Sunday, October 29, 2006

Reformation Sunday - Year B

So, who was it? Who was it that told you that you weren’t good enough? Everyone has a story.

It begins early.

Maybe it was your brother who said that girls couldn’t play hockey.

Maybe it was a classmate who called you “dumb” because you couldn’t master your multiplication tables.

Maybe it was your parents who examined your straight “A” report card and asked why you didn’t get an A+.

Maybe it was a boss who said that folks like you were a dime a dozen and therefore weren’t worth a raise.

Maybe it was your spouse who called you “stupid” in order to feel superior.

Maybe it was a fire-breathing preacher who waved a condemning finger in your face for every little sin.

Maybe it was your God who threatened you with eternal hell-fire for having simple human weakness.

I know you’re not alone. Everyone has a story.

The father of our Lutheran faith, Martin Luther, told a similar tale. He lived in terror of God’s judgment. The church at his time placed impossible demands on people, and those who failed to meet those demands were threatened with the fires of Hell. And Luther was earnestly faithful enough to try to meet all the obligations that were placed on him.

But he feared for his soul.

The litany of requirements was relentless. Prayer every morning, noon, and night. Fifty laps around the rosary. Kiss the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Stare at some saint’s old bones. Hand over your paycheques to the church to spring Uncle Hans from purgatory. And maybe – just maybe – you could fend off the wrath of the Almighty.

But Luther couldn’t do it all. And if anyone had the gumption to pull all this off it was good ‘ol Martin Luther.

But try as he might, he failed, again and again and again. And every time he fell short, he looked to the heavens and his eyes filled with terror.

And he came to the point that he lashed out saying he HATED God. He hated God for placing impossible requirements on people then punishing them when they failed. How can God be just or fair or righteous when God seems to delight in condemning people for not living up to unattainable standards?

So Luther wondered if there could be a God he could love, and so he was directed to a foreign land, a domain where he was previously discouraged from journeying. His spiritual director took him in hand and guided him to the scriptures.

One thing you could say about Luther was that he never did anything half way. He immersed himself in the scriptures the same way he threw himself into racing after the church’s impossible demands. He learned ancient Greek and Hebrew. He memorized most the bible and earned a doctorate in what would now be called Old Testament studies.

He even read the scriptures while doing his morning business. As he closed the door to the outhouse he opened Paul’s letter to the Romans and met these words:

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law”

For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law. He let those words settle on his lips and absorb into his skin.

For we hold that we are loved and forgiven by God because of our faith, and not because of anything we have done or not done.

For we hold that neither church rituals nor religious requirements will bring us into a right relationship with God.

For we hold that insults, abusive relationships, or harsh obligations, have no power over us.

For we hold that three-car-garage houses in the ‘burbs, bloated bank accounts, and fancy degrees mean nothing.

For we hold that all that matters to God is our faith. And even our faith is a gift.

Martin dropped his book, finished what he was doing, and began the work of telling everyone about this magnificent truth that had been hidden in plain slight.

And we know that not everyone wanted to hear that message. The religious authorities went ballistic when they heard what Luther had to say. Because it’s easier to live under a comfortable judgment than to figure out how to live the chaos of freedom and forgiveness.

It’s easier to be told what to do rather than live out our salvation in joy and awe.

It’s easier to put up fences around religious life, enforcing rules and regulations rather than letting the Holy Spirit inspire us.

It’s easier to control others, to tell people how to think and how to live, rather than to trust that the bible can move them to deeper discipleship.

It’s easier to point out peoples’ faults rather than celebrate the gifts we have been given.

It’s easier to despair of the evil of this world rather than to look for hopeful signs of the kingdom that is blooming all around us.

I know how easy all this is because I see myself in its foul simplicity. But if we think that rules and regulations are hard to live by, then we need to take a closer look at faith. Faith means letting go of the need to control our lives and the lives of others.

Faith means seeing new life being born everyday, even while the evening news warns us of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions

Faith means believing the Holy Spirit is working among our young people, growing them into disciples of Jesus through their relationships with each other and the rest of us, through their service projects and their learning, becoming the leaders of their generation.

Faith is daring to see ourselves as God sees us, from Jesus’ view from the cross and not how anyone else does.

Faith trusts that there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more and there’s nothing you can do to make God stop loving you. God sees you as someone worth dying for.

Faith hopes that when our eyes close in death, they will open again in the fullness of God’s presence.

See, I told you faith was hard. That’s why faith is something we’ve been given, and not something we can create on our own. That’s why faith is a gift.

So, who was it? Who told you that you weren’t good enough? It certainly wasn’t God. As loud as those voices are, it is God’s still, small voice that tells you the truth. The truth that you are loved. The truth that you are beautiful and precious. The truth that all the rules and regulations in the world won’t measure up to the love that God has for you and the whole world. The truth that Martin Luther reminds us of: that we are justified by faith and not by works of the law.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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