These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
"How can I make it right?" Ever said that to someone? Anyone ever said that to you? I am guessing that sooner or later most of us have had that said to us or we’ve said to someone else.
I hear that being said in so many words in Louisiana these days… a lot of people are wondering if BP can "make it right" – compensate all of those who have lost jobs, income, and maybe livelihoods for the catastrophic spill. Can they ever "make it right" for the environment? There is something within us that knows they bear responsibility… but wonders if it can be "made right."
Some of you have made loans to family, friends or others… and are waiting for them to make it right… Or maybe people owe you money for business… but have yet to receive what you are rightfully owed… you want them to make it right. The courts are full of people wanting someone to make it right.
There are times you and I or someone we know have been on the other end of that question as well asking, ""How can I make it right?"
As a child, you disobey your parents and you play with the valued ceramic figurine made by your grandmother… Your Mother told you not to play with… and you know what happens… it breaks. It was not a doll. There is no hiding… Mother is mad… for so many reasons… tears begin to flow… "I’m sorry Mom. I’m so sorry." How can I make it right? Well, you can’t honey. It is broken. Broken beyond repair. We can’t replace it. And you get that sinking feeling that comes from disobeying… from disappointment… that knows you have let your Mom down. Mom, how can I make it up to you?
Or, you are a teenager. Your parents warned you about speeding… it will cost you a ticket… and points on the insurance. You get the call. Mom, Dad… they caught me doing 70 in a 55 mph zone. A sinking feeling hits all of you. "Mom, Dad… how can I make it right? What can I do?" "Well, you can pay the ticket! You can pay for the lawyer. You can pay the points. You can make it right legally and financially. Much harder will be making it right relationally… you violated trust."
Or after years of being warned about drugs and alcohol… you find yourself addicted. You start lying to your parents… to your spouse… to your friends… to yourself… You start sneaking a drink or stealing from your parents to pay for the drugs… and you are caught. Or you hit rock bottom. And you are sorry… so sorry. You know it may take a long time for your friends and family to believe you… because you’ve lied so often. You ask your loved ones, "What can I do to make it up to you?"
"Well, to begin with, you can stop lying, stop drinking…doing drugs… lying… you can enter a 12 step program… but it is going to take a long time for me to trust you ever again. I’m not sure what you can do to make it up."
Or you have had an affair. And your husband or wife finds out. You are caught dead to rights. You have violated your vows… your love… your relationship. The one you love wonders if everything was based on a lie. You say, "I’m so sorry… oh, I’m so sorry. How can I make it up to you? How do I make it right?" And your loved one says, "I’m not sure you can. We can try counseling… but I don’t know"
If you understand anything of those stories… you understand the problem Paul saw in our relationship with God. Our relationship is broken. We have lied to God… to ourselves… we have disobeyed God… disappointed God… we have been selfish and self absorbed… We have put our needs and wants and desires before God… and we know it. And when we come to our senses like a prodigal child… we may find ourselves saying, "I’m sorry… I am so sorry God. How can I make it up to you? "
This is why we confess our sins before God in the privacy of our souls and in the fellowship of the church every week. Because the truth is… and you know it… unless you are self deceived and strangers to the truth… we are all in the same boat. All in need of forgiveness. As one of our new members said to me recently… and I’ve said it to you… "Everyone in this sanctuary has a story… a story of brokenness."
It’s an old story… this story of brokenness… seeking peace with God and one another. Over my life I’ve heard people talk again and again about "getting right with God." I hear people talk about finding peace within… and the role of centering prayer at finding peace with God.
It is an old, old quest. Augustine sought peace in his life and finally found it in the life of faith… After a fairly promiscuous and prodigal life of restlessness… a young adult life of wandering and searching… (I’m guessing during his late teens and early 20s) he returns to the faith of his mother… sharing a lesson he learned…"O Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee." And when he returned to faith… he found a gracious God waiting for him.
Paul knew something about a life that sought to get right with God… a life that would discover a peace that passes all understanding. The text today is just one of several places where he shares where he found peace.
"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… God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."
For years, Paul had tried to get right with God. He knew he was not right with God… he knew the world was not right with God. He knew what it meant to be weighed down, as we are by the problems, mistakes and hurts of our lives. He knew what it felt like to let God down.. To fail to live a life that is pleasing to God. Paul knew that these are the things that got in the way of finding peace with God and within himself.
He had tried for years to find peace with God-trying to make it right with God– by doing what he thought God expected him to do. He followed the law… the torah taught by Moses… He worshipped God faithfully-He made sacrifices required by the law of God… there were burnt offerings made to ask for God’s forgiveness… there were guilt offerings made… there were peace offerings made to God to ask God for a blessing… came from the organs of animals… He did it all!
Paul, knew what was expected and he tried to live the holy life… He even went so far as to seek to destroy those who were a threat to his understanding of faith.
He would have understood the motives of those who killed 93 muslims in their mosque in Pakistan this week. They were part of a minority group of Muslims who believed there was another prophet after Mohammed. The answer from those who disagreed? Kill them as they worship.
Old Saul, now known as Paul, encouraged the same thing be done to Jewish Christians as they were a threat to Judaism as he saw it.
Then Jesus came along, shook him up, and changed his whole way of thinking about how one finds peace within yourself or with God. He did a 180 theologically and spiritually. He discovered that peace comes not by getting right with God… rather peace is a gift that is offered to us through the sacrificial death of Christ… through the outpouring of love that comes through the Holy Spirit.
Peace is a gift. Peace is a gift of God’s unbelievable grace. God has done the work for us in Christ. It is Christ that gives us access to peace… into the grace in which we stand. Peace, is seems is not so much a matter of us getting right with God… as accepting the truth that God has made it right for us.
We Protestants are here you know because Martin Luther rediscovered this after the church went off course for years… centuries maybe. The church, over time began to teach that there were certain things you had to do to get right with God… You had to live a good life and holy… you had to be faithful… and if you didn’t, someone had to pay. Literally. Someone had to pay. Sometimes they did… they called them penances. Payments for sin. Payoffs to God. This is how Luther understood the faith for so long.
He was also tormented that he could never do enough to please God. For years he wondered how to make it right with God and to avoid hell? He had heard stories about monks who had abandoned their monastic habit and been turned away from the gates of paradise because they were not properly dressed for the occasion.
A holy God had high standards for us. So Luther became vigilant in practicing his faith. He was a model of prayer, fasting, devotion. As he said, if any monk ever got into heaven by his observance of monastic discipline (if any person got into heaven through his monkery) it was him. He tried everything… he tried to find peace in religion. In practicing the faith… to extremes… But as hard as he tried, he found no peace with God… He knew he always was letting God down. He never felt he could do enough to make it all up to God for his sins. It led him to despair.
Until… he started re-reading Romans… and discovered this text we read today… or re-discovered it. And he did a 180 turn. He discovered the path to peace he had sought for so long in his life. He discovered the path comes through faith… not works… not the law… not rules… but through Christ.
"Therefore, since we are justified by faith"…
Since we are set right with God, through faith…"we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand."
Peace… is a gift of God… a gift of grace. Grace means we don’t have to get right with God before God loves us… God loves us… and so God has done everything in God’s power to make it right for us… with us. It is grace.
Frederich Buechner helped me understand this. He said,
"Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth. A crucial peculiarity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing YOU have to do. There’s nothing you HAVE to do. There’s nothing you have to DO.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been but you ARE because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.
There is only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too." 1.
The gospel then seems to sound something like this to me:
"We have all messed up. Try as you may, there is nothing you can do to make it right God. But guess what. You don’t have to. God has made it right for us. Just accept that gift. Accept that gift. And you will find the peace that passes all understanding. Accept the gift and then you can offer God your thanks and praise by seeking to live a life that is pleasing to God." Amen.
1. Wishful Thinking P 33-34