St. Jacob's (Spader), Trinity; July 2, 2017
This being the year that culminates for Lutheran Christians with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, that begins with Martin Luther's posting of his 95 Thesis, October 31, 1517, seeing the Epistle Lesson for today is from Romans, and attending the Reformation 500 Team meeting both representatives from St. Jacob's and Trinity are members this past Thursday, I decided to rummage through some works of Martin Luther. I rediscovered his Prefaces to the New Testament. It was a nice way to get a fairly brief look at what he found as the essence in Scripture.
His longest preface by far of the books in the New Testament is his Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. There Martin Luther began, "This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel." He ends his first paragraph, "We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes."
While whether or not Martin Luther overstates his case is an open question, there is no doubt that Roman's contains some of the most powerful phrases, examples, and arguments, on the wonder and effect of God's grace in reorienting our nature, where we live seeing the wisdom in God's law, which inspires, rather than the compulsion that convicts when we do not measure up. Sin does not tell us how to live rather the law of grace does. God's grace is shown as the overarching principle and gift that governs a Christian's life.
This reorientation makes a great difference. We will not be free of storms in life. Look at Paul's life. This man was lied about, physically attacked, and jailed in a number of places after he encountered Jesus. All we have to do is look at the prayers each week in our worship and reflect on our own private prayers. International, national, and personal situations are named.
Some of the most oppressive storms are the ones that darken our moods and the lens in which we view life. Ever have or have had one of those periods where all the little things you encounter irritate you. Maybe it’s having to stand in the check-out line inwardly complaining over the person who not only is using a check, but takes forever to fill it out, the cashier who has to inquire about each customer's family, or even worse if the customer is known and getting items becomes listening to somebody else's long lost friend reunion. Then going home or back to work you encounter either that driver who rides your tail to move over so they can blast down the road or the one who travels five miles an hour below the speed limit, the irritation depending if you are the one taking in the new construction or trying not to be late. Whatever occurs it is easy to put a negative interpretation on it, because for deeper reasons that stress beyond disliking being pushed or delayed, the world is viewed through charcoal gray lenses.
I experienced such a day at this past Virginia Synod Assembly. In May I had a more extensive than planned rotator cuff surgery. Linda went down with me. We could not leave until her lunch break. I had planned for this. On pre-registering I checked the box that said I wanted written reports since I do not own an iPad or laptop computer. I checked in and they told me all the written reports were gone. I heard either people took them or those at the tables were handing them out. Either way reports were not set aside for the people who requested them, which has been my previous experience at synod assemblies I have attended over the years. I was in grouse mode not being able to read along. I discovered a correction I sent in for the pictorial directory using the electronic procedure indicated before the directory went into print was not made. That added to my already buoyant spirits. Grace operated, I treated people I encountered with pleasant interest. When seated I replayed my inner irritation.
The irritation did not go away. Back at the motel I continued to replay "What's the use of indicating things in advance if no one pays attention anyway'. Sleep was not in the cards. I know it’s silly. Comparing no requested paperwork with Jesus treatment on the cross tells us that. While that let me list things I should focus on the mood kept on. A song began playing in my head and it was not "Amazing Grace". It was a chorus from the musical Evita. In the scene advisors to Argentinian President Juan Peron are sharing their hopes that Eva's tour of Europe will bear good political fruit.
Let's hear it for the Rainbow Tour
It's been a phenomenal success
We weren't quite sure, we had a few doubts
Wound Evita come through?
As the tour progresses the answer goes from Yes, a qualified yes, and finally Yes and No.
God's grace can operate and reorient us from “unfair” to “loving as we have been loved by God.” Without saying even a desperation prayer like "God get me off this merry go round" I began hearing snippets of a hymn, "Heir of salvation, purchase of God;" "perfect submission, perfect delight;" "perfect submission, all is at rest;" "I in my Savior am happy and blest." These snippets ran longer than the Evita chorus. In the wee hours of the morning the irritated man became someone who giving thanks for a lines speaking of life in God's grace. Then from the heart I gave thanks for a laundry list of blessings and a desire to be a servant in Christ. I experienced the law of grace channeling a being given the gift of living responsively to the awareness of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue doing. To top it off during breakfast I recalled I was hearing bits and pieces of the hymn "Blessed Assurance."
I believe retired pastor Gene Bradbury, living in Sequim Washington described this well in yesterday's Christ in Our Home devotional. He wrote, "Because I live in a rainy part of the United States, having an umbrella near the door provides protection on the way to mailbox. It gives immediate shelter in bad weather. Personal storms also assail us in the guise of unhappiness and dark moods. On such days I need an umbrella of grace.... It unfolds above me for protection against myself, reminding me I am loved unconditionally...Under its protection, I am reminded that I'm not alone when storms break. I walk within the circle of God's love in Jesus Christ. Bad weather will come. Daily irritations and setbacks will pummel me. I do not live under the dark cloud of accusation, however, but under God's grace and forgiveness." He gives us a Romans 6 prayer to start the day this week. We pray:
"Gracious God, unfold your grace above me on my journey today. In Jesus' name. Amen.