Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Who are Luther's sons and daughters?
Go to Wittenberg today and walk the places of the Reformation and you find not a flourishing community of faith endeavoring to live the legacy of Luther but tourist attractions. There is plenty of room in the pews for visitors but there are few faithful left in the city that epitomizes the Reformation. People go to walk where Luther walked, talked, drank, and even sat on the toilet. But where are those who contend with Luther’s faith? Who fight for the Gospel? Who risk their life to be faithful to Christ as he did?
Some of Luther’s heirs have sought greener pastures in other faiths or confessions but most have forgotten God entirely. They have turned a very public Reformation into a private faith that never sees the light of day or darkens the door to a church. Many who wear Luther's name have chosen to be entertained rather than convicted as to sin and righteousness, elected for the gospel of creature comforts from Joel Osteen over the Word of the cross.
Every year as we celebrate Reformation comes the question: Who are Luther’s sons and daughters. We dare not claim the legacy of Luther and the Reformers unless we are willing to contend for the faith, live in faithfulness to the true Gospel of Christ crucified, seek to live holy lives as His baptized children, and come regularly at His altar for His flesh and blood. For Luther's legacy is not a memory but a vibrant community of faith preserving and proclaiming the Gospel and rejoicing in the means of grace through which we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Jesus said, “Abide in My word and you are truly my disciples.” The key here is not appreciation or respect for the Word but to abide in, live in, dwell in, tabernacle in that Word. What counts for faith are not your good or gut feelings or your strongly held opinions but the Word of the Lord that endures forever and hearts that believe that Word by the power of the Spirit.
Sincerity is good but it is not faith. Sincerity matters only if you sincerely believe the Gospel and live in its light. Discipleship does not mean looking where Jesus might be but where He is – in His Word and Sacraments. It means not walking with Jesus but walking behind Him, following where He has led the way. Jesus cares little for admirers but calls us to faith in Him and to walk where He has led the way.
Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” As the baptismal liturgy says: you are a slave to sin, death, and the devil until Christ sets you free. Christ sets you free not by judicial edict but by the power of His sacrificial death. He has put Himself in your place on the cross, to die for your sin, and to pay the debt of sin that you could not and would not pay.
But this freedom won for you is yours only so long as you stand in Christ. You are free only as long as you have faith in Christ, live in daily repentance, and seek by the grace of the Holy Spirit to live holy, upright, and godly lives. You are not given this precious freedom to simply to indulge yourselves or squander it on selfish living but to live in service to Christ, as a servant of the Gospel, and as God’s own child.
Today we will confirm nine youth. We will ask them to recall their baptism, to give voice to their faith, and to give promises of their faithfulness. Who in their right mind would ask youth so young to make such a bold confession and promise? But it is the Spirit at work here and not youth answering on their own. This rite confirms their inward faith, prompted and planted by the Spirit. Their promises are not to an human institution but to Christ Himself. Lutheran is not a qualifier distinct from Christian but the word that points to the very place where we live out our faith under the cross, around this Word and Table, speaking with those who have gone before, We believe, teach, and confess.
Lutheranism is not a theory but a practice – where the voice of the Word with its condemning Law and life-giving Gospel speaks to us and where we are washed in baptismal water and fed the holy food of Christ’s flesh and blood. But Lutheran heritage means nothing unless we are willing to stand with Luther under the cross... to confess with Him that there is only one Triune God whom we know through the one Christ who gives us the one and only salvation by the one cross.
On this day we must not only ask ourselves if we are Luther’s sons and daughters but what it means to be Luther’s sons and daughters. If you stand with Luther, your glory is the cross, your faith trusts in Christ’s death there for your sins, and your peace is knowing that you belong to the Lord by baptism and faith. Anything less is merely talk or sentiment. This may be a touching day for those who witness these youth confirmed but this is not a day of sentiment. It is about truth, the truth that saves, and the Spirit who opens us to believe it and rejoice in its promise, now and forever.
It is sad to go to the places where the Reformation was born only to find empty churches and absent faith. The Reformation was and is still all about Jesus. It is a movement of renewal, raising up the cross and testifying to the Word that sets you free. But it also about the use of that freedom to worship God in spirit and truth, to serve the Lord with glad hearts, to do the good works of Him who called us from darkness into His marvelous light, and to live or die by this faith alone.
Luther’s warning for us is Christ's word of promise: Abide in Christ’s Word and you are truly His disciples and the truth will set you free. Lord, give us grace to abide in You through Your Word and Sacraments and to live Your gift of freedom loving you and serving our neighbor. Amen.