October 29, 2006
Topic: Biblical Verse: Romans 3:19–3:31
Festival of the Reformation
Happy Thanksgiving! In case your wondering if I got this weekend's time change way off, please take comfort in the fact that I know it's Reformation weekend, and neither Halloween nor All Saints Day have yet come. But you wouldn't know that by going to the mall, many of which are already breaking out their Christmas-season decorations. The Thanksgiving turkeys are not yet cooked, let alone reduced to leftover sandwiches and casseroles; however, we're being told that we need to get ready for the Christmas - or is it "holiday?" - shopping season.
When we look around - really look around - we might begin to see that there's a manner in which our American culture encourages us to behave. You need to have a car, or two, or three to get yourself and your family around. You need to have a house with enough room for your high-definition television. You need to get married and have happy children, or at least find someone with whom you can share a bed. Youth need to play soccer, and be in the band, and on swim team, while doing homework and practicing karate. Both husband and wife need to need to work the 50... 60... 70-hour week. You need to do this, or do that, because you really just can't be complete unless you're taking care of yourself first and foremost. There's an unwritten law to which we subscribe.
When we look inside - really look inside - we might begin to see that we've bought into this. Even as Christians. We probably don't need all the conveniences with which we surround ourselves. We live in, on average, the most prosperous nation in the world. But there are people in the world who have far less than we, yet are much happier. We have adopted, in practice, a new law. We have put on new chains. When we do give, it is not often thankful, nor truly happy.
Happy Thanksgiving! As saints, we should give of ourselves freely and with thanks. But we don't. As saints, we shouldn't need a three-week stewardship series. But we do. We do, because the Law confronts us. Not the laws which we have written for ourselves, but the inescapable fact that we are - to use the weighty, theological term - sinful. As Paul writes in his letter to the Christians in Rome, we fall short. We fall short of what God has called us to be. We fall short in our relationships, failing to show love to those who upset us. We fall short in our management of time and wealth. We fall short in the thoughts of our minds and the desires of our hearts. So if we fall short in so great a number of ways, how can we be made right with God, who is perfect, who does not write off our failures? How are we supposed to live lives as worthy stewards of God's gifts if we are not worthy?
Our works cannot make us right with God. Even though He has shown us how to live in the law - which can be summarized as "love God, love your neighbor" - we are unable to follow the law to its full extent. Martin Luther struggled with this very question: how can an unrighteous human being stand before the righteous God, who created us and everything around us? He understood that a price had to be paid for our falling short. Unfortunately, neither Luther, nor you, nor I are able to pay that price. Luther realized this, and it made him afraid. He fell into deep despair.
But Jesus stepped in. The Holy Spirit opened Luther's heart and mind as he studied God's Word. God's righteousness is not a bad thing. Because He is righteous, because He is good, God became man. Jesus, the Messiah, fully God and fully man, was faithful to His Father, living a life that fulfilled the Law and dying the death that paid the price that we could not. Luther came to understand that this is how God revealed Himself: in Jesus. In love. In one who makes us righteous by giving us his righteousness.
This is why we confess the Lutheran Christian faith: we are justified - made right before God - by grace, through faith, for Jesus' sake. This is the Gospel message: Jesus has stepped in. In Jesus, we are declared justified, we are changed, we are made right with God! He exchanged his right standing before His Father with our sin. Today, we celebrate and give thanks for the gift that God has given us in Jesus. In the light of Christ, Satan's dark chains cannot hold. Because of God's grace, His free gift, the law is no longer a tyrant to be feared, but a guide and teacher for our good. And now, having been set free from captivity to ourselves and our desires, we are called to lives of service. Service - stewardship of the time and wealth that we've been given - is our response to the God who has made us right and clean. Happy thanksgiving!
Now, if you have been in the Lutheran church for some time, you probably know that we do not remember the Reformation with turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie. There are very few Hallmark cards for "Happy Reformation Day," and there is certainly no Charlie Brown television special. So how shall we celebrate the return of the Gospel to the preaching and teaching of the church? Because Jesus has set us free, because His spirit is now in us, giving faith and life, we may now give, with thanks, and happily.
You can I can now seriously and faithfully consider the ways in our lives that God is calling us to serve as stewards of His gifts. Take the time, in prayer and study of God's Word, to reflect on your freedom in Christ, and how it will direct your life in the months and years ahead, in this congregation, in your family, in your community. Take the time to mull over the specific way or ways in which God is calling you to be a steward. Take the time.
Happy thanksgiving! Jesus has stepped in. Amen.