Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reformation Sunday Sermon, Oct 26, 2014, Matthew 22:34-40

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 22:34-40
Oct 26, 2014

A woman’s daughter was sick. Worried, she stopped by the pharmacy to get medication, got back to her car and discovered that she had locked her keys inside.

She found an old rusty coat hanger left on the ground. She looked at it and said, “I don’t know how to use this.”

So she bowed her head and boldly prayed to God for help. Within 5 minutes a burly, bearded man on a beat-up motorcycle pulled up, asking if he could be of assistance.

She looked past his many tattoos and skull cap and said “Yes, my daughter is sick and I locked my keys in the car. I must get home. Please: can you use this hanger to unlock my door?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow. He walked over to the car and in less than a minute the car was open.

Out of sheer joy, she hugged the man and through tears exclaimed “Thank you SO much! You are a very nice man.”

Blushing just a bit, the biker responded “Lady, I am NOT a nice man. I just got out of prison yesterday.”

“What for?” she asked, still hugging him.

“Car theft.”

“Oh thank you God! You not only heard my prayer but you sent me a professional!”

Isn’t that just like God? The ability to use sickness as an opportunity for wellness?

The chance for an old, rusty object to be turned into a means of salvation?

The ability to use someone once behind bars to perform an act of deliverance and good-will?

God is good, and God is full of grace.

Today is Reformation Sunday. It’s more than just the day in which we celebrate the beginning of the Protestant movement. It’s more than just a day in which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door as an act of faithful defiance.

Reformation Sunday is a day to mark new beginnings. A day to proclaim that we are all worthy to stand before the Lord.

A day to celebrate the limitless gift of grace.

Grace: the unparalleled, unequaled love of God made known by Christ in which a wretch like me, a wretch like you, a wretch like the thief on a beat up bike

can be turned, transformed, redeemed and used for the glory of God and the benefit of the Kingdom.

But what is this notion of grace we are referring to?

Are we talking about the way one skates gracefully across ice? Or the words one says before a Thanksgiving meal?

No, we are talking about grace made known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that proved once and for all that God loves us beyond our imagination.

Loved not because of who we are, or what we have done, but because we are worthy.

Church, let me hear you say “I am worthy.”

Let me hear you say “We are worthy.”

Now turn to your neighbor and say “You are worthy.”

This may not sound like such a big deal, this may not seem super radical, but it used to be that religious leaders taught that mere mortals were not worthy.

Mere mortals were not worthy to stand before the Lord to offer their prayers, that mere mortals could not carry worship banners or the Bible, that mere mortals could not go directly to God to receive forgiveness.

It used to be that only priests were seen as good enough to go before God; that only clergy could do acts of ministry and praise.

But that is not so; it is certainly not true.

Because we are worthy. We are worthy to stand before God and boldly pray, just as Hannah did so long ago.

We are worthy to carry the banner and participate in worship just as David danced before the Ark and sung songs of glory.

We are worthy to celebrate that we, as a corporate body, can offer God our praises in the highest way possible without the intercessory actions of a Priest or a Pharisee or Sadducee.

Because of God’s grace, Reformation Sunday means that we are free to try our best to emulate the ways of Jesus and to try to be as Christ-like as we can be.

Why? Because we are worthy.

And yes, we know we will fail, we know we will make mistakes, and that’s OK.

Because grace is amazing, and grace says we get another and another and another chance to try again.

Why? Because we are worthy, and we are loved.

As a result of this realization, we are free. We are free to worship our God, known through Christ, in a way that feels right.

Which means that we could easily sit on the altar steps like children and sing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are week but he is strong.”

Or we can stand by our seats and gently sway as we sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Or we can proudly process down the aisle with banners and Bibles and horns while whole-hearts proclaiming “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

And because of grace, all would be pleasing to God. So why not be big, be bold, be brave, knowing that it’s not because we must, but because we may?

We are worthy.

In today’s reading we overhear how the legalistic religious leaders of Jesus’ day tried to trap him and get him to slip up.

They were so focused on the 613 commandments and following the letter of the law, that they were threatened by the way in which Jesus allowed others to experience the character of God.

And that character of God is love.

Not love that is phony or fake, not love that is coerced or demanded, but love that is relational and of the deepest nature.

So when they ask Jesus to share the most important commandment, he does them one better and gives them two:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind.

How can anyone argue with such brilliant orthodoxy?

Second: love your neighbor as yourself…

Love that invites. Love that welcomes. Love that exists within tears and frustration, laughter and joys, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears.

Love that treats the shamed with honor; love that declares the unclean worthy of human touch and compassionate care.

When we experience such love with one another, we also experience the love of God.

When we experience the love of God we experience life, eternal life, itself.

And that is life filled with grace, grace meant to be received, grace meant to be shared, grace meant to make us be the best people we can be.

The grace of God knows how to find ways to open up locked doors.

The grace of God knows how to turn the negative days of our past into positive opportunities for the future.

Grace knows how to turn something old and rusted into a tool for newness and beauty.

Grace has a way of uniting people who had never met before.

So this Reformation Sunday, let us give thanks for all that God has given.

If God had simply delivered us from Egypt, that would have been enough. If God had simply given us the 10 Commandments and led us into the Promised Land, it would have been enough.

If God, through Christ, had simply given us the Sermon on the Mount, a table filled with bread and wine and calmed a storm at sea, it would have been enough.

But God has given us more, so much more. God has given us the gift of grace.

God has told us, for once and for all, that we are all worthy, we are all good enough; we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

As such, we can stop trying so hard to please God by our actions, and instead we are free to allow our actions to show how much God is pleased by us.

Jesus loves me this I know. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. A mighty fortress is our God.

And because of this, we are all, each and every one of us, professionals in the eyes of our Lord, set free to do good in the world.

To love the Lord with everything we got and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Amen and amen.

*this week’s message would’ve been impossible without Stephen Patterson’s insights about love in God of Jesus, and the conversation I had with Maureen Wygant (our Interim Director of Music). Thank you.

No comments: