“Grace, Faith, Justification, Redemption”

Sermon – 02-2-8-21 – Lent 2 – Cycle B
Scriptures: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
Sermon Title: “Grace, Faith, Justification, Redemption”

Little Robby accidentally knocked a vase, with water and flowers in it, on the hardwood floor. He cried because he knew it was not a good thing to happen. But he knew he had to tell his mother. So he did, fully expecting her to be angry with him. How wonderful the mercy felt as her blessing of grace washed over him. You see, she had come to terms with her anger. This mother had learned that anger and revenge get her nowhere. She learned that kindness and love make the situation much better and everyone is in a better place afterward.

Contrast this story with a comic strip I follow. Comic is not a good word for what happened. A teen-age boy did something not good on the spur of the moment. Not old enough to be a licensed driver, temptation caught him and he found himself driving his friend’s mother’s new car. I did not save that page but I don’t think the car was damaged. However, that new car was a very cherished object at that new-car-smell stage. The mother was very protective of that new car. Truth be told, it was a second-hand new car. Compared to the old car which left her sit once too many times, this one became an idol for as long as the new-car-smell was in it.

It happens that this mother did not rant and rave either. She loved her son’s friend and she did have control of her feelings. But she said that she had to tell his parents. In this case that probably was a mistake. This son’s friend, named Mike, knew that his father did not have control of his emotions. He did not know this thing called mercy. No one had been a model for him. Mike did not go home that night. I forget where he spent the night like a homeless person.

When the mother with the car insisted that he go home, his father beat him badly. When Mike’s friend wanted to know how he got so injured, Mike refused to say that it was his father. Mike’s friend had compassion but Mike would not let him inside his life and his emotions. Mike only knew mercy from the mother with the car. But if she had only known about Mike’s father, true mercy would not have called Mike’s parents in the first place.

We humans don’t always get this mercy thing right! Only God gets it right! Because we are sometimes mistreated by other humans, our faith in God is affected. We don’t believe God offers and gives undeserved forgiveness and mercy. It is hard to make ourselves believe that God forgives us when we hurt someone else – whether intentionally or accidentally. It is hard for us to believe that we should like and love ourselves more than we do.

We need to get over the hurdle that we can’t measure up to God’s expectation for ourselves. There is tension between living The Ten Commandments and accepting the fact that we are not perfect but God loves us anyway. The word “redeemed” is more than a word in a hymn. Redeemed is the action that returns us to face God after turning our backs. Redeemed is the action that brings us into the loving Father’s arms. Redeemed is not a once and done event like baptism. Redemption is an as-many-times-as-needed action. Redemption is the washed-clean-as-snow action where our shoulders feel empty and our heart and mind feel clear and renewed.
Redemption and the act of justification are closely related. Justification means being made right with God.

When Jesus was lifted into heaven after his resurrection, his disciples were charged with starting the church of Jesus Christ. So they did. Remember that their training was first hand with Jesus. We don’t really find a manual in the Bible that says “Steps to Follow to Start a Church.” The teachings of Jesus were not so neatly stated. He modeled the way to live. He modeled the way to be in relationship with each other and to care for each other. He did not use the word “church.” Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So the disciples did this and groups of believers formed. They strengthened each other as well as being strengthened by God. They needed to decide policy as they went along. Through the centuries the policies became a bit far-fetched and not aligned with the teachings of Jesus or the will of the Father and one wonders what happened to the Holy Spirit. Probably got pushed into the money chambers to suffocate.

Policy said that sins would be forgiven by payment of money or relics or severe acts of penance. Along comes Martin Luther at the turn of the century from the 1400s to the 1500s. He was a priest, a monk, and a theologian in the church. He was gifted with the ability to translate the Latin Bible into German so that the people could actually read the Bible. As he was translating he came to Paul’s letters in the New Testament. His eyes were opened. He was reading that our sins are erased because God gives us grace, not by paying money or doing deeds. He made a big fuss about this so that the church would change its policy. This is the new policy, the truthful policy: “Justification by Grace through Faith.” We are accepting a free gift from God, the most important gift of our lives. No policy change took place. Apparently, God’s plans were different. The church excommunicated Martin Luther. “Out of our sight,” the church said.

This idea of truth would not get out of sight. You know how truth prevails in the end. Well, we are still benefitting from this truth. Justification by grace through faith. What does this “faith” word mean? That is our side. We don’t need to pay. We don’t need to do good works. We simply need to believe, to have faith. We need to believe and say in our hearts or aloud, “Jesus is my Savior.” We need to believe that Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are alive with us, they love us, and Jesus died as the sacrifice for our sins forever and ever and ever. No animal sacrifice anymore. No money debts do we owe for our sins. The forgiveness of our sins is FREE.

Now, we could become very lazy and careless. We could! But in thankfulness for this mercy, this forgiveness, this redemption, this grace, we act! Not to earn grace and forgiveness but in thankfulness for freedom from sins. The book of James, written by the brother of Jesus, is fun to read while at the same time, James challenges us to really show our thankfulness by how we talk and live. This redemption of ourselves to God is the greatest gift ever. Let us not walk away from this gift, but claim it every single day of our lives!

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