Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christ the King

John 18:33-37
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

 “My kingdom is not of this world,” says Jesus, and this is a word that we need to hear ever and always, but perhaps especially this weekend.  After all, we are but a few days past Black Friday, and if you are anything like me, there are parts of this pre-Christmas time, in the church we will call it Advent, that are already exhausting.  And perhaps what is so exhausting is the out and out worldliness of all it.  Sure it comes wrapped to us in the nostalgia and good feeling of the season, in the wholesomeness of children opening presents and loved ones drinking cocoa, but make no mistake, this time is as cutthroat as it gets. It is about standing in line for all hours of the night so as to get a good deal on a flat screen t.v.  It is about circling the parking lot 34 times before battling it out with one other car for that coveted spot.   Darwin himself could have never imagined the survival of the fittest type battle that is the mall the weeks before Christmas.  Bottom line, the season we are happening upon can be about just the stuff of this world, about expensive gifts and all the rest.  And look, if you are willing to stand in line for hours on end for a cut rate deal, more power to you; I might just hire you to do some shopping for me within the next few weeks.  And certainly we need to speak out against the excesses, but this speaking out shouldn’t keep us from enjoying some of the wonderful things about this year.  Thoughtful gifts, warm cheer, loved ones, all the rest of it.  This is good stuff.   The point, though, is that what is immediately presented to us, presented to us in the nonstop white noise of the season is that this time is about stuff.  About getting as much of it as cheaply as possible and thus having a successful Christmas season.
“My Kingdom is not of this world,” and beyond the sort of “Jesus is the reason for the season” type trope, we would do well to remember this reality.  As we are inundated with messages about stuff, about giving and receiving it, this sort of carnival of commerce has actually nothing at all to do with Jesus.  And though we may feel it this in a particularly pointed way this time of year, given how much various shadowy entities want us to equate love with the steepness of price, i.e. to really love someone is to get them the most expensive gift imaginable, yes though the gulf between that kind of mentality and the kingdom of Christ is pretty clear this time of year, the distance is sort of always present, has been from the beginning.  I mean, just look at Pontius Pilate.  A brutally practical kind of guy, one for whom “truth” meant whatever would keep him in power and would keep his bosses happy,  might makes right and all the rest of it, it is not as though he has the easiest of times understanding and relating to Jesus.  A kingdom that will not fight to protect itself?   A king that is so indifferent to worldly power that he does not bother to provide any sort of reasonable defense of himself?  What exactly is the point of being in a powerful position if it will not get you ahead in this life?  Why be a CEO if not for the mansions?  To a guy for whom self-preservation was the greatest good to be protected, this makes absolutely no sense at all.  And then insult to injury, Jesus says that, had Pilate any understanding of the truth, Pilate would listen to him. 
“My kingdom is not of this world,” and so the problem runs a bit deeper than the excesses of this season.  Because really, this Jesus is just as confounding to us as he to Pilate.  He simply does not play by the same rules of the world that you and I inhabit on a daily basis. I mean, he hangs out with the poor, the miserable, the forgotten and calls them the beloved ones of the kingdom.  He gathers religiously impure women and men with greedy hands to his side as disciples and companions.  He forgives those who harm him; he will pray to his Father that those who will put him to death will receive mercy.  He preaches totally crazy things like forgiveness is the only way into true security, and that he, he is the embodiment of all eternal truth. This is a really difficult thing to understand.  It is hard to build a marketing campaign around this sort of thing, because, at bottom, this is not about manipulating people to your own end, which is why Pilate cannot get a hold of this Jesus and why he has so little to do with the excesses of the coming season.   I mean, so unexpected is this guy that even John the Baptizer, even the one set apart by God to prepare this Jesus’ way cannot recognize him.  For the Baptizer will declare that it takes the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate and identity Jesus. Otherwise, Jesus will remain the enigma that Pilate experienced him to be. 
“My kingdom is not of this world,” and by this point, I think the truth of that should be well-established.  But just because the kingdom is not of this world, that does not mean it fails to take shape in this world.  And that is the miracle of Christian faith.  That no matter how strange this Jesus is, no matter how different the rules that he plays by,  no matter how hidden he would remain from our sight without the work of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom comes to us never the less.  The Holy Spirit, you see, continues to draw us deeper into the faith that the Spirit alone can impart; indeed the Spirit continues to beckon us to the cross and open tomb, continues to give us the faith to see that this Jesus is the Christ, and that in Him is all for which we long.  This is the great gift of the faith that God gives you.  That this other-worldly king comes to you and lives in you by faith, and you in Him. Even in His seeming strangeness, his utter difference from us and our values, He remains closer to us than even we are to ourselves.  This otherworldly One makes his home with you, gives you the power to be children born of God.  And what is more, you yourselves may now live out of this power, out of your identity as heirs to Christ’s kingship.  For all that He has he has given to you.  Yes, in your generosity to the ongoing mission of Centennial Lutheran,  in your feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, in your inviting others into Christ’s forgiveness in this place, indeed in all that you do, you do now as children of this God, as subjects of this king.  So take heart and good cheer, dear people of God.  Though we enter a season that will  inevitably wear us down as much as it builds us up, please do not confuse all the buying and selling, all the harried efforts to get people to and from the airport, all the last minute runs to Kings Soopers or even that small and subtle mourning for those who are not here, yes please do not mistake any of that for Christ’s Kingdom.  For when that dust settles, Christ’s kingdom will remain.  And oh yes, the words that old hymn, “the kingdom’s ours forever.”  Thanks be to God, amen. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Nov. 11, 2012

Mark 12:38-44
38 As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

I don’t think it will be too controversial to suggest that we, as humans, don’t always keep our priorities straight, that we are easily distracted by the wrong things.  And this, of course, is not intended to just make you feel bad or guilty or something like that, but this is the place where we try our best to tell the truth about who we are.  So yeah, we get distracted by the wrong things, and we do so pretty constantly. We just have a difficult time avoiding spectacles, averting our eyes from glitz and glamour; in the end, after all, we like to be entertained.   This is not intended as a cheap shot, but when you think about all the hungry people in the world and the fact that, as a country, we just watched two campaigns spend 2 billion dollars in their bids for the White House, one sort of begins to get the point.  Would that the church could get people to line up to help the poor and suffering in our midst the way that Apple is able to generate lines for the release of the new Iphone.  And this not to say that we mess things up all the time, or that we don’t overcome our own addiction to glitz and newness.  One thinks here of the incredible generosity occasioned by any tragic event.  A couple Fridays back, it took NBC a couple hours and a few talented musicians to raise 23 million dollars for the Red Cross’s efforts to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.   So the point is not that we are always messing up our priorities, just that we are always in danger of doing so.  Vigilance, then, is always required. 
Which seems to be the same point that Jesus is making here in Mark’s Gospel.  Now let’s back up just a bit to get some context for what is happening.  Though we skipped over the triumphant entry and all the rest, we are in the part of the story that is leading right to the crucifixion.  We here are in Jesus’ last week before that gruesome proclamation that he has made three times will come to pass.  He and his disciples have come to Jerusalem, come right to the nerve center and there is trouble everywhere brewing.  So when Jesus speaks ill of the Scribes, he is putting in the verbal knife to the very people that are presently conspiring to put him to death.  It’s fair to say that the guy is not easily intimidated, huh?  So, as Jesus surveys the religious scene that is he knows will, in some way, lead to his death, the contents of his words take on a different tone, a more urgent tone.  Be on guard he says: do not let the flash of the scribes fool you.  Don’t be overly impressed by the length of the words or the beauty of their robes, don’t begin to genuflect just because they have the VIP seats.   Appearances can be deceiving afterall. Reality is rarely, if ever, what it initially appears to be.   Because it is these same jokers who will steal a widow’s last penny to buy a new suit, and so really don’t buy into their piety that rings so false and hollow.  Those long and sanctimonious prayers, those are only said so that you, you and not God, may hear them and think better of the men saying them.  This is not true religion. 
And here we should be a troubled; our own presumptions thoroughly challenged.  Our own notions of respectability and values torn apart like the heavens at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel.  Because what is at stake is whether or not we can see, can perceive, correctly.  Whether we can, in the words of Martin Luther, call a thing what it is.  And this becomes all the more difficult when we are asked to take up this task against even ourselves.  I mean, how deep our participation in that which can only commend itself to us by its glitz and glamour. Let’s be honest for a moment, if Peyton Manning and a woman, and for the heck of it, let’s say a woman who hadn’t showered for a bit, whose clothes were ratty and her speech slurred, yes, what if they both came in off the street walked in at the same time, who among us would not prefer that Mr. Manning, and not this woman, would sit down in the pew next to us?  You cannot better believe that, in this scenario, I would do whatever it took to make Mr. Manning comfortable (can you imagine the tithe that guy could provide?), and whatever happened to this woman, well, it wouldn’t be the first time she was ignored, huh?  A quick prayer for forgiveness, a momentary thought given to this poor suffering woman and away we go.  And here’s the thing, our whole culture is based on this sort of thing, based on us understanding our own value in relationship to the glitz and the glamour, our nearness to powerful and beautiful people.  I mean, I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I have been during my few brief handshakes with mid-level rock musicians, how that made me feel like I was discovering something new and wonderful about myself.
But beware.  Beware because in the Kingdom of God, Peyton Manning or the religious professional or the powerful CEO, none of these are more or less than important than the poor widow.  And what is  more, genuine participation in the Kingdom of God is dependent on this realization, on realizing that the Kingdom of God is not be found in the glitz and the glamour, not in rubbing up against the powerful and prestigious, not in ourselves becoming powerful and prestigious, not in our being noticed,  but rather first in the small and humble.  In the woman tossing in a few pennies that was all she had to live on.  This insanity, this is most closer to the Kingdom than the well-thought out and well managed giving programs of the wealthy around her.  And this is because the Kingdom must render to us its Kings, a God who, in Christ, will also not without anything.  Will give wildly and recklessly and will do so at the cross.  The Kingdom is to be found in the place where this Christ is headed, to the cross where sin will be judged and forgiven,  the place where divine anger and divine mercy will be poured out.  This place where the proud scribe will be brought low and the poor woman raised up.  This is where the Kingdom of God will break in, will break up our destructive patterns of being beholden to things that initially give us a thrill but don’t mean that much in the final analysis.  Yes, in that which initially appears small and meager, things like wine poured out and bread broken, things like these words: “for Christ’s sake, you are forgiven, you are loved.”  And this is the miracle of the Kingdom, these things that start off small, and yet, in their smallness, will render unto you the very eternity of God.   That in the gifts of bread, wine and Word, the Christ will toss his righteousness into our very lives, and will break us open to view and care for all in our midst, be it an MVP quarterback or the heartbreakingly average.  And so, as we begin to think about stewardship for this coming year, this is the place that we must start.  Not in the amount of money that we can or can’t give for this year, not in thinking that the church, like so many other organizations, is yet another drain on our resources.  Rather, this is where we start: in the love of a God who withholds nothing to give us the Kingdom.  A God, who out of sheer and reckless love,  has claimed us in the cross and grave.  A God who has thrown in his lot with us poor and trembling sinners and will remain with us until all is accomplished.  Yes, so what does it mean to relate to our time, to our money, to our skills and ability, to our familial and other relationships, yes what does it mean to relate to these things as those claimed by this God’s fierce love?  If we are honest, it might look a lot closer to that widow than we are comfortable with.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

All Saints

John 11:32-44
32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."


I once heard a movie quote that goes something like this: “that’s what living is, the six inches in front of your face,” and whether or not that should be the case, it strikes me as being pretty true.  The problems of getting through each day, what with health issues, getting the children to school on time, making sure the bills are paid, making sure there is enough money to even pay the bills, and oh, the transmission on the car just went out, and we are late for dinner with the neighbors, and aren’t we going to finally take that vacation we have been planning on for several years, yeah but what are we having for dinner and did I tell you my niece was coming into town this weekend, and so it goes, day in and day and day.  Too much to do with too little time in which to do it.  So living really does become getting through whatever is immediately in front of us.  Our lives take on the hurried character of attending to whatever problem is right in front of us, and then doing this again and again and again, with very little hope of zooming out to see a bit of the bigger picture that is at work, and because our lives have taken on this totally manic pace, days like this become all the more important.  Important because here in this place, we are given the space to zoom out a bit, if only for a few moments.  And that zooming out, enlarging our focus from beyond the very present problems that greet us with each waking day, that takes on a very different meaning for today’s worship service.  And here’s the thing; our focus could not be any grander than it is today, because today, this day, we look towards the horizon of our deaths, towards those who have already gone before us and just what our own eternal destiny might be.  How’s that for a zooming out?   
And though we rush from idle thing to idle thing, though our culture has raised distraction to an art form, and certainly one that tends towards the sinful, the reality of death is never really that far from us.  Not when those in our worshipping community have lost mothers and sisters, sons and brothers, dear friends, a beloved pastor.  So this fresh-faced kid has no intention on lecturing you about the importance of acknowledging our deaths in the face of the culture’s unbelievable and even demonic denial about such things.  The reality of death is never really that far from us,  just as it was not too far from our distant mothers in the faith, Mary and Martha.  They had just lost a dearly beloved brother, one who went by the name of Lazarus, and suffice it to say that they were dealing with it in two very different ways.   You can see Martha, all action, channeling her grief, channeling all that emotional energy into making funeral plans.  Making sure that the obituary was written, the food ordered and the flowers beautiful. For Martha, the emotional comedown will be at a later point.  In that stillness after the funeral, after everyone has gone home and she sits alone.  Then the sorrow will hit, but for now, so long as there are things to do, Lazarus’ death can remain an abstract problem, something, in the end, to be fixed and solved. Mary on the other hand, well, she is that raw nerve, that visceral embodiment of the shock, the pain and the utter grief of death.  She is a blizzard of sorrow, weeping and wailing loudly lest anyone miss the point that her brother has died.  She simply cannot abide the cold and distant injustice of his death, and when Jesus does finally show, a bit too later for her liking, you can better believe that censoring herself is not exactly her first priority, and please do not gloss over her words as though they were less accusatory than they actually are.  From Christ’s feet, she hurls these words: “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  How’s that for a greeting?
And while we certainly expect those who have just lost a brother to be deep in their grief, what is, perhaps, unexpected, is to see just how deeply affected Jesus is by all of this.   Though he has had plans on raising Lazarus from the beginning, saying things like Lazarus is asleep, that his sickness will lead to the glory of God and not to death, that doesn’t keep him from experiencing the fullness of these sisters’ pain and indeed his own.  When he sees Mary looking more like a heap of grief than an actual person, and when he converses with Martha, her grief turned into an abstract problem, and when he steps into the stench of his friend’s already decaying body, four days is a long time, after all, he, himself, is overcome by it all.  “Jesus began to weep,” or “Jesus wept,” depending on your translation, the shortest verse in Scripture, because what else is there to say?  What words could be added to a vision of God, deep in the flesh, so deep, in fact, that he sees how that flesh decays, grows old and finally begins to decompose and stink.  And that is where the glory of God is.  Not out in some distant place unaffected by the small human dramas, but right there, right there at the tomb and its stench.  Right there where all our myths of self-sufficiency, all our stoic dreams of being able to hold it together in the face of tragedy and pain, all our abstracting away the real problem of this life, namely that it ends, yes, right in that place where all of that is put to rest, there is the glory of God.  And not a cold and indifferent glory, but a glory that weeps along side you, a glory that feels your pain, feels your loss so deeply that He, He the Christ who is God’s glory, He, the very embodiment of all that is eternal and true, He, himself is moved to tears.  And then moved to action, calling forth his dear friend from the tomb, unbinding him and, with that strong and divine word, calling Lazarus forth from his tomb.
            And so as we come to this day, this day heavy with our grief and our own hope, hear these words.  You are loved by a God, remembered by a God who knows your pain as his own, a God who comes to your graves, to the graves of those whom we have lost this year and in the years past, yes a God who is there weeping beside you. You are never abandoned in your fear and your pain.  Your grief and sorrow is never too thick to keep God’s tears from mingling with your own.  For it is in the small, undignified and deeply human moments that the glory of God in Christ shines forth.  Ah, but there is more, so much more.  While few, if any of us, can boast a Lazarus like-like raising, there exists a more glorious resurrection that awaits you.  That great day in which all tears will be wiped away and you will see God face-to-face.  Yes, that great day when all the sin, shame and fear will be cast out and God will be all-in-all.  The wine poured out and the banquet table overflowing with good things.  And make no mistake, those whom we remember today, they already shine in the glory of their Lord.  They see Him face-to-face and drink deeply of His mercy and kindness.  They sit at the banquet table with Lazarus, Mary and Martha, reveling in the goodness of a God who called them out of their graves. And you, you are those bound for that eternal glory, as well.  In the words of the old hymn, the Lord has promised good to you.  So when you return to those six inches in front of your face, return to the daily problems that make up our time here on this earth, do so as one who is destined for God’s glory in Christ.  Do so with the full knowledge that Christ’s eternal love is not just six inches in front of you, but is the very God in whom you move, live and have your being.  And that is true in this life and the next.  To Christ, then, be all glory, praise and honor eternal.  Amen.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reformation Sunday

Romans 3:19-28
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For "no human being will be justified in his sight" by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Where to begin, on this Reformation Sunday?  Which, I guess, is another way of asking what the purpose might be behind a day such as this,  set aside to celebrate the events of the Protestant Reformation?  I mean, in a world such as ours, when being a particular type of Christian, be it Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, you get the idea, yes, when this mean far less than it ever did, we might be right ask just what we are doing here.  I mean, we could certainly start with a robust singing of “A Mighty Fortress,” or a brief history lesson on Luther, the 95 theses that he posted to the door at Wittenberg Church, a quick tour through the catechism or any number of places.  But to start there would be to miss the point entirely.  Indeed, to get a sense of the Protestant Reformation, to see why it still might have something to say to us this day, beyond a mere history lesson, we are going to have to start in another place entirely.
And that place, as it turns out, is in Paul’s Letter to Romans.  Specifically in this statement:  “for no human will be justified in God’s sight by works prescribed by the law.”  Now there is a little translating we need to do here in order for the full impact of what St. Paul is saying to hit us.  You see, when St. Paul uses the term “the law,” he is certainly thinking of the 10 commandments, but he is also thinking about so much more than that.  The law, as St. Paul understands it, describes reality in the fullest and broadest sense.  The law, then, includes not just the “natural laws” of the creation as we have come to understand them, but also things like our ethnicity, our jobs, our families and spouses, the fact that we are Americans, or that we are Broncos fans or any of the rest of it.  This is what St. Paul when he describes “the law,” the sum total of what it means to be human and how we relate to the world around us. So when he writes that there is nothing prescribed by the law that can forgive our sin and grant us the life everlasting, St. Paul is saying something totally and utterly radical.  Something that goes against our most deeply-held and fervently-cherished believes that we hold about ourselves.  Can’t you feel it?  Feel the weight of St. Paul’s hammer against us?  Against even himself? For he is saying nothing less than this: all that we love and hold dear about ourselves, all the stories that we buy into to make us people of value, be they stories about money or political party affiliation or perpetual youth or what it is to be a real man, or yes, even what Christian denomination we belong to, St. Paul is saying that none of that is what delivers us to a gracious God.   In fact, looking towards these things to find God in them will lead to nothing but dead ends, nothing but the anger of God. Which might just explain why we feel so fearful, so uneasy, when we look to these things to tell us all that we need to know about ourselves and about God.   And that’s just the trick.  It is not that there is anything wrong with a lot of what St. Paul refers to as the law.  In fact, it is good, God-given stuff.   The problem comes in how we use and abuse it.  How we look to things that are not God as though they were.  And the radical thing that St. Paul here preaches is that we, on our own, are bound to do this and to continue to do this.  When we think that the only thing that is valuable is our wealth, or our ethnicity, or particularly poignant in these times, our political affiliations, yes, when we believe that God only really loves the Lutheran church, or that God is not working in other Christian denominations, we are doing exactly what St. Paul describes.   And this is why we are, in the words of the Apostle, silenced before God. Or in the words of Jesus, this is the bondage to sin that we are in.  We just look to the wrong things to tell us about ourselves and about God.
“But now . . .”  whoever thought that a conjunctive phrase, a phrase as seemingly miniscule as “but now” could change the fiber of reality as we know it.  “But now,” says St. Paul, meaning that there is, in fact, a whole other way of being, of understanding and relating to the world in which we live, and that has everything to do with Jesus Christ and his faithfulness.  Yes apart, far apart the law, apart from all our halting and frustrated attempts to find God on our terms, the righteousness of God has been revealed.  And what a surprising righteousness it is.  It is the righteousness of God in Christ.  A righteousness that does not condemn sin, but forgives it.  A righteousness that looks at human bondage and says, “I  will do whatever is necessary to free these people, even if that means experiencing sin, death and hell itself.”  It the sort of righteousness that claims people not because they have accomplished enough or belong to the right group or have lived their lives according to their own ideals, but because the faithfulness of God in Christ will simply do what he has come to do: and that is to return you to the place you always belonged, the loving arms of God.  “But now,” apart from all the pain and fear and uneasiness of trying to find security through our own efforts, by our own strength, in our own wisdom, but now, apart from running away from the truth about our failures, apart from denying the bondage to sin in which we find ourselves on a daily basis, yes apart from all of this there is a new righteousness to be had: Christ and him crucified.  Crucified and raised for you.  So that you may know that none of your faults and failings, none of the fear, none of the guilt,  none of it is who you actually are.  Instead, you are those for whom Christ, apart from any human effort, has died and been raised.
And this was the remarkable, indeed revolutionary, re-discovery of Luther and Reformation.  It is to this overwhelming and abundant grace that those events lo so many years ago testify. For Luther, it meant discovering, rather being discovered, by the grace of God apart from the elaborate machinery of the Medieval Roman Church.  And it is from this perspective that we can begin to appreciate the reason we set aside a day such as this.  Not because we somehow have the market cornered on Christian truth or because we are the only denomination that enjoys potlucks and coffee, no matter how much we do very much enjoy these things.  But because the righteousness of God has been revealed in wonderfully anticipated ways.  In ways that provide genuine freedom, freedom from sin and guilt, freedom from pride and fear.  This is the freedom that the Son imparts.  It is the freedom that come only when our efforts to be found good, found righteous, found free, yes when the effort to do this on our own has been brought to an end.  It is then that the beginning may again take hold of us, just as it took hold of Luther and the reformers.  And this is why we celebrate Reformation Sunday, why we sing a “Mighty Fortress” with all the gusto it deserves, why we spend a Sunday to think about our past.  Not because any of these things make us righteous, make us whole, but because they so powerfully testify to the grace that does.  Together, then, with St.Paul, with Martin Luther and with the countless masses that have been discovered by God’s grace in Christ, we sing to the God whose grace is eternal, whose love shines from this world to the next.  For you have a permanent place in the Son’s house.  In Jesus’ name, amen.