Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I have to admit that it was kind of fun to leave everyone hanging on the ledge last week, letting you wonder where the sermon would jettison off to this week. As Lutherans, knowing that we are justified by faith through the grace of God is the amazing story we have to share with the rest of our community. The grace of God requires nothing of us, and yet we should be compelled to go out and serve our neighbors and those in positions that are not able to have their voices heard.
We should be standing up against the mass shooting that happened last weekend in Orlando. There are so many facets that were engaged within that act of extremism. We need to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community to provide love and support, showing that God’s grace is much bigger than anything else out there. We need to be open to conversations and start conversations as to how we can ensure that this extremism does not take over our faith and divert our attention from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. A gospel that speaks of love, not hate. This is the grace of God speaking to our world today.
Within this grace, does Paul completely throw out the law? He does not! Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message relates the law to something like a tutor:
The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger and distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for. But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God.
In our own Lutheran Confessions, Martin Luther and the other leaders write to the questions of the law. In the Formula of Concord, it states, “We believe, teach, and confess that the law is strictly speaking, a divine teaching which gives instruction regarding what is right and God-pleasing and condemns everything that is sin and contrary to God’s will.”
The law does have a place in our day and age. As can be seen in our justice system and the court of law, it is used as an external discipline against the unruly and the disobedient. It is also through the law that we are brought to a point where we recognize those sins that we commit and thus ask for forgiveness. The law can also act as a guide for us in which we can orient and conduct our entire life.
I know many seminary students and fellow pastors now that viewed the process that we had to go through as being part of the law. It is a process that seems to have many steps to it and you wonder if it will ever end. As you discern your call to ministry with the help of your congregation and synod committee there are evaluations you have to fill out and take, such as a psychological evaluation. Once we are entered for candidacy, we start seminary and must meet all of their requirements. In the midst of this we must be endorsed so that we are ready to go out and serve in the church on an internship. Once we have successfully completed that then we must be approved for ordination by the seminary, as well as the candidacy committee from our synod. Keep in mind this is all before we even have the opportunity to start looking for a position within the church. Faith keeps us going in the midst of all of it, yet at times it feels an awful lot like the law.
I also can recall a time when I was on internship and about half-way through I had a site visit from the internship coordinator at the seminary. I was doing a great job of following the law! I had a nice checklist of the things that must be completed for internship and I was able to look at it daily as I had it posted by my desk. Thanks to Jane, she reminded me that grace was prevalent throughout the entire process and that faith also played a great role in the internship experience. From that point on I was able to stop doing what it meant to be a pastor, and start experiencing who a pastor is. Sometimes it is much more important to just be.
It is through the law that we are brought to our faith. It was the law that Paul was brought up in and we know according to his own credentials, he knew the law very well. It was in the grace of Jesus Christ coming to him where he experienced the true light for the first time. The law could only bring him so far. It was his faith in Christ that raised him up to be a leader and now Saint of the church.
May you let the law orient and guide you through life. May you let it bring you to your faith in Christ Jesus. It is in Christ that we are called to experience the grace of God. It is in Christ that we are made one. We are made one with everyone, male or female, gay or straight, black or white, abled or disabled, saint or sinner. May you live more fully into that oneness this week.