August 25, 2013: 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, today we celebrate the gift of Your grace given to us by faith. How wonderful it is to be freed from the silly guilt-based religions of the world that know nothing of Your grace. How uplifting it is to know that our future and the future of our Christian loved ones rests securely in Your loving hands. May we never take Your grace for granted! Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE OUR YOURS FROM CHRIST THE GIVER OF GRACE!

TEXT: Romans 3: 23-25: “There is no difference. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

75 years ago the sainted Rev. George Lillegard arrived at this congregation and was installed as its pastor for the next 24 years. Prior to his arrival he had been a missionary in China. Rev. Lillegard preached many a sermon from this exact same pulpit. And no doubt, he could tell you first-hand of an issue I’m going to address today. This past Tuesday on the front page of my “Wall Street Journal” there appeared an article entitled: “In Hong Kong, Inflation Worries Spook the Spirit World.” The sub-heading said this: “Comfort in the Afterlife Requires Lots More ‘Ghost Money’; a $1 Trillion Bill.” Naturally, I read the article and it left me shaking my head, while at the same time appreciating God’s grace all the more.

I

Every culture is concerned about the afterlife. We all want to be assured that grandma and grandpa are in some sort of “good place” after their deaths. We also hope to join them someday. The Chinese people are no exception. For hundreds of years the living relatives have been burning something called: “ghost money” to help insure a happy life for their death relatives. This fake money resembles Monopoly bills with various denominations printed on them. People buy this “ghost money” and then burn it so that dead loved ones will have money to spend in the afterlife in order to have a good time. Well, since inflation is humming along in Hong Kong, they have been printing larger and larger bills—1 million dollar ones on up to a trillion dollar bill, so that grandma and grandpa can also keep up with inflation in their version of “paradise.” Yes, they still print smaller bills (which sell for much less) for “everyday spending money.” But if they want their dead relatives to live in a nice condo or home in the afterlife, just like in today Hong Kong, it will cost a lot more. Hence the “inflation in ghost money.” They even celebrate a “Hungry Ghost Festival” each year to lay a guilt trip on the earthbound relatives and insure the merchants of “ghost money” can turn a profit! My first reaction to all this was to laugh out loud. My second was thinking: “Isn’t this sad?” My third was: “Thank You, God, for Your grace!”

II

Most of us were baptized as infants. That means that for our entire life we’ve known nothing other than God’s grace. We’ve grown up knowing that God loved us so much that He sent His only Son Jesus to pay completely and entirely for the sins of the world. We’ve known from little on that if we die we go to heaven to be with Jesus and He provides everything we will ever need for total bliss—for unending freedom! He bought and paid for it all already with His blood, shed for us on the cross. We know that no human good deeds done either by us, or our future relatives, are needed to buy our way into paradise. Christ, is pure love, in pure grace, has already done so! Thus, we don’t have to live with guilt on our consciences as to whether or not we’ve done enough or been good enough when it comes to the afterlife. Christ is pure Goodness, He’s God’s Son, and by giving us His grace everything He has earned becomes ours. That’s St. Paul’s point in our lesson where he writes: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified (declared righteous in His sight) freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

III

After reading the article on “ghost money” my thoughts drifted to the view of many within visible Christendom concerning “purgatory.” Most of you know a bit about this, but let’s review. During the early middle ages the church of Rome developed their teaching on purgatory. They pulled it from an obscure passage in 2 Maccabees, an apocryphal book that isn’t in the accepted canon of the Bible as we know it. From this obscure reference they spun off this money maker—much like “ghost money” in Hong Kong. This view of purgatory says that Christ paid for the big sins of people on the cross, but not for the little ones, the venial sins. Then they invented an imaginary place called purgatory where future heavenly inhabits go first, after death, and must remain until the debt of those venial sins is wiped out. This is accomplished by the living relatives here on earth. Rome sells “mass cards” where private masses with no one present other than the priest are held to accomplish this. Likewise, “prayer cards” are sold so that extra prayers can speed up their time in purgatory. Additionally pious actions on your part will also help shorten grandma’s time in the never-never land of purgatory! This too is sad. And it’s wrong. It undermines and subverts the whole meaning of God’s grace. It takes away from Christ’s victory.

Paul states that we are all justified freely by God’s grace. Jesus did everything necessary to save us. He also states that Jesus was a “sacrifice of atonement” for us. What does that mean? It harkens back to the ancient “Day of Atonement” in the OT church. There, once a year, the blood of a lamb (prefiguring Christ) was shed and sprinkled on the top of the ark of the covenant. Then the high priest would wipe his bloody hands on a goat, the scapegoat, symbolically getting rid of any guilt after which that goat was let loose in the wilderness to wander. Take the word atonement apart and you have “at one moment.” Yes, at one moment in time, on the cross, God’s Son became the Atonement Lamb and the Atonement Scapegoat for us! Nothing more on our part is needed—ever! Purgatory may be a great money-making scheme and causes a lot of guilt for the living, but it’s lousy theology and subverts the true meaning of grace, doesn’t it?

I bring all this up today because you and I need to truly appreciate God’s grace. We need to thank Him for it on a daily basis. We need to trust in His Word of truth and trust in His love, His grace, to free us from any and all guilt. After hearing all this, I hope you now realize just how blest you really are! Amen