We are saved by God’s grace through faith and are his handiwork to do good works.
James A. Mattek
Members of the church hadn’t seen her in weeks. Had something happened? Mary was elderly and would have been embarrassed by everyone’s concern. She also would have blushed if anyone dared to mention her reputation in their small town. People talked about Mary . . . always in glowing terms. “She’s always smiling and positive.” “Mary cares so much about others” “She’s so faithful”—to mention a few. Now, it seemed to everyone that something wasn’t right. Mary wouldn’t answer the door or pick up the phone. What was going on?
Mary would, however, read her mail. One letter in particular caught her attention. It was from her church. It contained a one-sentence request: Dear Mary, could you bake a pie for me? Your pastor.
Unless you knew Mary, that request would sound strange. You see, in that town, Mary had a nickname. When someone referred to “the pie lady,” they were always talking about Mary . . . again, in glowing terms. Mary baked great pies—and a lot of them.
And she gave them all away. If a young couple brought a new baby home from the hospital, they could expect “the pie lady” to show up at their front door with a smile, a freshly baked pie, and a note. When there was a death, the family could expect to see Mary with a pie and a note. If she got wind that someone’s child was about to be deployed overseas, Mary would bake a pie and prepare the note. The pie filling varied, but the message in the note did not. It remained the same, pie after pie. When asked why she did it, she would say: “I just want to. Somehow it seems to complete me.”
But now, it all stopped.
A week after mailing the request to Mary, the pastor’s doorbell rang. It was Mary, smiling. She was holding a pie and a note. She came in. The pastor carried the pie to the kitchen and returned with the note. They sat down.
Three months earlier, the pastor had officiated at her husband’s funeral. Harold and Mary had been wed for nearly 65 years. That day the large church was standing room only. Many in attendance were nonmembers. Many knew Mary’s husband. All knew Mary. Many had once been on the receiving end of her Christian kindness.
“Let me guess,” the pastor began as he opened the note, “my bet is that it’s Ephesians 2:8,9.” He knew he would be right—that was the unchanging message that always arrived with every pie. With a smile he read from her note: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works—so that no one can boast.”
These words are cherished by every Bible-believing Lutheran. It’s part of the unchanging note from our Savior-God. Because of the life and death of Jesus, we are saved . . . period. It’s all about God’s amazing grace, his undeserved love for us. And God’s Spirit birthed and burned this heavenly love in our hearts “un-asked, un-forced, un-earned” (Christian Worship 54:4). These truths are celebrated in this Reformation season.
Of course, there’s more to being a Lutheran Christian. Mary and her pastor talked about the scriptural gem in her note, about Harold’s custom-made heavenly home, about Mary’s loss and Harold’s gain. They also talked about Mary’s purpose and ministry. The pastor leaned in and said tenderly: “Mary, our Lord will take you when it’s time. I know you as a Christian woman who lets her light of faith shine. Just keep doing that.” There were tears—tears of thanks and renewed purpose. She thanked her pastor for requesting a pie. And Mary fired up her oven and resumed her ministry.
Lutherans are certain of grace and heaven. The familiar passage Mary lovingly confessed from Ephesians goes on to remind us, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (v. 10). God saved us to show love for others. Do you specialize in pie-baking? Maybe not. But each of us knows someone who is lonely, friendless, hurting, or scared. How about a phone call, e-mail, handwritten letter, or visit? How about a smile?
“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). You may discover that what you do for others simply completes you.
James Mattek, director of ministry at WLCFS–Christian Family Solutions, is a member at Trinity, Watertown, Wisconsin.
Some thoughts from Martin Luther
Saved by works or by grace? Luther taught what the Bible taught: “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). Works don’t earn heaven. But what about following the Ten Commandments and doing good works? Luther again taught what the Bible taught: Christians do good works not to earn their way to heaven but to show love for God and for their neighbors.
Here are some quotes from Luther’s Freedom of a Christian and Treatise on Good Works to help us understand the relationship between grace and works.
“Our faith in Christ does not free us from works but from false opinions concerning works, that is, from the foolish presumption that justification is acquired by works” (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 31, pp. 372,373).
“Behold, from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss” (LW, Vol. 31, p. 367).
“The works themselves do not justify [a person] before God, but [the Christian] does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things” (LW, Vol. 31, p. 359).
“A [Christian] living in this faith has no need of a teacher of good works, but he does whatever the occasion calls for. . . . Thus a Christian . . . who lives in this confidence toward God knows all things, can do all things, ventures everything that needs to be done, and does everything gladly and willingly, not that he may gather merits and good works, but because it is a pleasure for him to please God in doing these things. He simply serves God with no thought of reward, content that his service pleases God” (LW, Vol. 44, pp. 26,27).
“Therefore [a Christian] should be guided in all his works by this thought and contemplate this one thing alone, that he may serve and benefit others in all that he does, considering nothing except the need and the advantage of his neighbor…Here faith is truly active through love, that is, it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a man willingly serves another without hope of reward; and for himself he is satisfied with the fullness and wealth of his faith” (LW, Vol. 31, p. 365).
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Author: James A. Mattek
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018
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