Psalm 136:1

 

 

 

 

 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

__

The Coliseum was one of the architectural marvels of ancient Rome.  Today, it is a deteriorating plie of stone and concrete.  Upon it’s completion at the end of the first century, however, it resembled the image above. The structure was covered inside and out with marble and artworks. A vast awning system shielded spectators from the sun. Beneath the wooden floor was a sophisticated complex of passage ways, workshops, holding cells and elevators.

At every level the Coliseum was a testimony to the engineering brilliance of the Romans – and to their unspeakable cruelty.

 The word ‘arena’ is the latin word for the ‘sand’ which covered the vast wooden floor. It’s purpose was to soak up the blood. And there was no shortage. How many people and animals died horrific deaths in this place is staggering to imagine – tens of thousands. And it was all for the sake of entertainment.

 The Coliseum is a reflection of the tragic paradox of human existence. Created for fellowship with the heavens, we grovel in the filth. In this respect, the architectual magnificence of the Coliseum was a beautiful cloak that covered evil. 

 Why does God endure the ongoing tragedy of our existence? Why not simply divert an asteroid in our direction and make an end of all this? After all, the evidence againts us is irrefutable and overwhelming. To seek answers to these questions we must look to the Scriptures. 

 In the week ahead Christians all over the world will be gathering to remember events that occurred at the crossroads of history – what we call Holy Week. Twenty centuries ago the sinful cruelty of man was met by the mercy and grace of God. The promise revealed on the cross and the empty tomb is that God’s love determines the limits of His patience.  Can there be any other worthy explanation than the love of God for the long centuries that have elapsed, or that will yet, as we await the consummation of all things?

 __

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

__

Romans 5:2

“Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

___

I had given her a book to read which layed out a Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith. She came from a Christian church which placed much emphasis on works, on gaining spiritual ground in this life which would translate into rewards in the next.  After finishing the book she came back to see me. Her comment? “You Lutherans have it too easy. Everything depends on grace.”

 This young woman is not alone in her assessment. Strange at may seem to those of us who have been nurtured in a church where grace is central, many Christians are suspicious of reliance on grace. One Christian has gone so far as to call the Lutheran Church a “grace cult”.

 When Paul wrote the Christians in Rome, whom he had never met, he anticipated their objections to his message of grace when he wrote, “What shall we say? That we sin all the more so grace will abound all the more”?  Paul must have run into this question a thousand times. 

 Paul knew full well that grace seems easy and bland, a cop out, only to those who do not fully appreciate the gravity of sin, who have not seriously tried to meet the demands of God’s law. God does not grade on the curve. Have you tried, really tried to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and you neighbor as yourself? How about striving for righteousnes, purity of heart?  

 Paul did and so did Martin Luther. And what happened? They pursued a ‘godly life’ with such fervor that it drove them to the wall. They came to see the towering righteousness of God as an impossible mountain to climb. 

 Now, it is “… through Him that we obtain access to this grace in which we stand.” Grace has not come to us at some bargain basement price. It is not a cheap remedy for a bland illness. Grace has come through Him, through the crucified and risen Jesus. Blood was shed. A death occurred. A funeral took place. Wonderul, beautiful Jesus was cast away like so much unwanted trash. That is the cost of grace.  

 Those who object to the sufficiency of grace have yet to appreciate the gravity of their sin and the greatness of Christ. But when these two meet, then we can truly rejoice and  proclaim from the rooftops, “Everything depends on grace!”

 __

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

___

Philippians 3:13-14

 

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

____

As life moves on we accumulate memories. They are defining of who we are. Some memories remain with us like cherished friends, giving comfort, encouragement and filling the present with an ongoing sense of fulfillment.

 Others may haunt us and tinge our lives with sadness, melancholy and guilt. Of these some are rooted in troublesome or tragic events that were beyond our control. A natural disaster struck. The stock market plunged and assets were wiped out.  A medical condition fundamentally alters the course of life. Events like these may leave us reeling in an effort to regain our balance but we feel no remorse. We did not cause them. 

 Some memories are of wrongs done to you by others. Someone you once loved rejected you for another. A business associate cheated you out of money. Someone close to you violated a confidence.  Rising above the resulting bitterness or anger may be diffcult but the fault, in the end, is not yours. 

 But then there are the memories that haunt you. Try as you will they will not be put to rest. You may go months, even years, without giving them much thought. But sooner or later they creep in to your consciousness. These are the memories of the wrongs you have done. They demand you deal with them. They are on your hands.

 We have all left a debris field of wrongs in the wake of our lives.  And try as we might, we will never clear the wreckage of our past, however great or small. These deeds, done or things left undone, follow us and accuse us. They are the evidence life uses against us. What will we do?

 St. Paul urges us to forget it all. But, you may object, surely this is too simplistic. Paul was obviously no psychologist! Memories are not that easy to put away. This is true. Our memories, all our memories, will remain with us to one degree or another through life. But Paul dares to invite us to forget because those haunting memories now belong to Christ Jesus. He paid for them on His cross.

 Giving your sins to Christ Jesus will not remove the scars. To one degree or another you will live with them until you die. But the open wounds of guilt and remorse will be closed and healed. This is power of the Lord’s forgiveness. For once Christ Jesus took your sins upon Himself He stripped them of all the accusation they contained. It is as if those things of which you are ashamed never happened. Now you are free – free to bask in the good memories of your past even as you press on toward the glorious future God has prepared for His people.

 ___

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

____

Romans 3:20

“By works of the law will no one be justified.”

____

Many Christians make a fundamental error by drawing the conclusion that the proper response to an awareness of our estrangement from God is to adopt ‘godly’ principles in an effort to get right with God (as the saying goes), and then equating faith with the keeping and doing of those principles. The Bible is commonly used this way.

 For St. Paul, however, this way of thinking is an illusion. Now that humanity is no longer able to live in perfect reverence, thankfulness and love before God there is no hope of ‘getting right with God’  by anything we think, say or do. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. A righteous life of our own making is impossible. Paul lays this out with sobering clarity in Roman 1:18-3:20, ending this section with the verse for today. 

 The Church has struggled with the absoluteness of Paul’s assessment from the very beginning. He leaves no place for our deeds, our works, our best intentions. He took Isaiah’s words to heart; “Even our righteous deeds are filthy rags.”

 Sadly, many Christians fail to see that by placing ANY sort of emphasis on what we do in matters of faith in relation to God undercuts the very essence of the Gospel. Deeds account for nothing. And if we look to them to justify or prove anything before God, even to demonstrate how sincere we think our faith is, they are worse than nothing. They condemn us (see Paul’s letter to the Galatians).

 The works, the deeds, in which Christians are called to rejoice will be celebrated by the vast majority of Christians in the week to come, the week we call ‘Holy Week’.  Two thousand years ago our Lord Jesus Christ embraced suffering and death at our hands. And He willingly, humbly submitted to this humiliation because it was God’s will that He do so – for us!  His glorious deeds are the works with which Christians should be preoccupied, even possessed!

 No doubt some will read this and say, “Yes but we have to do SOMETHING, don’t we?” To which I say, ‘And just what do you have in mind?’

 There is nothing, I repeat, nothing that you can do or have to do in order to get right with God. Your sin is forgiven FOR JESUS SAKE and not because of works.  God has done it all! As Paul said, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord!” 

____

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

___

Acts 4:11-12

 

“He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

 ___

Toleration is an important word in our culture. It may be important to you. In a “live and let live” society such as ours a certain amount of toleration is expected and necessary. But tolerance is not the same as indifference. A person may appear to be tolerant simply because he or she carries no convictions. This is not tolerance. It is indifference rooted in a practical nihilism, and it is all around us. Is it also a part of us?

 The indifference toward belief which often accompanies the absence of authentic faith is one thing. Such unbelief can easily lead someone to conclude that there really is nothing to believe in beyond the self. Indifference on the part of those who have come to know Christ is something else again.

 We Christians dare not worship at the American cultural altar of toleration if it leads to this damning indifference. The Christian cannot be neutral or indifferent about belief, not without denying the Lord of the Church. This we simply cannot tolerate. For the fact is that if we have truly been grasped by the Gospel of Christ we will not be indifferent about the matter of beliefs.

 Jesus calls you to be vigilant about the matter of beliefs, for there is “one name by which we are saved.” Belief in Jesus is the path God has laid down by which human beings come to authentic faith. We believe and confess that in Jesus Christ all truth, meaning and purpose are revealed – for all. This is not a popular idea, nor has it ever been, as the blood of the martyrs will attest. God may have other avenues by which people are saved. We do not know. What we do know is that our Lord, in viewing the human landscape has said, “Go in all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is not a formula for toleration as our culture defines it, to be sure. It is something much better.

 These words resonate from the heart of God, who in His love and grace has provided the way of authentic trust and belief through Jesus. When the life-changing truth of the Gospel of this same Jesus Christ is openly and courageously shared, people are freed, by God’s grace, from false belief and no belief. Their lives are set on the hopeful course of a living faith. Someone you know needs to hear this life-changing message. May God grant us the grace and courage to care less about the bland tolerance advocated by the culture and more about the truth that God has revealed in Jesus Christ!

___

 

 

 

 

 

 

___

Romans 9:15-16

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

 ___

 The belief in free will where God is concerned has become so self-evident that to many it is beyond questioning. The Gospel amounts to an offer that God makes to freely willing consumers. After all, the objection goes, we’re not puppets are we?

It is hard to see the real value of Christ Jesus and His cross under such circumstances. Oh sure, God crossed the eons of eternity, was born in the flesh, lived among us, resisted the Devil, suffered, died and was buried, and on the third day was raised from death , but now I must also do something. In the final analysis it’s up to me. Really? Doesn’t this smell just a little fishy?

What the so-called free will argument is really concerned with is not preserving human freedom where God is concerned – we don’t have any. The real concern is preserving the autonomy of the self; to remain a continously intact self that remains in charge.

It is no wonder that folks who are saddled with this belief are constantly pushed to choose improvement, to become better disciples, to chase the abundant life. The problem with free will Christianity is that you never arrive. The freely willing will must keep willing! There is always more work to do where God is concerned.

But the logic of the Gospel assumes not a free will where God is concerned but a bound will. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” The Bible could not be more clear. The Gospel is not an offer to the free will, “Make your decision for Christ”, it is a proclamtion to the bound will, “Christ has made a decision for you! Your sin is forgiven for Jesus’ sake!” This is the promise of your baptism.

The one message sends the sinner on a hopeless quest of spiritual self-improvement under the illusion of freedom to choose; the other creates freedom in the midst of bondage and brings the sinner to rest in the all-sufficient grace and mercy of the crucified and risen Lord.

___

  “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

____

____

Ephesians 2:8

“For by grace you have been saved…”

_____

The law of love is the heart of the law. To love is to fulfill the law. There is no law against love. There are degrees and kinds of love to be sure. But not to love. That is not an option. The question is, do we love well or badly? This, in fact, is our problem. From birth the human will is engaged in loving. It has no option, no choice in the matter. What becomes readily apparent, even in the most adorable infant, is that self-love is the focus of the human being. So, in a very real sense, we have no so-called ‘free will’ to love or not love – God or anyone else. The myriad disfunctions of the world are all the evidence we need to conclude that bad love is the way with human beings. Oh, there will be variations toward the good, and many are quite adept at keeping their bad love to themselves, but from birth the die is cast; human beings are bad lovers. They are bound to be. This predisposition to love badly is what the bible calls ‘sin’, the turning in on the self. Asking the bound will to free itself from this mess does nothing. If you are bound you must be set free, from outside yourself. So enters the Gospel. St. Paul wrote that you and I might find it in ourselves to crank up sacrificial love for someone we consider worthy of it – maybe. But God shows His love for us in that “…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.The love of God is perfect. God really and truly loves. And this is made supremely clear in Jesus our Lord, who gave HImself for the unlovely, for the bad lovers. This is the Good News! God’s will to love the bad lover is what we call grace. In mercy and love, for Christ’s sake, God simply declares the bound sinner free as an act of sheer mercy and grace. Someone once called it “amazing”.  And so it is.

_____

 

 

 

________