Revelation/Revolution of Grace

graceReformation – Revelation/Revolution of Grace
October 26-27, 2013
Romans 3:19-28

From Paul’s letter to the Romans..
“For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”

In other words,
“A person is made right with God because of what Jesus did
and not because of what he or she does…”

That one sentence…that sentence of grace…and others like it in Romans and Galatians
came as a revelation to Martin Luther…
and it created a revolution in the church of his time.

Peter Gomes, the former pastor at Harvard’s Memorial Church once said,
“The work of the reformation is not to go back to where our predecessors were…
but to persevere on to where they were going…”

So where were they headed?
Where was Martin Luther going?

He was going to spread this revelation of grace…

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about Martin Luther and his personal revelation of grace.
The 15th century was a long time ago,
and I’ve no doubt that some stories of Luther that we Lutherans
fondly tell and re-tell were probably embellished….just a little… over time.

But as we’ve heard it,
Luther was pious…very pious…
When he became a monk, if he was expected to pray for two hours at a time,
he prayed for four.
If he was expected to confess his sins daily,
he confessed several times/day.
If he was given a penance for his sins to sleep on a hard bed,
he took it one step further and brought the bed outside and slept in the snow.
You get the picture…

Luther just couldn’t get the idea out of his head that God was angry with him.
And in the era of the black plaque – with bodies in the streets and
death all around him – he was scared.
What would happen to him, sinful man that he knew he was..?!

Luther couldn’t accept his humanity.
He wanted to rid himself of all unholy thoughts and actions…
but he couldn’t.
And if he couldn’t accept himself, he didn’t think that God could either.

And so Luther became depressed.
He despaired that he could ever be justified – made right – with God.

But then God spoke to Luther through Paul’s letters in Scripture…
As we heard this evening, Paul writes,
““For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”

And Luther responded, “It was as though I had been born again.”
It was a revelation of grace.

Fast forward to 2013…to another Lutheran who was struggling with her own sinfulness…
Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.

In her book Pastrix , Nadia writes that she is a Lutheran because of the revelation of grace.
Nadia had lived a hard life; she was an alcoholic and a drug addict.
She agreed to a come to Lutheran church one time – one time – with a boyfriend.
She ended up going to an adult Confirmation class where the pastor talked about grace.

It was a concept she hadn’t heard before so clearly.
She described her revelation this way:
“God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word…
My selfishness is not the end-all ….
It’s God saying, ‘I love the world too much to let your sin define you
and be the final word.
I am a God who makes all things new.”

I suppose the official definition of ‘revelation’
is that it’s a one-time thing.
That once it has been revealed to you, you have it – always!

I don’t think that’s true about how God reveals grace to us, though.
Paul Tillich (another Lutheran) talked about being ‘struck by grace’ – over and over again.

Being ‘struck by grace’ is “not suddenly believing that God exists,
or believing that Jesus is the Savior, or believing that the Bible is the truth…”

Grace isn’t a belief..
It is an experience.

And as with many experiences of God,
it comes when things are not going as they should.

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain …
It strikes us when we walk through the valley of grief and loss.
It strikes us when we feel that our separation from God – our sinfulness– is deep.

It strikes us when we are disappointed in ourselves;
When our words or actions do not reflect our values;
When we’ve messed up…
that’s when grace strikes us.

Sometimes in those moments, light breaks into our darkness,
and Tillich says, it is as though a voice were saying:

“You are accepted.
You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you,
and the name of which you do not know.
Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later.
Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much.
Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything.
Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!”
If that happens to us, we experience (the revelation of) grace.”

Unfortunately we can’t make an experience of grace happen.
We can’t get it by force.
We can’t make ourselves believe that we are accepted,
any more than we can make someone else believe that they are accepted.

But as Tillich concludes,
“Sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say “yes” to ourselves,
(sometimes it happens) that peace enters into us and makes us whole,
that self-(doubt)and self-contempt disappear.
Then we can say that grace has come upon us.”

“For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
Grace is what saves us.
Amen.

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