It is remarkably curious — and, indeed, entirely a construct of grace, no doubt — that despite having never met Brother Paul Walker, rector of Christ Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, I feel as though I already know him. Such is what will occur through the course of reading a collection of his sermons recently published, entitled, Faith Once Delivered. These sermons effectively take you through his church’s lectionary for nearly an entire year, giving you an incredibly robust view of the gospel and of Jesus’s ministry and message.
Each sermon, though varied in biblical text and homiletical approach, has a singular emphasis: to point you to the grace that squelches fear and quiets noisy souls. “An effective sermon,” Walker declares, “won’t give you a to-do list to fix your life but a word of support to lower your blood pressure. It will leave you comforted and assured. That’s the sure sign that you know the Gospel, the good news, has been preached.”1 Indeed, I approached each reading with eagerness because I knew what was coming: an incendiary barrage would be launched on my pretenses of goodness. And in its place would remain the soothing balm of grace.
What’s more, Walker is insistent that this message just be given. Without quid pro quo’s or provisos or qualifications or conditions. Because, as he asserts, “there is no if-then, no conditionality in Jesus.”2 Contingencies and systems of reciprocation are devilish machinations. “The devil deals in conditionality,” Walker continues.3 The more we are mired in notions that our assurance of glory hinges upon our aptitude in obedience, the more sure we can be that we’ve been duped by Satan’s scheme.
The common faith we share is the faith that clings to an unconditional pardon in the “once for all” atoning death of Jesus. A death which pays for all of humanity’s sins in one lump sum. “God doesn’t seek the same payment twice,” Walker says. “We know that Jesus once and for all made payment for the brokenness of the world. We know that Jesus once and for all made payment for the sin you’ve wallowed in over and over.”4 Contained in the gospel of God’s death is all the righteousness required to cover your sin and live up to the standards of God’s law.
I have found so much hope in these sermons precisely because they engender no hope in myself.
Paul N. Walker, Faith Once Delivered: Sermons from Christ Church (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2019), 45.