This Sunday has lots going on. It is proper 26 in the Revised Common Lectionary. The appointed lesson is Jesus and Zacchaeus. It is the account of a live transformed by an encounter with the living God. This Sunday is also what is known at Reformation Sunday. It is the time when Prostestant churches commemorate the deep truths that were lifted up from scripture by Martin Luther about salvation purely by grace. It is a time when we celebrate the word being proclaimed in a tongue that is understood by the people and the good news of the gospel. It is an account of lives transformed by encounters with the living God. This Sunday is also Halloween—a time of job security for dentists across the globe and a time to dabble in things a little more spooky and other wordly. Perhaps it is a time when we ponder encounters with things—living and dead—that are more powerful than us and surely not our good and living God.
For our focus this week we’ll use the appointed epistle for Reformation Sunday from Romans. May we all be blessed that we might share those blessings with all the people we encounter this week—saintly and sinful, no matter their faith, no matter their station in life and no matter what kind of costumes or masks they are wearing as they make their way through this life.
19 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. 20 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. 21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
The essence of the gospel can really be found in Romans 3:23-24.
We have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us have not lived into the image of God in which we were created. We were made and fashioned to be loving and gracious and giving people. We were made to be like Jesus who poured himself out for those who hated and reviled him. We were made to be like Jesus to serve as agents of healing in a broken world. We were made to be good stewards of all the gifts we receive from God—time, talent, treasure, creation, our relationships with other people, our bodies, the stories and blessings that come from others, etc., etc.
The music group Switchfoot says it this way in “Meant to Live”:
The simple answer to that lyrical question is yes, we have lost ourselves. We have wandered away and pierced ourselves and many with deep and lasting wounds. We have broken faith and covenant with our Maker. Left to our own devices we fail ourselves, we fail others and we fail God.
God knows our painful and broken ways. God experienced them firsthand as the spikes of wrath were driven into his hands and feet. God experienced them when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God knows all too well how we have wounded ourselves with our transgressions.
The good news is that God has come into the world as an act of grace and redeemed us. Jesus came into the world to bring healing and restoration. Surely those who encountered Jesus in the flesh know this deep truth. This truth is for us too. We are saved and made free through the living, loving, dying and rising again of Jesus.
As Jesus lives and works in us we grow in our abilities to be found and to live for that “so much more” that God had intended for us. On our lesser days we try to act as if these things depend on us and our own efforts. But we will never be justified by our own efforts and strivings. This legalistic approach to sanctification and redemption leads to despair and pain and death. We are saved through what Jesus did and does and is doing and is yet to do. Jesus is alive and so, too, are we.
Thanks be to God.
God, give us grace and peace to know you and to live into your gospel. Help us be agents of grace and peace to others and help them live into the gospel. You are good and gracious—help us grow into those traits, too. Amen.