“Only and Always God!”

Reformation Sunday October 26, 2014
(Jeremiah 31:31-34 Psalm 46 Romans 3:19-28 John 8:31-36)
“Only and Always God!”
Nadia Boltz-Weber, who some people simply call the “Lutheran pastor with tattoos,” likes to call today: “Let’s take pride in being a Lutheran” Sunday. 1
So today, we wear red and smile more than normal. We sing louder than usual! We take pride in being a Lutheran!
But hang on to that smile! When we look at all three scripture texts for today, I see nothing about smiling; in fact we hear an awful lot about sin.
In the Jeremiah text, God is talking about working a new covenant, a new agreement with God’s people! Why? Because they are a sinful, stubborn, hard-headed people. Finally, God has to say, to them, “…I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” [Jer. 31:34].
And in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we hear, “through the law comes the knowledge of sin,”…and three verses later, “there is no distinction since all have sinned…” [Rom. 3:23].
And in the Gospel, Jesus speaking to the Jews, says, “…everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin….” [Jn. 8:34].
Sin, sin everywhere. So what’s that all about? I guess whoever chose these readings for “Let’s take pride in being a Lutheran” Sunday didn’t get the memo that today is really about celebrating how awesome and clever and holy Lutherans are! All the talk about sin certainly doesn’t put me in much of a mood for a Protestant Reformation Victory Parade! And especially in an age of self-care and therapy, too much talk about sin is not good for my self esteem!
Okay, okay! So…..now may be a good time for me to say how important I believe it is that we begin our worship services with the Confession and Forgiveness, even if there are some people who think we do not need to begin every worship service reminding us that we are sinners!
But Martin Luther had a way of talking about sin that makes a whole lot of sense. He reminds us that sin is a whole lot bigger than simple immoral actions. Sin, according to Luther, is being curved in on oneself, being turned inward, without a thought of God or neighbor. In that case, sin is missing the mark, so to speak, of who God calls us to be.
Sin can be making a decision for addictive behavior, and it can be passive aggressive behavior. Sin can be ignoring the person next to me who is in tears, just as easily as it can be thinking hateful things, even then they are not said. Sin can be feelings of superiority when I do something good, even something so good like sleeping overnight with C.A.R.E.S., bringing food for Ruth’s Harvest, or making meatloaf for the Soup Kitchen.
If our motivation to do good is based simply on pleasing God to get extra stars on our slate–we call that the Law—then we begin to understand the law more as accountability to a rule that so easily turns us in on ourselves because it become keeping track of how much I do.
This is what really sparked the Reformation. Luther had gotten so good at living his life hearing the church tell him what he should and should not do in order to find favor with God—and then he read Romans where Paul writes: “…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by [God’s] grace as a gift…” [Rom. 3:23].
And Luther could no longer believe that we are saved by the works we accomplish.
So, in celebration of Reformation Sunday, I would like to offer you a few ways to spot the difference between Law and Gospel. The Law is almost always an “if-then” proposition. If you follow all the rules in the Bible then God will love you. If you lose 20 pounds, and then you will be worthy to be loved by your spouse. If you never have a racist or sexist thought, then you will be worthy of calling other people out on their racism and sexism.
See how the Law will always lead us either into pride (feeling so good because I’ve accomplished something I set out to do!), or into despair (feeling so bad because I keep trying but can never quite get there!). Either way, we are being held captive to the sin of self absorption—that it’s all about me!
The Gospel is much more like, because; therefore.
Because God refuses to play by our petty rules, and because in the fullness of time God chose to become human in Jesus Christ to show us who God really is, and because God went so far in his love to die for us, and because on the third day Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave, and because we are both saint and sinner, God’s children, and because none of our successes guarantees this and none of our failures exclude this, and because God refuses to let our brokenness and sin be the last word…..therefore, therefore, you are saved by grace as a gift and not by works of the Law, and this truth will set you free, like nothing else will!
And that is why, I will always vote for the Confession and Forgiveness at the beginning of our worship services, because the time of Confession and Forgiveness is a moment of truth—and may be the most important, honest thing you will hear in your entire week—that we are, everyone of us, captive to sin, that we are self-absorbed and selfish, that we, everyone of us, is broken—but, but, but, it is God, it is God, only and always God in Christ Jesus, who puts us back together. That’s the reason to smile! Let’s hear an “Amen.” Amen.
1. I would be remiss in not saying that some of my ideas and thoughts for this sermon came from Nadia Boltz Weber’s Reformation Sunday sermon in 2012. My gratitude, Nadia!

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