A Reading from Romans, the 3rd Chapter
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. 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. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
Listen now to Reformation Day parable. Once there was a parent. A wonderful parent, but like any parent, this parent’s kids were sometimes wonderful and sometimes... well, more of a challenge. When it was time for the kids to drive, this caring, compassionate parent sat on the front porch and wondered what would be the best way to go about this thing. The first idea was to sit down and write out an agreement with the kids. They do their part... drive responsibly, no speeding, no drinking and driving, maybe put a little gas in it and this would EARN them the right to drive and this parent would do their part by letting them use the car and pay the insurance.
Both parent and kids agreed to this plan but like most good-parent-plans it didn’t last for long. The insurance premiums were paid, but some of the kids burnt the rubber off the tires in the Wal-mart parking lot, others left the tank on empty and there were even some reports of some seriously dangerous driving too. This parent was pretty upset… some about the tires and the empty tank, but mostly at the scary, dangerous stuff; this parent REALLY loved their kids. It got so bad the kids were grounded and the keys taken away until it was decided what to do about all this.
The parent considered all the usual parental solutions; an infinite grounding, military boarding school, beatings with various sized branches and sticks and even death. But in the end, the conclusion was that there was no really good solution that would both make the kids understand AND keep their relationship in tact. At some point, this parent knew that punishment would have to escalate to the point where it would alienate the kids and this parent was obsessed with the idea of maintaining a relationship with the kids no matter what. Love seemed to be this parent’s biggest weakness. In the end, it was determined that there was no deal or bargain that could be made with these kids that they would be able to live up to perfectly and this parent was wise and knew that if the hammer kept being brought down on the kids every time they messed up, then sooner or later the kids would be run away and for this parent, that was simply unacceptable.
So, it was decided to do something radical, crazy, unconventional and even a little different. The kids, apparently, weren’t able to EARN the right to drive the car. They would never be able to drive well enough, so instead of continuing to raise the punishments to the point the kids ran away from home, this parent went and gave each kid their own, brand, new car! Every single one, no matter how responsible or irresponsible... no matter what grades they got, how well they did in driver’s ed, no matter EVEN if they paid attention in confirmation or not. Cars were given in a way that would make even Oprah, green with envy... You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Every single one of this crazy, backwards, parent’s kids got a brand new car! Now, there was obviously a cost to this decision. You don’t just buy a new car for every single kid without a price. But to this particular parent, the price (which cost the parent everything by the way) was worth it because THAT is how much this parent loved their kids... with EVERYTHING they had... and punishing them and risking loosing them was just never an option.
The kids reacted to this seemingly insane gift in very different ways. Some simply thought it was too good to be true... it must be a test or a trap... they didn’t trust the Word that this was a free gift and wouldn’t even get in. Instead, they continued to try to follow all the rules and wait for the day they would finally EARN the car on their own merits. They had the keys. The scorecard that had kept track of violations before had been torn up but that didn’t seem to matter. They continued to try to EARN the right to drive the car and so they never got in their car... they never really drove it. This loving parent just shook their head at this choice and wondered why those kids chose to live such a grumpy life and not just get out on the road and drive.
Some kids, on the other hand, thought their parent had temporarily lost it and drove off like maniacs worried their parent would come back to their senses any minute. They drove in crazy and reckless ways that hurt themselves and others around them. Their loving parent, of course, hated that this was the way they chose to drive simply because, as a loving parent, they didn’t ever want to see their kids hurt or anyone hurt for that matter. But no matter how they chose to drive, the car remained theirs, and each kid always remained an unconditionally loved child, no matter how they chose to drive.
Some of the kids, though, were very thankful for this wonderful gift. They understood what a sacrifice this had been and tried to drive responsibly; buckling up, not blowing through yellow lights and the like. They did occasionally speed a little; a few even wrapped their car around a tree in one of life’s unavoidable accidents. They weren’t perfect drivers, but they did try. Their loving parent knew that they wouldn’t ever be perfect drivers but rejoiced when they did their best and lived their lives out on the road, driving the gifts they had been given. After all, DRIVING was the reason they were given cars to begin with!
You and I individually and you and I collectively as the Body of Christ are God’s kids you know. Our loving and generous parent has given us a bright, shiny, brand new life in the waters of Baptism. There are no payment books, no catches, no agreements to sign, no limits to where or how we can drive it. The only question is, what are we going to DO with this incredible, grace filled gift?
A new, and somewhat interesting stretch of road has just opened up to us as a congregation. It’s got some twists and turns we haven’t driven before. Those new twists promise to make driving both more exciting but also a bit more nerve wracking all at the same time. The question for us is will we choose to turn off our well traveled road and take this new St. Mark’s highway? Well, I can’t speak for you all, but for me... I’d like to get in and put the top down, (yes life is a convertible) turn off the well worn route we’ve taken this far and open ‘er up (yes does come with a V-8) and see where this new road takes us! I feel confident in doing that because I trust God’s Word... that this life has been given to us to not just live, but to live ABUNDANTLY! I trust that no matter how this trip goes... whether perfectly or even wrapped around a tree, God’s love for us will never waver. So, with a new car given as a free gift, a challenging new road laid in front of us and a parent that loves us unconditionally, I say... Let’s go for a DRIVE! Amen.