10-25-15, Reformation Sunday (PR), What Does Grace Look Like?

REFORMATION SUNDAY                                                 Romans 3:19-28

PETER’S LUTHERAN – NEFFSVILLE                          Psalm 46

OCTOBER 25, 2015                                                              John 8:31-36

Grace is hard.  It shouldn’t be, right? … I mean, we’re Lutherans … grace is our wheelhouse … we excel at it.  But sometimes life gets in the way … sin gets in the way … our own hearts and souls get in the way.  We believe in grace … but sometimes it is hard to really “own it.”  Last week I read a devotion from a writer named Leigh McLeroy, from her book Sacred Treasures.  I speaks to this inability we sometimes face in allowing grace to transform our lives.  The devotion is entitled, “The Junk Drawer.”

 

Most folks I know have a junk drawer, and I’m no different. The first drawer closest to the kitchen door is the one – and a not long ago, it refused to open. At first I ignored this inconvenience, but in a fairly short time I realized that although the contents of my junk drawer are a random assemblage of uncategorized “stuff”, I open it a lot. Because you never know. The odd thing I’m looking for just might be in there.  I stuck my head underneath the cabinet.  The drawer had simply fallen off its “track,” and needed to be set right. It took awhile, but I finally removed it.          

   When I did, I decided it would be a good time to take inventory of my junk. Stuff like an unopened deck of playing cards.  A half-used roll of duct tape. A few petrified pieces of Halloween candy. My dog’s first tiny puppy collar.  Three glue sticks, all half-used. Snippets of ribbon and two packages of dark brown shoe strings.  It struck me what these random things had in common: I didn’t need any of them, but at some point, I couldn’t make myself throw them away.

   My heart has a junk drawer, too.  I visit it when I’m looking for reasons why God shouldn’t love me. When I feel lonely or useless or discouraged. And I find odd pieces of my own history that shouldn’t matter anymore, but sometimes do – some of them far older than a few candy pieces gone bad.

   Secret sins, confessed – forgiven – but not yet removed from inventory. Words I wish I’d never spoken. Words I wish I had. Failures. Lapses in kindness. Moments of misplaced shame. Old hurts I still pick the scabs from. Scars I like too much.  I don’t need any of it. God’s done with it. It’s long been forgiven, or redeemed, or transformed, but still I hold on. It’s junk. And the next time this invisible drawer gets stuck, I should let it stay that way. I can do without its contents, and simply decide to forget.

 

“Scars I like too much.”  It is the judgment that strikes at the core of my being.  It is one of my major stumbling blocks in allowing grace to transform my life.  Maybe for you it is “words you wish you had never spoken” or “lapses in kindness” … or some other piece of spiritual junk that you can’t let go of.  The grace given to us by God wants us to let go of these barriers to God’s forgiveness … wants me to stop loving my scars … wants you to stop beating yourself up over your lapses in kindness.  The grace given to us by God wants to be … well … grace.  It is given to us as a benediction … an act that frees us from the guilt and pain of the sins we have repented of … a blessing that strives to help us rebuild our lives with healthier walls and more faithful foundations and more holy furnishings.

That rebuilding of our spiritual lives can be called “reformation.”  It is often God’s best and most important work among us and within us.  And although today is a day when we remember and observe one magnificent period in history in which God turned God’s church in a new direction, “reformation” is much more than a moment in history, no matter how significant that moment may have been.  Because “reformation” is an ongoing act of God.  It is a reminder that each and every day we are scarred, and we scar others.  That each and every day we say and do things we wish we hadn’t even while others wrong us with their own words.  And that all too often we walk in the company of people who are unrecognizable as the children of God, and then we go home and look in the mirror and see the same judgment in our own reflection.  When confronted by this brokenness of life, God chooses to forgive and reform us and restore us.  God invites us to let go of the hurts we receive and the hurts we inflict, the disappointments we experience and those we cause.  God invites us to experience renewal and reformation through the work of God’s Spirit in our lives.

One of our home devotional questions on page 4 of your bulletin that would attention this week is “Do you feel enslaved?”  When I hear someone talk about her cell phone like it is a ball and chain on the free time in her life, I think about the gift of reformation, and new choices God makes available to you in how you use your time.  When someone tells me that they are just so tired of being estranged from a sister or brother they have not spoken with in ten years, I think about the gift of reformation, and the new opportunities for engagement and reconnection that God offers to you just by picking up the phone or writing a short note or sending a text.  When I think about the anger a person feels when he looks at the polarized world of politics, or the presence of terrorism across the globe, or the acts of racism he witnesses in his own community, I think about the gift of reformation, and the opportunity to start changing those societal cancers through gracious and civil engagements with people in those very systems.  You need not feel enslaved by anything the world places into your life.  Because you have been created by a God who fills the world with life and hope, and offers to regular reform us into the people God desires us to be.  It is an ongoing process of redemption, that God brings to the people of God.  It is always incomplete on this side of the Kingdom of God.  It is always a work of which we see only a small slice.  But it is God’s best work among us, and the work that gives us the greatest hope for our lives, our churches, our world.

Bishop Ken Untener, served as the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan for 25 years in the late 1900’s through the turn of the century, and is credited with writing the prayer/poem “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own.”  Although often attributed to the late Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, Bishop Untener wrote it for use at a liturgy for departed priests in 1979.  No matter the author, the words speak potently to this kind of reformative word that God brings to the world.

 

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

It seems an appropriate place to close for today’s engagement of our “reformation” theme.  It has much to say to us as Lutherans who in two years will take a 500 year old glance back at the posting of the 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg … examine the present form of Lutheranism in the 21st century … and then cast our eyes to a denominational future that is not completely our own, either.  It has much to say to us as believers in the here and now as we engage this Christian way of life, and consider whether it truly shapes who we are at the deepest places of our lives.  It has much to say as we wrestle with what is means for you that the Son has made you free?

Rev. Craig Ross

Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

I have always appreciated the positive perspective on life and faith that is here… the broad range of life/social/political perspectives in our congregation… and the staff with whom I am blessed to work.