Therefore since we are justified through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
into this grace in which we now stand.
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
— Romans 5:1-2
We held our breath, and it happened. The paving was done by Friday night, and Saturday morning there were cars parked all around the church. We are witnessing the biggest renovation project since Atonement began, almost 25 years ago. A new driveway, new landscaping, new plumbing and irrigation and a whole new look will greet our Easter visitors this year.But all this is just external. What really lifts my heart is the sense of welcome and hospitality that I see people offering. Our April Friends board holds dozens of names of people we are praying for and promising to invite to church. People are coming to me with ideas about how we can reach out to new people and be more open and user-friendly to first time visitors. Folks who joined me at the Real Ideas conference last month came away with real enthusiasm for the ministries we are doing and real hope that we will continue to grow. What an exciting and possibility-filled time this is to be part of Atonement Lutheran Church!
This is not a place to come if you’re looking for peace and quiet. Not only has my office been rocking to the music of bulldozers and backhoes, I see a steady stream of people who come to share stories of God at work in their lives. They may be bringing an opportunity to share in a ministry, or simply a request for prayer. I imagine things will keep getting busier from here on out as our congregation becomes more active and visible in the community, and our facility more attractive to visit.
We have some worries as well about all the changes. Will the snowbirds taking off for the north this month return to find the same little Lutheran church they love? For 25 years, Atonement has been a refuge for people seeking upbeat, positive worship in the Lutheran tradition. The heart of that tradition is our teaching that God’s grace is the core of our relationship with Him. It is God’s love that defines us, providing the unchangeable basis of who we are and what our purpose is here on earth. It is Christ’s gift of his very life that has finally nailed down our identity as God’s people — something no amount of failure or fault on our part can remove.
That’s what Paul is saying when he tells us that we have peace with God, now that we have been justified by faith. As God’s very own people, His love is the one unchangeable truth we can be sure of in a busy world that constantly shakes us up. When he finally figured that out, Martin Luther rediscovered God’s love. Since we were baptized, God’s Spirit has been constantly calling us to do the same.
Once we see that Jesus brings us peace with God, it’s clear that all of us are called to grow in our love for God, to follow the commandments and regularly worship and receive the means of grace through confession and communion. We are a people who live and believe in forgiveness and second chances, and we try our best to leave the judging up to God. We live with the knowledge that we are, and in this life will always be, both saints and sinners at the same time. We tell our faith stories and pray that the Spirit open the hearts of others who can hear and accept God’s grace for themselves.
Close to 25 years, and despite all the new faces and the new look of the place, Atonement is still a place where people find faith lived out and celebrated through the unique and venerable Lutheran outlook on the Christian faith. That faith always finds its focus on the good news that Easter has happened and Jesus still lives. What do you know — some things never change!