This month's Newsletter "from the pastor"
If there is one thing I know for sure and will stake my present life and my salvation on, it is that grace is true and sure and the only thing in this world and the next that we can depend upon.
If there is anything in my ministry that I am sure about~ it is that I cannot go wrong as long as I proclaim God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness for all people, won through Christ’s life, death and resurrection –a gift that can only be grasped through the gift of faith. Anything good we have in this world or are promised in the next is a sheer undeserved gift from God, given to us out of God’s love and generosity and has nothing to do with anything we can say, do, argue, or even believe on our own.
I believe the problems we encounter in this life are not because we hear too much about grace or depend too much on grace, but because we do not hear enough about grace, nor do we depend enough upon grace.
When we turn away from grace we fall into two traps. Both these traps are waiting for us when we turn into ourselves. The traps we fall into when we turn away from grace are arrogance and despair.
We fall away from grace when we turn into the arrogance of thinking we can save ourselves. We can do this so easily even when we are reciting by memory the beloved Lutheran phrase of “saved by grace through faith”. We want to help God along and depend upon our own strength or morality, or our certainty of our being right on certain issues.
We can get away with this for awhile because we all have sins that are easy for us to avoid and so we can easily say “I don’t ever commit THAT sin” Or we have sins and temptations we easily catch and can boast “Well at least I REPENTED of THAT sin” . There are some issues that are clear to us and we can sleep well at night knowing we have taken the correct position. There are religious doctrines we accept easily and so assure ourselves that our faith is sure.
But then there are the sins we commit over and over. Sins we hide or rationalize and refuse to repent of for so long that we have convinced ourselves they aren’t even really sins. At least not sins as bad as someone else’s. There are issues and moral dilemmas that seem to have no clear or satisfying answer. There are questions to which we never seem to find any certain answers. There are doubts we have about God and God’s will that lay under the surface of the certainty we present to the outside world.
The more we deny these resentments, sins and doubts, the more we turn away from God and into ourselves, trying harder and harder to justify ourselves – often becoming more and more judgmental of others because if we can only convince ourselves and the rest of the world that at least we are not as sinful as those other people, we won’t be so convicted of the sin we know lies within us.
It will not work. It will lead to despair. We will either become hypocrites, closed to God, yet condemning others for their sins while denying our own, or we will give in even more to sin and deny God entirely.
Or we can just give up and admit we are sinful as the next guy. We sin every day. We do not repent of our sin. We do not trust God. We could very possible be totally wrong about everything about which we fought so hard to convince others of our rightness. In this moment of surrender comes the good news – God loves you. Period. Even in your sin. Even in your uncertainty. Even if you are dead wrong. Even in your lack of faith. Trust THAT. Faith is trusting that God loves you. Period. Unfaith adds a but. “God loves you but you have to believe thus and so, but you have to confess FIRST, but you have to do this or that….” None of those buts are faith. Faith is trusting that God loves you. Period. No buts.
I can hear the “but” coming “BUT” isn’t this just a free pass to sit around and do nothing? No because grace is what empowers you to DO something, not because you have to, because you want to, because you can. Those who trust grace do things. They feed the poor, they forgive their enemies, they try to avoid sin that leads them away from God but they trust that grace will put them back on track when they do stray. Those who trust grace worship God out of love and gratitude and joy, not out of fear and obligation.
The body of Christ is built up and sustained by God’s grace, not fear and obligation. The Gospel is spread by those who trust God’s grace. The Kingdom grows through God’s grace. We need to hear more about God’s grace, not less. If I never get anything else right in my life, if I mess up everything else, I stand convinced to my soul that Grace is everything. Here I stand. I can do no other. Amen.