23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift,
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood,
effective through faith.
He did this to show his righteousness,
because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;
This verse was a deal breaker for Luther. I have broken up the passage to focus on various ideas that explain grace. Our world is a tit for tat place. Actions have consequences and our experiences of grace may not be many. In fact many suffer from abuse and persecution for being a woman, a person of color, for having no protector…many suffer unjustly. We seek and long for justice. Ultimate power rests with God. Ultimate authority rests in the words he speaks. We access it through faith. Only God can bring justice. So what is grace?
We have all sinned. We would like to think by pointing our finger at anther we deflect the guilt of our own short-comings. I like the explanation that we are all sinners with a capitol “S”. We are all separated from God as we are born into this world. Sins, small “s,” are the bad things we do, the bad choices we make, the bad attitudes we have that only speak to our separation, “S”. Somehow we just can’t do right…all of the time. Last Sunday in our Gospel text a religious man who stood in the Temple or church thanking God that he was so wonderful and not like that horrible sinner standing on the fringes. Meanwhile the tax collector stood in a corner and cried, “Lord, have mercy.” Jesus said the tax collector went home “justified.” God gifts us, graces us with forgiveness when we turn to him in humility. Not because of our works but because of his choice. Faith is that turn to God and away from self.
So we come to the big theological term “atonement.” Merriam Webster says atonement is like “reconciliation.” I was surprised there is a award winning film called Atonement. In a convoluted life long story a younger sister ruins the love between her sister and her love and the two lovers die without being able to marry. The younger sister, old and sick, writes a story in which the couple is united and live happily ever after. The imaginary story atones for the real wrong of life. The author opens the way to happiness.
Because in Eden humanity turned away from God, in the cross, where God as Jesus suffers all the evils humanity could experience, God opens the door for atonement, an opportunity for us to turn back to him. Only God can atone. The saints cannot share their goodness with us. We must ourselves turn to God through faith. It is a gift we receive with open hands. We need not worry about being skeletons or bodiless spirits wandering this world in penance for our sins. God offers us a gift by his grace, not because of our goodness but because of his grace.
As we approach Halloween and Reformation Sunday, may we focus our attention on the grace of God’s goodness to us even when we can’t be good enough to deserve it. Let us say prayers of thanksgiving for forgiveness as a gift!