October 25, 2020
“A Really Scary Story”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Epistle lesson previously read from Romans 3.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Today we celebrate Reformation Day, but next weekend is Halloween. Halloween’s origins date back to an ancient Celtic festival involving death and ghosts. By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands and Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs, and the night before was no longer a pagan festival. It began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Today it is a day associated with costumes and candy ghosts and trick or treating (probably not this year) and scary things. So keeping in that general theme, I have a really scary story to tell.
Once upon a time, there was a young couple named Allan and Eileen. Allan and Eileen were given a free place to live – can you imagine their luck! – a free place to live – an old mansion no less – right in the center of town. The landlord allowed Allan and Eileen to stay there as long as they maintained the place and as long as they followed one simple rule. They were to never, NEVER, go into the mansion’s cellar. It was strictly forbidden to go into the cellar. But you know how people behave…especially people in a scary story who should know better! Anyway, one day curiosity finally got the best of Allan and Eileen and they decided to go into the cellar anyway.
They inched their way to the huge cellar door and turned the door knob. It turned easily since the door was unlocked. The couple pushed open the door and it groaned on ancient hinges. They slid into the dark room. It was so dark they couldn’t see their hands in front of their face. They could see nothing…but they could hear. And what they heard make their hearts pound in terror! All of a sudden they felt something moving around their ankles. By the time Eileen found the light switch it was too late. Giant, mutant cockroaches scurried around the floor and around their legs. When they tried to turn and run both Allan and Eileen were bit.
When Allan and Eileen finally made it to the emergency room and saw a doctor, they were given good news and bad news. The good news was that researchers would be naming a new disease after Allan and Eileen. You can imagine the bad news. Their treatment was horrible; both Allan and Eileen suffered misery as doctors tried to fight off the terrible disease they were infected with. They fought and they fought, but they never were cured and both died. They never set foot in the mansion, or any other place for that matter, again. The end.
Pretty scary story, huh? That’s kind of a Halloween story. But what keeps the story from being REALLY scary is that it lacks any basis in reality. There’s no such thing as giant, mutant bugs. People are not really scared by what they know is not real. For something to be really scary – something truly terrifying – is to have its basis in reality.
Now do you want to hear a REALLY scary story – one that has its basis in reality and impacts each and every one of you? Once upon a time Adam and Eve were given the perfect Garden of Eden and they could stay there rent free! All they had to do was keep it up and follow one, simple rule. They were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17). That’s it. Don’t eat fruit from that tree. But you know what? They did, and as a result they got infected with sin and – here’s the scary part – all of us are infected too.
Once sin was unleashed on this world, there was no stopping it and no earthly cure. As a result, Adam and Eve were kicked out of that Garden and they one day died. And we suffer the same fate. Because we are victims of what is called original sin, we now commit daily or actual sins. We sin, that is, we fail to do what God commands and we do what God forbids. Romans 3:19-20 said, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law (that’s all of us), so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God (fairly scary, right?). Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” No one has escaped this sin infection – not a one. Romans 3:23 stated, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because of our sinfulness – our breaking of God’s Laws and commands – we deserve God’s wrath, His punishment, and the eternal death and damnation that is the fate of all sinners. Pretty scary story, huh?
But the story doesn’t end there. God knew humanity’s predicament, and because He is gracious and merciful, He did something about it. Paul went on to explain in chapter 3, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (v. 21-22a). The treatment for our sin disease was that someone satisfy God’s demand for breaking His Law, and that is what Jesus did. God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, came into this world for the express purpose of living and dying and rising again to “cure” our sinfulness. Christ is the One who brings forgiveness and salvation and peace and righteousness before God. It doesn’t come from us.
That is a message that Martin Luther realized and proclaimed over and over: “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (v. 28). That is a truth that Luther acknowledged and spoke of over and against a church that did its best to oppress both his soul and his pocketbook. For a time, Luther only knew the scary story of his impending judgment from a wrathful God until he discovered and confessed and tasted the sweetness of the Gospel – the forgiveness that is ours by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross. It was Luther’s teaching that began what we know today as the Reformation.
And maybe that’s what we need today – a modern-day Reformation. There is no doubt…you and I live in scary times. COVID-19 will just not go away and its effects will be felt for at least a generation. People are afraid about the future. We’re scared about our own futures, virus or no virus. These are scary times! Maybe for Halloween this year we skip the scary movies…this whole year has been “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” In reality, though, Halloween isn’t scary and now, because of Jesus, our future isn’t scary either. Your future is with Christ, and there’s nothing scary about that…only joyful! The trick here is on sin, death, and hell, for they were defeated by the cross and empty grave of Christ Jesus, which has become the ultimate treat for us all.