10/27/13- Year C
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We’ve gathered today surrounded in the sea of red, adorned with the anthems and hymns of Luther and the reformers on this festival of ours Reformation Sunday. It is our yearly observance of ours heritage stretching all the way back to the 1500’s. Though we observe it today, Reformation Day itself is marked on October 31, on All Hallow’s Eve or the Eve of All Saint’s Day (which is Nov 1), because it was then that Luther penned and posted his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences; that document that we more commonly know as the 95-Theses. Written to debate the soundness of the preaching and selling of indulgences. Those golden tickets like from Willy Wonka land, that once the coin in the coffer rang, its named participant from purgatory sprang. It was that act which sparked a movement of Reform in the Church’s life, something Luther himself never envisioned 496 years ago as he put ink to paper.
What began as movement to reform the Church catholic led unfortunately to separation and schism, from which Lutheranism began to be formed and defined. The basic tenants of our faith put down in tracts that spread from Luther’s Small and Large Catechism’s to Melachthon’s Augsuburg Confession and its apology a year later. Those early Lutherans or as they called themselves, evangelicals, continued to shape and form our confession and teaching what it is we believe as Christians. From the first Martin (Luther that is) to the 2nd Martin (Martin Chemnitz) our heritage of the faith grew and was bound together in the Concordia (Book of Concord) in 1580. And yet setting about on a new trajectory was never intended by Luther, for he saw that there was indeed only one church, as we confess in the Creed each week. It was reconnecting with that one Church that Luther himself wanted to achieve. He, like his contemporary scholars, were humanists with the battle cry “Ad fontes”—back to the sources. The church of Luther’s day had erred, it has adopted teachings and practices which obscured the very source of the Church’s life, Jesus Christ. In the selling of indulgences for forgiveness, in the requirement of works for forgiveness (and not faith), in withholding the communion chalice from the laity, each of these piece by piece obscured the goodness, mercy, and simplicity of Jesus. For the sake of the Church’s health and the health of her people, Luther sought to call the church back to her sources: to Christ, His Word, and His Sacraments.
It is that Word, the Word Made Flesh, the Word of the Holy Scriptures and the Visible Word of the sacraments that makes the Church the Church. And it is that confession which makes us Lutheran. Not Jello, nor various congealed salads. Not hot dishes, nor casseroles. Nor even singing A Mighty Fortress to the best of our ability and in perfect harmony. These are the trappings that have come to be a part of our culture, but they are not the foundations of our identity and confession as Christians. Certainly they are not the things for which Luther stuck his neck on the line. Being so far removed from that time its no surprise that we come to a sterile notion of the Reformation. Caught in the trappings we sometimes fail to realize that some early Lutherans were martyred for our confession of faith. They died for what, we modern day Lutherans have often failed to keep before our own eyes: the Word of God in the flesh, in the printed page, and in the sacrament given. That blessed and holy Word of whom our Lutheran Confessions continually point us to: Jesus Christ.
It is this clear and simple proclamation of Jesus Christ and his mercy that was the true Reformation, because it was the preaching of the apostles, of the early church and for most of the Church’s entire life until the middle ages. This we believe is the true work of the Holy Spirit that swept through during the Reformation and why we all wear His color, red, today. To return to the Church that simple and clear proclamation of the Gospel. That we all are born into sin, so deeply has sin taken root in our nature that without God we can do nothing but die and receive the punishment for our flesh. That no one escapes this world without that forcefully clear word of Law’s spoken in our bodies, death. Dead in the flesh and dead eternally, but there comes One who has undone death. Who conquered death by His own death. Who comes to speak an even more powerful word on our lives, more powerful than the shouts of Sin. Who on roman wood pierced by roman steel offered up the perfect sacrifice of obedience to the Father. Who by the testimony of His blood, spirit, and water has mediated a new covenant between us and God. One of forgiveness, mercy, and grace in His name and through His death and resurrection. One that brings heaven to us earthly mortals as He now sits at the right hand, the powerful hand of God. This Jesus Christ has done making God’s Kingdom an earthly reality. That in Him and through Him we have access to God as our dear heavenly father and no longer as enemies under the curse of sin. This He has done not only for us, but for the entire world. Christ is gift, pure simple and most importantly FREE gift of God’s grace and salvation for all. For in Christ, God has grabbed hold of our lives, laid claim to our identities, and promises never ever to let us go.
In Christ the world is set free from sin, death, and the devil and made free for God. It hears the words of St. John’s gospel this morning and momentarily is gladdened by them, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Yet often does that same world and how often do we in the daily reality of our lives, interpret those words to mean that we are indeed free, free from God. Sin creeps back into our lives as it is whispered all around us by the tempts of the world and of the flesh. Sure Jesus is nice and forgives and blah blah blah, but I’m going back to my old life of sin and my old ways, and really want nothing to do with God and especially His Word. The world today is even madder today than it once was, if we can believe it, because it no longer acknowledges any truth to be objectively True. The sky is blue...maybe for you it is, but not for me. Yet what our Lord speaks of truth is not an idea to be grasped or wrestled with. It is not an ideal or academic theorem. It is a person. Truth is a man, a God-man. Truth is Jesus Himself, who has proclaimed to us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The only freedom we truly have is found hidden in the life and word of Jesus Christ. The Son makes us free not so that we can run back to the world, but so that in Him we may run to the Father. For in Christ, God has ran to us His children with arms outstretched.
We know this to be true, because forgiveness and the giving of grace is not a one-time event. God’s forgiveness does not come with an best use by date, nor is it a punch card with only certain amount of punches on it. But it is a continual daily outpouring of grace, forgiveness, and love. It is for this reason that He has given to us and blessed us with the Holy Scriptures, prayer, the sacraments, absolution, and the Church. So that His Gospel might be spoken into our lives each and every day. All this God has done—in the words of the Catechism—so “that I may be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.” This is our confession of faith, this is what we Lutherans are truly all about. The goodness and graciousness of God in Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation that is ours by faith. Therefore Lutherans let us dwell and drink deeply from the treasures of our heritage. Our hymnody, for it is by far the best in the world. Our confessions and catechisms, indeed I would say let us spend this next year dedicated to learning and knowing our catechism. But of all let us dwell richly in the Word of God, Jesus Christ, who brings heaven and our salvation to us each Sunday through the Scriptures and the Sacraments.