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Reformation - Romans 3:19-28

Commitment Sunday was last weekend, but stewardship is not over.

It's not only that we will hear from Lisa Lambert today and others in weeks to come.

It's not only that there remain thank-you letters to write, reminders to send, pledges still trickling in.

Stewardship, a word too often misused to mean an annual tug on heart strings to loosen purse strings—the low budget church version of a Jerry Lewis telethon—is really a daily lifestyle.

Stewardship is the discipline of managing resources to match priorities, which takes constant attention and sooner or later requires firmness, flexibility, forgiveness, and fresh starts.

So it's a window into the life of faith.

With 95 things on his mind, Martin Luther started here:

1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” [Matt 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Repentance, to use our stewardship team's inspired phrase, is seeing again. It literally means turning around, a 180 degree change of mind, which leads to a completely different outlook on the world.

Look behind you, then look in front of you: not the same.

Christ's hope for us, Luther asserts, involves constantly turning around and therefore constantly seeing again.

The plural of repentance is reformation.

What is true for individuals is also true for the community of saints and sinners named church.

Our entire life together is one of being turned around, being changed by God, being recreated into something new—and the key for us is seeing again.

Luther had agonized over Saint Paul's words until he saw again:

Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith...

The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the "justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love...

Faith leads you in and opens up God's heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love.

This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness.

He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face. (Bainton, Here I Stand, pp. 49-50)

Luther saw God again in a radically different way, and the truth made him free.

But it didn't start with one human being seeing God again.

It started long before Luther, with God seeing human beings again.

Paul wrote to the Romans that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Jeremiah wrote to the exiles that they had cheated on God and broken the covenant.

Both were bulls-eye accurate.

But God looked at the unfaithful children of Israel and called them "my people."

God looked at the guilty sinners and called them "justified."

God looks at the oil tanker fire of broken, violent, hateful, petty, cruel, self-absorbed humanity and calls us beloved children with a place in the household forever.

The truth isn't something God observes; it's something God declares, true because God chooses how to see and say it.

So we, as individuals and as church, need constant, sometimes seismic shifts in perspective to align our vision with God's liberating truth.

When that happens, we will be amazed and possibly terrified by what we do not see.

We will not see lines; we won't see the distinctions or divisions to which we are so addicted.

We won't see conservative and liberal, native and foreign, male and female, Lutheran and Catholic, churched and unchurched, insider and outsider, friend and enemy, us and them.

To use Paul's language, we won't see Jew and Gentile.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Paul writes; we're all in the same leaky boat together.

He concludes this after two lengthy and ingenious chapters, first laying out the case against the Gentiles, then pivoting to his own people and prosecuting God's chosen people as well.

"We are no better than they are,"—words for us all to etch into our hearts.

All have sinned, all fall short...and all are graciously embraced by God in Christ.

What if we really believed that?

What if we didn't just spout it on Sundays but trusted it in the real world on Thursdays?

What if we behaved as if grace is the very heartbeat of daily life rather than just a safely theoretical church teaching?

What would change if we saw the entire world again as the family of God's dearly cherished?

How would we navigate LA traffic and public interactions and injustice?

How would we treat the priceless treasures that are other people?

How would we engage the relative whose politics drive us crazy?

How would we conduct business and speak to strangers and spend our money and time and energy and vote?

What if knowing the Lord went from an exercise in the head to a habit inscribed on the heart?

When Luther saw God again, with the eyes of his autographed heart, it changed the world.

When we have the same courage to see again, we can too.

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