Written by: Pastor David Maier
On a Fall evening in 2004 in New York a number of high school kids broke into a car. They grabbed a credit card and proceeded to purchase more than $400.00 worth of DVDs and video games.
Then they went to a grocery store where a surveillance camera recorded them purchasing a few groceries including a frozen, twenty pound turkey.
They hastily leave the parking lot in their silver Nissan. At approximately 12:30 am they cross paths with one Victoria Ruvulo. Victoria is 44 years old and returning to her home after attending a vocal recital of her 14 year old niece.
What happened next, she does not remember. Perhaps that is a blessing. What is put together later is that one of the teenage boys, as their car approaches Victoria’s from the opposite direction, leans out of the car window, and hurls the frozen turkey into her windshield.
8 hours of surgery and three weeks of recovery later, Victoria lies impassively in a bed in Stony Brook University Hospital and listens to every detail. Her emotions are hard to discern considering the fact that her face is shattered like pottery, stapled together, an eye affixed by synthetic film, a wired jaw, and a tracheotomy.
The public reaction, on the other hand, is swift and vigorous. The media continues to play the story and weblogs follow every new detail of arrest and arraignment. Over Thanksgiving, New Yorkers whisper prayers of gratitude that they were not driving Virginia’s car. During Christmas health and fortunes are cherished a little more than usual.
The turkey throwers name is Ryan Cushing. Many internet bloggers and TV commentators write and talk about what it would be like to have 5 minutes alone with him in a locked room. His face should be shattered. His life should be ruined. But its all in the hands of the justice system.
August 15, 2005, on a Monday afternoon Ryan and Victoria meet face-to-restructured-face in the courtroom. Nine agonizing, titanium-bolted months have passed since the attack. Victoria walks into the courtroom unaided … a true victory in itself.
A trembling Ryan Cushing pleads guilty – to a lesser charge. The sentence: a trifling 6 months behind bars, 5 years probation, a bit of counseling, and a dash of public service.
Most people shake their heads in righteous indignation. Is that all the punishment there will be? When did this country become so soft on crime? Let’s lock up these criminals and throw away the key! Who is responsible for this plea bargain anyway? The answer is almost as shocking as the crime itself: the victim. Victoria Ruvulo requests leniency.
Ryan makes his plea and then turns to Victoria. The tough guy image has long since gone. He is weeping with abandon. The attorney leads the assailant to the victim, and Victoria holds him tight, comforts him, strokes his hair, and offers reassuring words. “I forgive you,” she whispers. “I want your life to be the best it can be.” They both weep together.
It takes quite an event to bring tears to the eyes of New York attorneys and magistrates. This is such an event. TV and radio reporters file their stories in voices that are actually respectful. The New York Times dubs it “a moment of grace.”
When “grace” is seen – even by those in world – it is quickly identified as something unusual, wonderful, “amazing” if you will.
On a grander, more accurate and reliable, “eternal” scale how much more unusual, wonderful, “amazing” is the grace of God! The Great Apostle of the New Testament, Paul, in writing to the saints in Ephesus, shares these compelling and well knows words from chapter 2: 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast; 10 for we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (… in the larger context of Ephesians 2:1-10)
In these brief, inspired words the Apostle Paul plainly reveals and declares the wonder of God’s grace, faith as the gift of God, and also the role of good works in the believer’s life.
“For by grace are you saved …” God’s grace is unsought, undeserved, unearned, unmerited, and – thank God – unlimited!
The Scriptures are clear – and we must remember – that at one time we too were DEAD in our trespasses and sin (Eph.2:1, 5) … separated from God (Eph.2:12). There are no degrees to death: either you are or you aren’t. (Unlike Billy Crystal’s character in Princess Bride – Miracle Max – who tells Inigo Montoya: “Turns out your friend here is only mostly dead. See, mostly dead is still slightly alive.”)
No! “Dead” means dead! We were dead in our trespasses and sins.
Yet, whenever Christ confronts death in the Gospels, watch out. Every time Jesus encountered a funeral, there was a disruption. Jesus broke up every funeral he ever attended. Jesus raised a little girl – Jairus’ daughter; the son of the widow of Nain; and Lazarus. Lazarus was the oldest and dead the longest of the three but Jesus raised him from the dead! We too were once dead … but God has made us alive together with Christ Jesus – by grace are you saved! (Eph.2:5)
Why Grace? Because God’s grace is real and true. Also, because salvation comes by God’s grace, it allows complete assurance and comfort to the sinner because salvation is God’s work. The fact that we are saved by God’s grace gives all glory to God … to Whom it is due!
“… through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Nothing could be more perspicuous than Paul’s Spirit inspired declaration that faith is a gift. Martin Luther’s “picture” of faith being the open hand of the beggar receiving the great gift of God’s grace is also illustrative that we bring nothing to “the table” regarding our salvation. God giving the gift of faith is clearly seen when a baby is baptized in the name of the Triune God.
God giving faith to us, or working faith within us, is through means. Those means are the Word of God and through Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As stated in the catechism, it is not by our own reason or strength that we come to Jesus or believe in Him. Rather, God calls us by the Gospel, enables or gifts us to believe, and invites us to grow in faith, to grow in grace, to grow in our connection with Jesus, through the Word and Sacraments. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:15; 2 Peter 3:18)
Why faith? Because God’s gift of faith is alive and growing and is our connection to the living, resurrected Christ. The Gospel continually proclaims the good news that because of Christ’s all sufficient, meritorious, redemptive work on Good Friday and Easter …
we have been freed from sin’s guilt and condemnation!
we have been freed from sin’s power and control!
we have been freed from death’s curse, fear, and finality!
The architect of the first sanctuary for Our Savior Lutheran Church in Lansing, Michigan, always used to come to Bible Class. As was his usual practice he would raise his hand and put before the class a challenging state or question. During the Bible Class on Romans, after we had discussed the great grace of God, the gift of faith, and our connection with Jesus in Baptism (Romans 6:1-14) he made this statement: “Lutherans believe that they are saved by grace through faith apart from doing anything. Therefore, they do nothing!”
Of course, this is simply NOT true! The Holy Spirit gives clear instruction on the connection between grace and faith and works … and there is no better place than here in Ephesians 2. Verses 8 and 9 are followed by verse 10, which is too often forgotten. In fact, verses 8-10 are one sentence in the original.
10 for we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
That’s amazing! In fact, that’s awesome! God in eternity, before the worlds were made, prepared our “good works” for us to do. And God does all things well!
The word “workmanship” – pronounced poin-ma (ποίημα in the original) - is a very beautiful word. We get our English word “poem”, from that word. It means a “work of art”. Friends, we are His poem, His work of art. We are His handiwork to the world. We are His witness to the world.
God has written many “poems”. “Poem” number one is His work of creation (Romans 1:20). “Poem” number two is His work of salvation. When God did His work of creation, it took only a lump of his soil. But when God did His work of salvation, it took the life of His Son for the world. Now that we are washed by the blood of Jesus, saved and sent as His witnesses, as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16), we too are His “poems;” we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do the good works associated with our vocation in life that God planned for us to do.
Saved by grace through faith, we have God’s Word to guide us, to convict us of our sin, to convince us of God’s greater grace, to remind us of our strength in Christ, to remind us of our witness to the world, and of Jesus’ continual presence in our life’s journey.
I don’t agree with everything that Eugene Peterson has written, but I do with this: “Holy living is the action by which we express the love and presence of Christ.” We must endeavor to make the most of it for God’s glory.
"All too often we bemoan our imperfections rather than embrace them as part of the process in which we are brought to God. Cherished emptiness gives God space in which to work. We are pure capacity for God. Let us not, then, take our littleness lightly. It is a wonderful grace. It is a gift to receive. At the same time, let us not get trapped in the confines of our littleness, but keep pushing on to claim our greatness. Remind yourself often, I am pure capacity for God; I can be more." (Macrine Wiederkehr is a Benedictine monastic of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas)
A life lived for God, replete with good works, is our sanctified life. It is critically important not in order to be saved, but as the visible witness that we have been … by grace through faith.
Conclusion: As we celebrate the anniversary of what most consider the beginning of the reformation – Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg – let us gladly hear these select verses of Psalm 92: 1 It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, 2 to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, … 12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; 13 planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, 15 proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him."
No more confusion!By Grace, through faith, for good works. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.