Going Deeper 10-28-19

The text for this Reformation Day sermon is the first part of our reading from Romans 3:  Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For "no human being will be justified in his sight" by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.  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.  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
Some of you have heard an illustration like this before.  I have expanded it a bit.  Like almost every illustration and story, I will say upfront there are elements of this scenario which are admittedly problematic.  But I hope you can use your imagination to enter this story.
Imagine you are on trial, and you are brought before a judge with a reputation for being stern and severe, and a name which strikes you as profoundly ironic: Judge Law.  The opposing lawyer is none other than the infamous Satan, and he is loaded for bear.  Relentlessly he brings as evidence against you a seemingly endless list of wrongdoings… lies, lust, slander and gossip, anger, greed, selfishness, and more.  And he is shrewd enough to quote Jesus, pointing out that being angry with someone is tantamount to murder, and lusting after someone equivalent to adultery.  You know you are in trouble.
And not only does the Satan present your multitude of moral failings, but follows that up with a record which may be even longer-- a listing of all of your sins of omission, the good you have failed to do, all of the opportunities you have had to do what was right, to help someone you had ample resources to help, to reach out to someone with the Gospel.  Time after time you could have done something good, but you were too busy or quite simply disinterested.
And then, as if he really needed to, the Satan closes his case by reminding Judge Law that the wages of sin is death.
The stone-faced judge then turns his gaze upon you and asks: “Given all of this clearly damning evidence, how do you plead?”  It strikes you that have you have no solid defense.  You could try to cite all of the good things you did… and that’s a pretty long list.  But you realize that the good is nowhere close to adequately compensating for the bad, especially as you know that much of the good you did was done with less than pure-- and sometimes actually selfish-- motives.
You think for a moment of another strategy, and you glance around the room to find someone who is obvious much worse than you.  But you realize that will not work.  So nervously you rise, and averting the direct stare of the judge, you state your plea: “Your honor, I am guilty as charged.”  The pounding gavel echoes throughout the chamber as the Judge Law gives the sentence: “Death!  The wages of sin is death, eternal death.”
Suddenly the man who has been sitting quietly next to you-- so quietly you’d forgotten he was there-- stands and approaches the judge.  Your Advocate doesn’t say a word.  He simply shows the judge two nail-hole scars above his hands.  The judge’s eyes move from the scars to you, and Judge Law proclaims: “Your sentence has been paid in full.  You are free to go.”
Are you able to imagine how that would feel?  From death to life, all granted as a gift.
On this Reformation Sunday I am reminding you that this is the very foundation of our faith.  Everything else we talk about, sing about, pray about, even think about here among this family of faith gathered in this place is rooted in this truth.  Using words from our Gospel, this is the truth that sets us free.  The Son of God, Jesus the Messiah Christ, has set us free, and we are free indeed.
This is why I discourage pretense here and try hard to not let it surface too often in me.  Grace becomes meaningful and powerful when we know how much we truly need it.  The one who has been forgiven much loves much.
Our ongoing encounter with grace brings powerful transformation.  We look to Jesus, whose love—not the nails—held Him to the cross.  If we are not overcome with gratitude, and if we are not ready to proclaim: “You died for me; I will live for you!” then, quite frankly, something is wrong, something is missing.
Perhaps what is wrong is that we have been religious all this time, merely expressing allegiance to a set of teachings and performing a number of required rituals in order to qualify ourselves as being a “Christian.”  We don’t really ponder things too deeply.  We hear over and over again a message that we are told is “Good News” and we respond, “Okay, I guess that’s cool.  God loves me and has forgiven me.  That’s nice to know.”
But we do not gather here simply to hear and learn about Jesus.  We gather here to know Him, to connect with Him, and to be transformed by Him.  Faith doesn’t involve religion; it is about relationship, our trusting that the incredible grace of God in and through Christ has reconciled us to God, in whom we live and move and have our being.
This is where the power of transformation is rooted.  I can stand here week after week and try to tell you about all the good you could and should be doing.  And that is an important part of our message.  But the good is most healthy when it flows naturally from a vibrant relationship with Jesus, not primarily out of a sense of obligation.  The truest good flows through us in the form of love… love for our Abba Father and brother Jesus, love initiated and inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, love that recognizes, remembers, and celebrates the grace that took us from death to life.
In our text Paul proclaims that “no human being will be justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law.”  We are not close to being able to balance the sin-vs-good scale of our lives by following the Law, because the primary purpose of the law is expressed by Paul in these words: “through the law comes the knowledge of sin.”  Thank God for the law, because without it we would have no awareness of our profoundly we need grace. 
Now that we’ve been covered and saturated by grace, the law becomes something we embrace.  It is a gift from our Creator which leads us to living more and more fully in the way we were created to live, loving and serving God and one another as we live in a grace-centered and interdependent community servants.  Within this community reformation and transformation are ongoing processes, inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God.  This is the truth that the Son has set you free… and you are free indeed!  Praise be to God!  Amen.