June 18, 2017
Most of us can probably point to some reading that we have done throughout our lives that have really helped shape us as individuals. It is in these readings that we find direction and even redirection. It may have been a teacher that impacted our life through the encouragement to read. Reading is important. To continue to grow as people, reading is essential. Ask almost any person that has grown significantly in what they do, and they will be able to tell you what is on their reading lists.
Some of the early books that shaped me were The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemmingway. I remember my eighth-grade teacher telling me to revisit it as an adult because it would connect at an even different level. The poetry of Walt Whitman was also one of my favorites. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton was essential as my faith and spiritual life began to take shape.
While the ability and availability to read has increased in humanity over the last several centuries, we must remember that at one time it was only the well-to-do that had access and could afford books. Also, they were the few that were literate.
What is it about Paul’s writing that grasped the attention of the canonical councils to include many of his letters in the New Testament?
Paul had a storied history as a Pharisee. Yet, this meant he was well-trained and very educated. He was a persecutor of those that followed Jesus and did what he thought at the time was necessary to preserve the Jewish faith. However, it was in his conversion that he came to truly know Christ and was able to truly experience the gospel for the first time. He became a teacher for Christ. His letters helped shape the early Christian church.
His letters communicated the gospel to the communities he wrote. This was their first true teaching. The four gospels we are familiar with had not even been written yet. Paul was their connection to the Lord and Messiah, Jesus Christ. His letters brought hope and direction.
Somewhere along the timeline of the Christian church, this message had been lost amidst the hierarchy of the church. That is until Martin Luther recovered it in the early sixteenth century. As we each have our own readings that shape and give us direction in life, Martin Luther recovered something in Paul’s letters, and specifically Romans, that would change the course of Christianity forever.
Reflecting on Romans, Martin Luther wrote that, “this epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel…. It is a bright light, almost efficient to illuminate the entire Holy Scriptures.”
Our four gospels in the Bible help share the story of Jesus Christ from different viewpoints. They share his birth, ministry and miracles, and death and resurrection. In these alone we are given hope for tomorrow. It is in Paul’s letters that we see that gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, at work in the world.
As we enter into Paul’s world this summer, through his letter to the Romans, we encounter the power that is in the Gospel that Jesus lived out for each and every one of us. In his study of the letter to the Romans, Martin Luther uncovered the good news of grace. A grace of God that is unmerited and shows the love of God for all of creation.
This is the foundation of our Lutheran faith. It is in this revelation, that Luther would eventually help be drawn to write his Ninety-Five Thesis. This Word of God was with us all along, yet got buried under the orthodoxy of the church and simple human sinfulness.
The grace of God can be found throughout our Bible. In our gospel lesson, Matthew writes that, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). This is pure grace that is shown through compassion and love for those that would not receive it from anyone else. It is this grace that Paul was given when Christ reached out to him and asked why he was persecuting him.
Prior to our lesson this morning in Romans, Paul has been discerning the righteousness of God for the last couple of chapters. It is a conclusion to his discussion on God’s righteousness that he writes, “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.”
As Lutherans, we have come to understand that the forgiveness of sins is not on account of our merit, but by the grace of God.
There is a rift between humanity and God because of our sin. It is Christ that brings us peace and in this we are reminded through Luther that we are both saint and sinner. It is not our goodness that merits the grace, but God’s goodness that washed over us. There is nothing that we can do to merit this grace, for what would Christ have accomplished on the cross if we were able to do it all on our own.
Martin Luther was called to ministry and the study of the Bible. In his reading, he found a hope and grace that shapes us today. What have you read or who have you encountered that reflects the grace of God?
The grace of God fills our lives on a daily basis. It is this grace that we will encounter this summer in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is this grace that fills our days and promises us life everlasting in Jesus Christ.