Summary: Reformation Sunday sermon -- you have a choice between performance-based religion or a pardon-based relationship.
The Greatness of God’s Grace
Rev. Brian Bill
Note: I used the sermon by Ray Pritchard called, “Martin Luther’s Highway to Heaven” for background information for this opening first-person monologue: www.keepbelieving.com.
Good morning. My name is Marty. I’d like to tell you a little about my story. I grew up knowing about God but when I was 21-years-old I had a life-changing experience. One day I was out walking on the road during a thunderstorm and was struck by lightning. I knew I wasn’t living like I should and believed that God was trying to get my attention so I left everything and joined a monastery.
Life as a monk was anything but easy. We’d get up about 2:00 a.m. every day – that’s even earlier than your pastors wake up! As soon as we crawled out of bed we would pray and sing, followed by a time of meditation. We’d then pray some more and sing some more. Next we’d have breakfast and then morning prayers. We’d work all morning and then after lunch we had another time of prayer and singing followed by a brief nap. Then came more prayer and singing and meditation, after which we had supper. In the evening we’d pray some more and sing some more and then meditate one last time. My life was filled with religious ritual, ceremony and solitude, penance and poverty.
I was willing to live like this because I was on a desperate search for peace. Some days I felt that all these rituals were helping me but most of the time I was gripped with fear that I wasn’t doing enough. I knew I was a sinner and that God was holy and that I would never measure up. But I kept trying my best. In fact, my brothers referred to me as “a monk of the monks.” When praise and prayer didn’t rid me of the dread in my life, I started confessing every sin I could remember. This might be hard for you to believe, but there were times I would spend six hours a day in confession! This only led to more guilt and despair because I knew I couldn’t remember all my sins. And if I couldn’t remember all of them, how could I truly be forgiven? My transgressions were tearing me up and my wayward heart was wiping me out.
In my despair I decided to travel to Rome, which in my day was the center of the religious world. But I was surprised and then shocked and then sickened by what I saw. I won’t go into it all now but I remember thinking, “If there was a Hell, Rome was built upon it.” Outside one of the buildings I saw some ancient stairs that had been transported from Jerusalem. Apparently Jesus had walked on this same staircase outside Pilate’s hall. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would come and climb those 28 stairs on their hands and knees. I decided to do the same thing, hoping this act of devotion would help alleviate my agony. I got on my hands and knees and started crawling up each stair, kissing each one as I recited the Lord’s Prayer at each stop. When I got to the top I questioned what this had to do with appeasing a righteous and holy God. I felt foolish and emptier than ever.