I remember the day I took a yellow highlighter and ran it across these words in my Bible during high school. I was confirmed a few months prior, in the sweltering heat of a Sunday in August. My shirt and tie and the robe I wore over them, stuck to my body. I stood alongside my friend Ed, my pastor’s son. In the months leading to confirmation, we crammed our memory work from Luther’s Small Catechism: not only the parts, but also each of the meanings we would scribble down on small squares of paper after we walked into the church building. I know so many who think confirmation is so extra, so beside the point. But at that time in my life, confirmation was amazing. In the space of an hour each Wednesday afternoon, words like, grace, and mercy, and love, and forgiveness, echoed in my ears as words of promise which worked inside me to release me from fear, and sadness, and pain, and shame. I had a strange sense that I was known, seen, loved, and forgiven by God, wholly and completely, world without end.
Grace. Mercy. Love. Forgiveness. Take a moment and say those words one after the other. Say them slowly. Listen in between the syllables. Close your eyes as you say them so you may rest your weary selves in the palm of God’s hand. Let God do the work God promises to do in, through, and with you. Release those things which hold you back. Lean into the stream of God’s grace that finds and flows around you. For a while, for a day, for a moment, trust God’s grace surrounds you, in your breath and in your movement: God is here, with you. Trust God’s grace, which is a gift of God for you. Trust God’s grace to hold and heal you.
Trust God’s grace. Trust God. Trust.
Still: trust is not an easy thing to do. We have trusted and been hurt by others. We have trusted and yet what we have given ourselves to never came to full fruition. We have trusted and then taken trust away when things have not gone the way we have wanted or have not happened as quickly as we had hoped they would. We have trusted. And then we have not. After that we slowly turn from God to seek the things we long for in others. And then we are hurt even more deeply. You can see where this is going: in a circle, a pattern that never ends.
When it comes to our relationship with God, trust doesn’t work from the outside in, but rather inside out. God’s word is spoken, sung, prayed, received in, with, and under bread and wine. When the Word encounters us, it works slowly, deliberately, in the very places where our trust has been broken by others – and even by things we have done or said, or not done and not said. Sometimes we are so hurt we don’t even recognize it within ourselves. This is dangerous, for sure, because in our inability to be aware of our hurt, the hurt we do to others can be debilitating. We may have carried our hurt around with us for decades upon decades without being aware of this. We may have meant to convey welcome, yet our hurt often translates our intentions into judgement of others and reveals the wounds within us. We may broadcast the wrong we feel has been done to us but are unwilling to acknowledge the wrong we have done to others in the process. We may console ourselves by carrying around the things we do we would call Christian, but we forget in this carrying that part of being a Christian is acknowledging the ways we have completely missed the mark, hurt others, and ironically tried to distance ourselves from God so God can’t see what we’re up to. Yet, God is not fooled. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, as we read in Scripture. (Psalm 86:15) God is like this with everyone, whether we like it or not.
Martin Luther realized the radical good news of the ways God is with us in Christ and was completely transformed from the inside out. We are, too. Will we dare trust God’s grace at work among us? Will we trust God’s mercy reaches far wider than we would want? Will we trust God’s love is not a condition of our souls, but is the unconditional way of God with us, no matter what?
Grace to you and peace,
Pastor Paul Lutter