Results of Justification
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
~ Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
~ Ephesians 2:8-10 (NRSV)
The world that we live in is a mess, isn’t it? Just open the newspaper, turn on the news, or check your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Whether it be fighting in our communities, mass shootings, terrorist attacks around the world, political arguing and finger pointing, horrific accidents, natural disasters, or the number of children around the world that go to bed hungry at night, we are inundated with stories of hurt and pain and brokenness. And even in our own lives, we become overwhelmed with our responsibilities and our busy schedules and the things that don’t go the way we want them to.
Sometimes the struggles that we face come from our own poor planning, or our lack of organization, or our big hearts that take on more than we should, or many times even because of things that are simply outside of our control. We make mistakes sometimes, and we say and do things without really thinking about what the consequences will be for us or for the people around us.
Remember that we are all human beings, and we say and do things that sometimes hurt other people. And to be honest, sometimes other people hurt us. That is not the way that Jesus teaches us to react to a situation or to treat a neighbor, but our emotions—whether happy or sad or angry or frustrated or excited—can cause us to say and do things that we sometimes wish we hadn’t.
I know that I’ve asked this question before, but I just want to check in again with all of you to make sure that I’m not the only one. Have any of you ever made a mistake? Something that you later regretted saying or doing? Believe me, we all have. But the good news from the Book of Ephesians today reminds us that, even when we make mistakes and poor choices, God’s grace is always there to help us and to save us and to get us back on track.
I don’t know how many of you noticed that there were a few “different” things in the bulletin this morning. First, the cover that we have had each week during Lent so far—you know the one that spelled out the word “IMAGINE” with themes for each letter. The bulletin cover that I talked about just last week, letting you know that it would act as a guide for us through the season of Lent. Well, you may notice that that bulletin cover has changed this week. And you may also notice that we also have two scripture readings today, which would not be strange in many churches, but for the past few months here in Oldtown we have only been having one.
Those changes happened this week because my eyes were opened to a mistake that I had made. I know, you may be shocked that even your pastor makes mistakes! But in my excitement to use the word “imagine” to organize our weekly Lenten themes, I didn’t realize that there were six weeks of Lent and seven letters in the word “IMAGINE.” So, our plan had an extra week!
Now I know I could have gone back and changed all of the themes and end with the letter “E” being Easter, but that sounded like way too much work. So this week, we are squeezing two themes into one. And that’s okay because they have similar roots, and it’s possible that by squeezing the two together, we might learn more than we expected.
The two themes are an assurance of God’s love and giving the gift of forgiveness. They may sound very different because one is about love and one is about forgiveness, but I think we just might learn that they are more closely connected then we think.
To begin, I hope you’ll all forgive me for my mistake in our Lenten plan. The truth is my friends, sometimes mistakes and challenges help us to learn and understand a little more. Believe me, I’ll never forget that the season of Lent has six weeks! But it’s possible that this little glitch that we have experienced will help us to better remember not only the fact that Lent has six weeks, but also the connection between love and forgiveness.
If we look back to our reading from the book of Romans for just a minute, we see that suffering and challenges produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. Now please understand that this does not mean that God makes bad things happen so that we will become stronger. It simply means that sometimes when we face difficulty, we learn and grow by standing firmly in our faith.
There are many, many stories about forgiveness and the assurance of God’s unconditional love. But one of the most well-known is about a man named John Newton who was born on July 24, 1725, in London, England. His father was also named John, and he was a ship’s captain. His mother, whose name was Elizabeth, sadly died when he was only six or seven years old. At that point, the young John Newton seems to have gone adrift. He lashed out, finding trouble everywhere he went, and at the age of eleven, he decided to go out to sea. Obviously, it was a very different time from now!
His first voyage was on one of his father’s ships. Though he worked on his father’s ship, they did not get along. Then for a time, he was in the Navy but was soon dismissed because of his difficult nature. By his own account, he lived an immoral life as a sailor. He made many, many poor choices!
On March 21, 1748, Newton was aboard a ship called the Greyhound, and by then he was a seasoned sailor when a terrible storm arose. Newton was asleep in his cabin when he was awakened by water rushing into his room. He spent the whole night furiously pumping water off the ship’s deck trying to keep the ship from going under. Some of his fellow sailors lost their lives, but he managed to survive. In the midst of the storm, he cried out a very simple prayer: “Lord, have mercy.” He was struck by his own words, for he had little to no time for God, and he cared nothing for mercy. Actually, he often spoke ill of people who had faith, but what he experienced that night, would eventually change his life.
Newton led three more voyages to sea continuing his work as a slave trader, but he soon felt in his heart a different call. Finally, in 1754, he left his work at sea and surprised everyone by becoming a pastor. Though he preached with fervor, he is not remembered for his sermons, but rather for the hymns that he wrote. The most famous being, of course, “Amazing Grace.” “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see”
Friends, the good news is that God can see beyond the worst mistakes that we have ever made. No matter what struggles and challenges we have faced in our lives, whether they were brought on by our own behavior or simply situations that we have found ourselves in, God has and will always love us and forgive us. Not because God is looking for us to be perfect but because as the book of Romans told us today, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” And my friends, that happens so that as people who have been loved and forgiven by God even when we sometimes don’t deserve it. We might go out to love and forgive others, even when we might not think that they deserve it either.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t be overwhelmed by mistakes and challenges in your life. Remember that God created you for good works, but God also forgives you and loves you unconditionally no matter what!
My Friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!