Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit is three in one:
“There once was a boy named Roy, who desperately wanted love and attention from his parents, but he really didn’t know how to receive it. As a result, Roy got into a lot of trouble. He found that he got plenty of attention from his parents from all the trouble that he caused, which seemed close enough to love for a ten-year old boy.
Every time he got into trouble, his parents would question him long and hard, trying to find out his reasons for the way he acted. ‘Why did you do that, Roy? What’s wrong?’ they would ask. But Roy would just stare at the floor, not answering, not looking at his parents. Finally, his parents would say, ‘You know we will have to punish you for this.’
Roy knew this, and was expecting it. He was familiar with punishment and knew how to cope with it. There would be no TV, no desert after supper, and he would have to stay home after school for a few weeks. Roy never seemed to mind the punishment.
It was just a part of getting his parents attention. One night, Roy’s parents received a phone call from the police. The officer informed them that Roy and some other boys had vandalized the school. They had been caught in the midst of trying to set a fire in one of the classrooms.
Roy’s parents rushed to the police station and talked to the lieutenant in charge for over an hour. Finally, Roy was released into their custody, after they had agreed to help pay for the damages.
The ride home from the police station was silent. Roy sat between his parents in the front seat, waiting, but no one spoke. When they got home, Roy went to his room and waited for his parent’s usual lecture and the terms of the punishment. Finally, his mother came in, looked at Roy, and said simply, ‘You’ve really hurt us tonight.’ Then she left the room.
Later, Roy’s father came into his room and asked, ‘Roy, do you have homework to do.’ The question took him by surprise. ‘What? Uh, yes, I guess so.’ ‘Well, you’d better get it done.’
Then his dad left the room, leaving Roy staring at his book, wondering what was wrong. At bedtime, his parents came in again. They brought him a snack, and told him that when he had finished eating, he needed to turn out the lights and get some sleep. Then they left, without saying another word.
Roy ate his snack, turned out the lights, and laid on his bed for nearly an hour, but he couldn’t sleep. Finally, he jumped up, ran out his room, down the stairs and jumped into his mommy’s lap, crying his heart out. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I’ve been so bad. Please forgive me.”
Roy’s parents held him for a long time, shedding a few tears of their own. Out poured all the years of hurt, the need of love and attention, as his parents told him over and over again how much they loved him, in spite of all the things that he had done to disappoint them. That night, Roy finally learned to receive the love and forgiveness his parents felt for him.”
I used this illustration for a couple of reasons. First, I think we can all relate to young Roy in a way. When we think back to our childhood, many of us can remember times when we had done something wrong and hurt our parents in the process. Hopefully, our stories also ended like Roy’s and we came to know our parents love and forgiveness.
Secondly, I used this story because I think it illustrates the struggle Martin Luther was going through with his heavenly Father. Before Luther came to properly understand grace and forgiveness, his thoughts were focused on the punishment he felt he deserved for his failures to live according to God’s will. Even though he devoted his life to serving God and the church, He had a hard time receiving or even understanding the love of God in his own life. Luther knew God’s commandments and he knew what was expected of him, but he failed to grasp the beauty of God’s mercy.
Then Luther read our Epistle lesson from this morning in Romans chapter 3. In these words Luther experienced unmerited, forgiving love. In this Scripture and through the power of the Holy Spirit, his heart was opened and eager to receive the grace of God and it changed his life forever.
Let’s hear these word’s again and imagine Luther reading them in his desperate condition, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (sacrifice of atonement) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
In these words, Luther came to a new understanding of his relationship with God. In these words, Luther saw hope and he wanted everyone else to experience God’s grace to the fullest.
The Reformation that we celebrate today then, became critical and vital because it would point people to the wonderful and awesome things of God and preserve His truth among us.
When it seemed to Luther and others that the truth of God’s grace was nowhere to be found, God made it to shine brightly once more, this same truth that kings and paupers alike would defend to the death and which faithful men of God would, once again work to restore, proclaim and honor. They would bring the message of salvation by grace through faith that says that while we were sinners, Christ died and rose from the dead to make us right with God and partakers of His grace and forgiveness.
These words of Scripture led Luther to experience the unmerited and forgiving love of God and would open his heart to glorify God in all things, and in his humble state, respond in the love which he had already come to receive in Christ’s death and resurrection. This is the heart of the Reformation message.
So today, we celebrate that truth that the Holy Spirit brought to Luther in his time of trial, that same truth that is still setting people free and reforming their hearts. The truth of God’s grace and mercy is still shaping our eternal destinies and continues to bring all believers comfort through repentance and forgiveness, even in their fallen lives. It tells us that, even if we fail and forget, God does not fail and will never forget His promises to us. It points us to Christ and His sacrifice. It leads us to the empty tomb and reminds us of the promise realized in Christ’s resurrection. And God preserves that truth so that His people will be blessed.
At the University of Wittenberg, Luther led a class in theology, teaching his students about the meaning of repentance. Luther pointed out that the word for repentance in Greek means, “to change your mind.” Luther went on to say, “Repentance is not our action, but an inward transformation of the mind and heart, which results from God’s Spirit working in us to enable us to respond to his love for us.” One of Luther’s students questioned this and said. “Do you mean to tell me that we don’t have to do anything to be a Christian, just believe in our hearts?” “Yes,” says Luther, “We don’t have to do anything.”
Another student then presses the issue, by asking, “Are you telling us that we can do anything that we want?” Again, Luther agrees, but then he adds, “But what do you want to do?” Luther’s point was clear. If we have experienced the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ, if we have come to realize that God has made us his own children through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, “what should we want to do?”
Luther learned and later taught that there is absolutely nothing we can do in our earthly lives to deserve God’s love and forgiveness. There is no way to earn it on our own.
It comes from the very heart of God, our Father. Yet to experience God’s love also leads to a renewal of our hearts and minds.
Martin Luther came to realize a very important aspect of his relationship with Christ. What he discovered was that all the torture he could bring himself through would never bring him any closer to God. The relationship he sought was already there all along because Christ had provided the way by which we would be saved.
For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but we have been justified, freely, by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. Amen