeling unworthy and sinful.

Taking a quick look at the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church, you and I might get that same message, too. From chapter three, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Martin felt that so deeply! All have sinned! All fall short of God’s glory! All means everyone. All of us.

Romans 3:23 is not good news! This verse is pretty bad news. Rotten news. Really hopeless news, if you ask me. And, that is the news Martin Luther faced, the more and more he read and studied the Bible, meditated, and prayed.

Martin was right. According to the Law of Moses, given to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, there is no one who can follow the Law one hundred percent. Not the Old Testament Jews, not Jews in Jesus’s day, not Martin Luther, five hundred years ago. And, not you and me, today, either. There is no way anyone can keep every single one of God’s commands! (Even though the Pharisees of Jesus’s day—and the Pharisees of today—try their very hardest.)

Martin Luther regularly reflected on his life and his thoughts, and how far short he fell, compared to where he knew that God wanted him to be. That was what I felt, when I was a teenager, too. I knew I couldn’t keep all of God’s rules, even if I tried really, really hard. Remember Romans 3:23? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

When I was a teenager, I was a particularly studious teen. I would read books on the Bible and on theology when I was in high school. I prayed regularly, and tried my hardest to get closer to God. I had low self-esteem. I felt sinful, unlovely and unlovable a good deal of the time.

Martin Luther tried even harder to get close to God! He did a ton of good works. He got a university degree in theology, and started teaching from the Old and New Testament at the university in Wittenberg. He studied even more about God, and preached regularly in a church in town. And yet—he still felt sinful and far from God! He still felt unlovable!

Can anyone relate to Martin? Are there times when you—when I—feel unlovable?
I remember hearing the story of a woman, horribly burned in a fire. Her husband came to see her in the hospital and was disgusted and horrified by what he saw. “You are not the woman I married,” he said, and promptly divorced her. Are we so unlovable? Is that what we are afraid God might do to us?

Martin felt sinful and unlovable, too. What’s more, even after lots and lots of good works and all these years of reading and study, he still felt so inadequate. He felt God could not possibly love or forgive him. That is—until he was reading the letter to the Romans, chapter 1, verse 17: “ For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

Do you hear? Do you understand? It wasn’t about Martin. It wasn’t about how sinful or unlovable he was. Or, how hard he tried to do good things, or tried to get on God’s good side, or tried to live by good works. God’s righteousness comes by faith. Faith alone! Faith in God!

Remember Romans 3:23? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yes. Yes! That is true. But—that isn’t the whole story! Reading, starting from 3:21: “21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

I can almost see Martin falling off his chair, once he realizes how huge this is. Our sin is taken away through the redeeming that came through Jesus. We are made lovable through God’s grace. Our low self-worth and low self-esteem is now viewed by God through Jesus. God looks at all of us, each one of us, through Jesus-tinted lenses.

We are now brothers and sisters of Jesus, God’s beloved children! We are now redeemed freely. By His grace, through faith, through the redemption that came by and through Christ Jesus. The best part of this gift? It’s a free, undeserved gift, so that no one can pridefully boast about it.

Another way to look at this gift from God comes from a sermon study board online I follow. I recently read this, written a few years ago by a preacher named Erik in Wisconsin.

“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, etc. – 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.” And I shake my head and ask myself “Didn’t I emphasize grace enough?”

“Finally, I said to the class, “Listen, you are saved purely by God’s grace as a gift. I will ask you how you are saved in your confirmation interview. If you don’t remember anything else I’ve taught during these two years, remember this: “You are saved by God’s grace!” Why is it so hard to remember? Probably because we’ve been taught not to trust anything we might get for free, even if it is from God.”

Martin Luther found out that we are saved by faith alone, through grace alone. No good works! No trying and trying really, really hard, and not making it after all that! Salvation is all from God and God’s grace! Romans 3:24 says,” and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

As Martin Luther studied scripture, he finally discovered he was saved by grace, not because of anything he did or deserved. The Rev. David Hansen tells us, “He discovered a God who would send the only Son—not for the perfect people, but for the sinners. He discovered, above all else, a God and a Savior that will NEVER abandon us, that will stand by our side no matter how often we fail or how short we fall.”

Is that good news? Jesus died for our sins. Jesus showed us radical, God-sized grace, and radical, God-sized love.

As I proclaim each week after the Confession of Sin during the Assurance of Pardon, “Believe the Good News of the Gospel: in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!”

Alleluia, amen!

Thanks to Rev. David L. Hansen and Pastor Erik from Wisconsin for their assistance in the formulation of this sermon!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!