Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our readings for today are the pure gospel. We have spoken in these past weeks about the themes of the law and the gospel. The focus has been on the law. What is the consequence of rejecting the mercy of God in the gospel. To trust our own righteousness is to invite the wrath of God, because none of us can perfectly fulfill God's law. The consequence, then, is condemnation. But, although the law is the will of God for us to live, also the will of God is for no one to be condemned.
The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has perfectly fulfilled the law in our places and because of him we have a good relationship with God and the promise of eternal life. The law and the gospel are two sides of the same message. To understand the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ, we must listen to the preaching of the law. The law touches our hearts and calls us to repentance. The gospel leads us to new life, but we must first hear the law.
We speak of law and justice in the eyes of God. Each person has his concept of what is good or what is bad, because God created us and wrote his law in our hearts. But, knowledge of the law without the Word of God is distorted by our sinful nature. In the Holy Scriptures, we find the law revealed by God in its purity. And this law condemns us, because we are sinners.
However, last Sunday, Father's Day, we spoke of God as a heavenly Father, who punishes his children to teach them the right way, not to harm or destroy His children. We read in our gospel for today, Luke 15: 1-10, "Thus I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Every human being has value in God's eyes first because we are all God's creatures. He has purpose for every human life. In this world there are many differences in the conditions of men. There are rich and poor, people of good reputation and those of low esteem in the community. As children we are weak and we need the help of our parents; In their old age, parents need the help of their children. Some people have many strengths of the body or mind; others are disabled. But they are all creatures of God.
Also, we are equal in our spiritual state without Christ. Some people are murderers and thieves; others seem like good citizens by their outward deeds. But within their hearts everyone has the focus on their own desires and the lack of love for God and their neighbors. Everyone needs a Savior. But, we are also equal in the grace of God, because Christ died for everyone on the cross and everyone has the same promise of eternal life at baptism.
Today I want to highlight the words of Saint Paul in 1 Timothy 1: 12-17. “And I give thanks to him who strengthened me, Jesus Christ our Lord; because he considered me faithful, putting me in the ministry; having previously been a blasphemer, and a persecutor and an insulter; but I was received in mercy because I did it out of ignorance, in unbelief. But the grace of our Lord was more abundant with the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. Faithful and worthy word to be received by all; that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. ”
Who was Saint Paul? He wrote most of the New Testament epistles and they were the first missionary to the world outside of the Jewish people. But, we find Paul first as a young man named Saul in chapter seven of the book of Acts. After the day of Pentecost, the church grew in Jerusalem, but encountered persecution by non-believing Jews. This is the story of the first martyr of the Christian faith, Deacon Stephen. He testified of his faith in Christ and we read thus: “And throwing him out of the city, they stoned him; and the witnesses put their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen, while he invoked God and said: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. ”
This Saul of Tarsus grew up in a family of the Pharisees and was very zealous for the traditions of his ancestors. When the followers of Jesus Christ fled to other parts because of the persecution in Jerusalem, their departure from the city was not enough for Saul. With permission from the authorities, he traveled to Damascus to search for and kill Christians there. But, on the way to Damascus, his life changed with a vision from the Lord. “And I give thanks to him who strengthened me, Jesus Christ our Lord; because he considered me faithful, putting me in the ministry. ” The Lord directly called Saul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Saul, who adoped the Greek name, Paul, was very learned, not only in the traditions of the Jews, but also in the philosophy and poetry of the Greeks, as he demonstrated in Athens.
The book of Acts begins with the account of the Ascension of the Lord, then that of Pentecost. And after Pentecost, the first part deals with the church in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria with the focus on Saint Peter. The next part deals with Paul's missionary journeys, culminating in Paul's arrival in Rome. With Paul, the Word of God came to the center of the Roman empire.
But, this man said, "I am the chief of sinners." We learn from Paul's example that no one is too bad for his life to change through the grace of Christ. Paulo left his life of privilege to be imprisoned, shipwrecked, flogged and more. Paul did not dedicate his life to Christ for his own righteousness, but for the work of the Holy Spirit.
We too, no matter our past, can be changed by the gospel of Christ. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can endure all trials and persecution in the name of Christ.
May the peace that passes all understanding be with you. Amen.
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