When I was a boy growing up in Spokane, Washington, sometimes my father would take me, or the whole family, riding in our family car into the countryside west of Spokane. The Grand Coulee Dam was being built in those days and was a project of interest to all of us. The central part of the State of Washington to the west of Spokane is largely flat wheat farming country, and some of it is nearly desert-like, with grass and sagebrush, and numerous outcroppings of rock formations. Evangelical Christian sects often used the flat surfaces on these rocks to paint Bible verses, or parts of Bible verses as part of their outreach. One of the very common verses that we would see is included in our first reading for today: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Another verse that we would often see was “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23a) Both of these verses as they are found in the Bible are followed by a positive statement. In the first case the verse is preceded by the word “since”, and followed by the positive statement, “they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” (Rom. 3:24-25) It reads in full: “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” (vv. 23-25) In the second case the statement is followed by the positive response, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23b)
We know that it is part of human nature that in spite of our faith we do fall into temptation and sin. But we also know that Jesus promised forgiveness to those who repent and turn again to follow his teachings as they are contained in the Gospels, especially in the law of love.
The last part of today’s reading has to do with the relationship between faith and the law. If we understand the law in terms of the law of love, and the love shown towards God in the Ten Commandments and in the Summary of the Law, I think we can understand what a great gift it is that Jesus made atonement for us by his cross and resurrection, made available to us by faith.
The essence of the gift is that it comes to us through our faith, and that it is the same faith that Jews can have through their observance of the law, as it is for Christians as we observe the law of love, loving God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
When I recall those partial verses from the Bible painted on the rocks by the roadside I can also remember the promise of salvation that completes those verses and give thanks to God for that gift of salvation. All of us can respond to God with faith, and hope, and love. Thanks be to God for his great gift of love!
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