Romans 3:19-28, Reformation C, October 27, 2013
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
It was a dark, stormy night in late October. The wind was howling through the trees and sending a chill down the backs of the people gathered. They stood in front of an old brick building. Their leader, Anthony, held a lantern high, revealing the stone that read, “61 Seminary Ridge.” As the crowd stared into the darkness of the building, Anthony described the horrible bloodshed that occurred one hundred fifty years ago at that very spot. He told of the Battle of Gettysburg and how this building was used to house the dead and dying.
Then Anthony began to describe the life of one soldier, Theodore, whose greatest joy in life was playing the piano. Even in death, Theodore haunted this building, creating sounds of a piano even though not one piano ever was kept in this building. Anthony said, “Sometimes we can hear the ringing tunes that Theodore played most.” Almost on cue, the crowd heard the distant sound of a lilting piano melody. At the same time, some lights within began to flicker and flash. A young girl in the crowd screamed in fright. Even Anthony jumped back, not expecting his words to ring so true.
This was a common occurrence on Seminary Ridge. Ghost tours walked through campus almost every evening when the weather was fair. The tour guides had rules that they were supposed to follow. They needed to stay so many yards away from the entrances to the buildings, and they were expected not to disturb the residents. These rules were set in place by the borough government to protect our privacy.
The ghost tour guides did not respect we residents nor our privacy. They would stand so close that their lanterns shone into the first floor dorm rooms, disturbing our peace. Because they disrespected our personal space, we felt no need to respect them. We preferred this “eye for an eye” mentality instead of “turning the other cheek” as Jesus taught us to do.
So, we had fun with the ghost tours. They said that Valentine Hall didn’t have a piano, but it did have a very out of tune piano right near where the tours would congregate. They also said that Valentine Hall existed during the Civil War, which is a blatant lie – it was built thirty years after the war. When they would shine their lanterns into our buildings, we would flash the lights at them. It was our way – I mean the ghosts’ way – of telling them to leave us alone.
During our ghost tour antics, we embraced Martin Luther’s encouragement to “sin boldly.” As good seminary students, we knew Luther’s whole quote. He said, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.”
Just as Luther told us to do, we did rejoice and believe in Christ many times more. We studied the law of the Bible in detail – even in Hebrew and Greek. Maybe even more than others, seminarians know the law well. We have read parts of Leviticus and know how strangely specific some Jewish laws are. We have studied the gospels closely, learning how counter cultural Jesus’ expectations are. The laws of the Bible are profound, and there is no possible way any of us can follow them all.
The law shows us how sinful we are. God in Christ Jesus sets the bar so high we can never reach it. We can never fully become the people that God wants us to be. In Luther’s understanding, we are worms, pathetic, hopeless creatures impossible of becoming saints. This sinfulness overwhelmed Luther. He was known to confess his sins multiple times a week. He lived in a monastery – how much trouble could he get into?
Having such an overwhelmingly negative opinion of himself, Luther then found the grace of God to be incredibly uplifting. On his own, he could not reach the bar that God set for him, yet with God lifting him up, Luther could reach that bar. Of his own doing, Luther was a sinner, yet God also made him a saint. We all are fully sinner and fully saint. God does this for each of us, calling it grace. Despite how terrible we are at following God’s law, God loves us. God wants us to have a good relationship, so God has forgiven us of all our sin.
This forgiveness – this grace – is a gift from God. There is nothing we can do to earn it. There is nothing we can do to buy it. There is nothing but to receive it gratefully with open arms. This gift was enacted through the cross, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Luther wrote, “Therefore we exult and rejoice that God’s Son, the one true God together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, became man, a servant, a sinner, a worm for us; that God died, and bore our sins on the cross in His own body; that God redeemed us through His own blood.”
Through this grace, this forgiveness of sin, through death on the cross, Christ gives us life everlasting. Life. Forever with God, forever experiencing the depth of love that God has for us. This life is with God, beginning at our baptism and continuing through our earthly lives and beyond.
Our Christian lives are rich with experiences of God in our worship and in our prayers. The Holy Spirit moves in us in mysteriously beautiful ways enabling us to serve our neighbors. For what is impossible for us as wormlike sinners is possible for God.
God’s love for us is shown most profoundly in Jesus’ victory over the grave. Our lives are complete in him, so we need not fear our own graves. We also need not fear over ghost stories. For all we know, there is a silly student inside an old building flashing the lights. Amen.