Sermon for Reformation Sunday, October 28, 2018 - Romans 3:19-28 "But now..."
What you just witnessed was the most Reformation-y thing we could do today. Placing into the hands of our younger members the Scriptures. Doing what it was that Luther felt the need to do as he rediscovered the necessity of the Word of God in the lives of Christians. For it is in the Scriptures that we have Christ speaking to us. The Lord deigning to come and dwell with us by spoken Word. Giving us the words and promises of life in his name. Letters on a page the very gifts of God granted in the Gospel. These are true words. The Word of God is powerful and does it’s work in us, whether we want it to or not.
What I do know however is most of us don’t like the Bible, or we are at least indifferent. Many of us have one at home. Sometimes we read it but usually not, because one time, a long time ago, a pastor told us that this was a rule book and if we follow what it says then things will go well for us. Or one pastor, one time, told us not to trust it, and so we don’t. Or there is something to watch on TV, or to read of the New York Times bestsellers list. Regardless, we lose out. Having no one speak the words, nor hear them ourselves, that contain the only life we can ever have.
With this absence of promises that actually grant freedom to sinners, given to us by God, things will always end poorly. They end poorly because as human beings we don’t like being told what to do. In part because we have a problem. We like judgement. Our own judgement at least. We like distinctions. Our own way of drawing lines between ourselves and others. We do it all the time without even thinking about it. We compare ourselves to others. We listen to stories on the news about this person or that person committing a crime, or what the President said this morning on Twitter, and we think “God, at least that’s not me.”
It began in the Garden of Eden when our first parents ate of the tree and their eyes were opened to being able to create their own good and evil. Create their own categories, our own categories, and everything falls apart after that. Being cursed by eyes that only see what we want them to, rather than what we need them to.
You see we don’t like the Word of God or the Scriptures because what it does to us, even in our dislike of it, it makes us realize our need for something else. “I don’t read the Bible because it tells ugly stories of people.” “I don’t read the Bible because all it does is tell me what to do.” “I don’t want to read the Bible because it’s so boring.” In other words, I don’t read the Bible because it tells me of sinners, it reminds me of me, and makes me realize I could never love God as I should because amazingly I find him boring.
Listen again to Paul’s words about why the Law, the Word, exists - Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.
Knowledge of sin. The Scriptures having with it this Law, this word of demand and command that does nothing but condemn us for not fulfilling it. That’s why we don’t see in the Scriptures what we should. But these commands have a purpose. The Word doing its work properly in us actually causes us to turn in on ourselves and look at our sin, instead of the sins of others. To realize that every attempt to judge, to decide what is right or wrong, to become a law unto ourselves causes us to be in need of deliverance.
Notice that Paul says – the whole world may become subject to God’s judgement. God’s decision. God’s righteousness and rules. Not ours. Stepping a ways back in Romans to chapter 1, Paul lists sins that absolutely condemn me - unrighteousness, evil, greed, wickedness, envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, hating God, arrogance, pride, boasting, inventing evil, disobedience to parents, being senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. As a kid I would read that list and think, I’m not too bad until I get to the “disobedient to parents” and I think of the time I played hooky from school to go surfing. Or lied to my dad saying that I went to football practice but actually quit. Or made fun of Jessica in 9th grade who struggled with her weight, when I was a big fella myself. Or when I joined in laughter at the young man who got pants-ed in the quad instead of protecting him. Or whenever I raise my voice at my wife, or decide not to help a friend of my daughter’s who needed a ride a home, or threw food away last week because it had gone bad, even though there are people in this community, neighbors, I could have given it to. The Law coming to us and bringing demands without giving us the power to do it. Telling us to leap a tall building while tying us down with a 2 ton elephant.
With all of this, what follows under Paul are the two most important words in all of Scripture. Luther discovered these words and it transformed him. Words that are in the Scriptures that you can go to all the time, without worrying about the Law. They are there to bring you freedom from yourself. Just two words and I will gift them to you right now. Are you listening? Lean in. *But now.* There you go. But now. That was then, this is now. Now is Jesus. Listen to Paul again - But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets. The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. Apart from this condemnation comes something else. Something from God. Not you or me. A righteousness that comes in Jesus Christ. Without distinction. No self-discernment of who deserves it. No distinctions. Only faith. Only trust that God has declared you not guilty of breaking his Law through the blood of Jesus. Who has seen you in the prison of yourself and judged by the cross rather than by his Law. Why? For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Not falling short of our glory, but we wanted to have the glory of God and we missed. We always do. It’s too high for you to reach so he came down to you, saying to you, “You are justified, declared righteous without any righteousness of your own, freely by my grace through the redemption won in Jesus for you.” As Paul says - God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, (or to show how his righteousness works) because in his restraint, or in his mercy, God passed over the sins previously committed (in other words he forgets your past). Doing all of this in order that God might release you. Free you. Break you out of the prison of your hopes of ever being God. Of ever having enough righteousness in order to live forever. Because I have news for you, you won’t. But the Word we have of Christ in the Scriptures is trustworthy and grants us his righteousness because he said it and did it. He said he would die, and he did. He said he would rise, and he did. Leaving all boasting in his hands and not yours. Our boasting only comes by way of rejoicing that in Christ we have the very thing we have so long denied to others – mercy and life.
There is actual freedom in being a sinner. Truly knowing your sin. Knowing who you are in all your dreadful, wretched, wicked, vagabond self. Because once you know that, your discover that Christ has come with all his grace to hold you up until the day of the Resurrection. The Spirit coming to you to remind you of your need for Christ that you might be freed from ever looking at another sinner and thinking “I’m not that bad.” Being a sinner, a true sinner, makes your Savior even sweeter. Makes the Scriptures even more necessary and makes your life one lived not by you with decision of right and wrong, good and evil, but the decision of Christ upon you. Christ deciding, “You’re alright with me.”
The Gospel for today, which was not read is what I leave you with. Christ is speaking to the Religious leaders in John 8. You know the words - “If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“We are descendants of Abraham,” the Jews answered Jesus, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” Thanks be to God. Amen.