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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Happy Father’s Day! Six years ago this week when my father died, my brother and sisters packed up the last of his possessions from his room in the nursing home, as well as a few Rubbermaid bins from the sale of our childhood home, and carried them away. We all sighed, and laughed, and looked at this odd collection of things, mostly pictures, newspaper clipping s and medals. It is perhaps one of the greatest regrets that every son or daughter feels when a parent dies. They realize that they didn’t spend enough time prodding for all their questions to be answered. And so they leave wondering what was it that truly inspired and sustained their beloved mother or father all their life? We still do not know what “Heroic or meritorious achievement or act” our father performed in World War II that earned him the Bronze Star. Nor do we know what pride he felt in playing guard on the Ellendale High School football team that had one of the longest winning streaks in the State of Minnesota. But one award we did know about, and that was his medal from the Boy Scouts of America for his service in nurturing young men in faith. It was known as the Silver Lamb Award. You see, my father was not a trained theologian, but believed that everything, you really needed to know about faith could be learned in Sunday School.
For years, one of my favorite, inspirational books was Robert Fulgum’s, “All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.” Apparently, he agreed with my father. Wisdom,” he wrote , “was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”
For my father, this was true about Sunday School as well. It was where you first learned the lessons of a heavenly Father, who so loves you so much that he has sent his only begotten Son, to guide you and shepherd you, and to inspire you to make a difference in our troubled world, and often in equally troubled lives. Unfortunately, we tend to forget those lessons as we grow older, or at least we are led to believe that they were really not that important.
Every once in a while, however a verse of scripture is read on a Sunday morning that forces us to stop and reflect on “all that we really need to know and learned in kindergarten,” and that is true of our lesson today from the Letter to the Romans, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Justification is a word that is hard to understand. My father could not explain it, and many fine Lutheran pastors try to avoid it. But the good news that it brings is as pure and as simple as any lesson learned in kindergarten. .Justification brings peace with God. It was the good news that sustained my father all of his life, in war and in peace. My friends, let us begin this day by meditating on the gift of peace that justification brings, and then let us turn to justification itself.
Many people today do not understand the importance of this abiding and sustaining peace for their lives. A man visited his doctor for an examination. The physician asked, “Now, what seems to be the trouble?” The patient answered: “Doc, I’ve got troubles everywhere I look. I’ve got troubles in my business; troubles at home; troubles everywhere – and I’m just plain run down!” When the examination was finished, the physician said to the patient, “You’re not run-down. Just the opposite – you’re wound up!” The man responded, “Well, Doc, give me something to slow me down then.” “What do you want?” asked the doctor. “Give me a tranquilizer or something.” “Very well,” responded the doctor as he sat down and began writing a prescription. The man took the prescription and stuck it in his pocket without looking at it. He rushed off to the neighborhood drugstore to get the prescription filled. The pharmacist looked at the prescription and said to the man, “I’m sorry, but I can’t fill the prescription!” “What do you mean, you can’t fill the prescription!” retorted the man. “This is a drugstore, isn’t it? You are a pharmacist, aren’t you? That’s a doctor’s prescription, so why can’t you fill it?” The pharmacist answered, “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t stock this in our store. If you want this prescription filled, go home and get your Bible.” The man looked at the prescription for the first time and read: “Take three doses of Romans 5:1 every day.” He went home and looked up the verse in his Bible. It read: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” . Immediately, the man called the doctor and asked, “What do you mean by this prescription?” The physician answered. “Your trouble isn’t physical. It’s spiritual. What you need is peace. I can’t give it to you; the pharmacist can’t give it to you; only God can give you peace.”
It is such a simple lesson, and yet so difficult to accept. We simply refuse to acknowledge God’s unmerited and free gift of peace. The reformer Martin Luther who had been trained both in law and theology struggled to find that confidence and peace with God. When Luther first taught the Book of Romans as a young professor in Wittenberg, he wrestled with the demands of scripture, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” Like most believers in the 16th century, Luther accepted the Catholic teaching that God was far more interested in punishing sinners than rewarding the righteous. No one was ever worthy or righteous enough to come to God- except in fear. In his writings, Luther admitted that, in those days he hated God. For him, God’s Law condemned him, and the Good News was interpreted as just a stricter set of rules. Finally one night, when Luther was 35 years old, while reading the Book of Romans, in a moment he referred to as his ‘Tower Experience” the Spirit opened his eyes, and Luther realized that God meant for justification through Jesus Christ to be a gift. Righteousness was not about what you as a believer needed to do in order for God to forgive and forget your sins and failings. In Romans, Luther read that in Jesus Christ, God had already declared the past forgiven and forgotten. By believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are already at peace with God, so get going, boast in sharing the glory of God. That’s what Luther discovered in Romans. Later Luther wrote, “I felt as if I had been completely reborn and had entered Paradise through widely opened doors.” Before Luther had feared God and considered him his enemy, but now he realized that God was his friend.
This liberated and free relationship, you see, is so close to the heart of God that he will not let you go. It is rooted in Christ, and his love for you. It was the first lesson my father learned in Sunday School and it is the first lesson every child learn in their family. Even at those times when the child is misbehaving, the relationship between parent and child is still locked in place and cannot be broken.
Now let us turn to the word justification. In its purest theological sense, justification is really a legal term. It describes what God declares about you as a believer, regardless of how you see yourself. It is how God has chosen to see you as his beloved children. Legal declarations are a regular part of life. When we adopted our sons 22 years ago in a courtroom in Russia, the judge declared them to be our sons, and issued them a new name. A year later a judge in a small, immigration office in Bloomington declared them to be American citizens. Every year, twenty or so couples stand before this altar, and I declare couples to be husband and wife. Minutes before they were an engaged couple, but after the declaration is spoken, they are now married. Nothing physically is actually changed about the couple when those words are spoken. But their status is changed before the law, before their family and friends, and before God. The implications of that simple declaration are lifelong and life-changing. That same is true of your assurance of peace with God’s declaration that you are justified through Christ.
Of course, it doesn’t t mean that you will no longer be tempted to sin. Nor, does it mean that you will never have doubts or question God’s purpose in your life. But regardless of what your past and present has been, you needn’t be afraid of what you have done, or whether you have done enough. You have God’s welcome and his loving invitation to come to him. Yes, you have peace with God. And more importantly, through faith in Jesus Christ, you have been given access to his infinite strength and grace to change your life. God has declared that you are his adopted sons and daughters, and through faith in his Son you have been given the citizenship of heaven, and his assurance that there is nothing in all creation that can separate you from his love in Christ Jesus- not even your sin. Yes, regardless of your fears and anxieties, your failings and shortcoming, you are assured that that there is nothing that you can do to repay such a gift. That was the lesson my father learned as a young boy that sustained him in war, in peace and in life, and it was the truth he longed to share with a generation of Boy Scouts. It is a Father’s Day gift that I receive each year anew from him.
My friends, “All I Really Needed to Know about faith and life, I Learned in Kindergarten.” Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. These are all important lessons. But it was also where I learned of a forgiving, heavenly Father who loves me – even when I disappoint him. It was where I learned of his son Jesus, who calls me his own, and who like a loving shepherd will not let me go, even when I stray. And it there that I learned of the Holy Spirit, that is always knocking at the door of my heart and call me to turn around, and see the loving face of God. To those who believe in Jesus Christ, that is what peace with God brings. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.