Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The voice of Augsburg then and now. . .

Sermon for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, using the ordinary pericopes of Proper 7A for Pentecost 3, preached on Sunday, June 25, 2017.

    It is easy to think that the power of Christian witness has been stolen from us.  After all, it seems that the Gospel is under attack from every enemy outside the Church and even from those within who doubt the truthfulness of what we believe.  As much as we are under attack, could it that we have also willingly surrendered our voice to silence before the world?  Yes, of course, the world is filled with threats but could it be that we have turned the Gospel into something weak and fragile that must be protected instead of something strong and powerful that must be proclaimed?
    God does not call us to proclaim something as fragile as our opinions before the world or even our ideas.  He calls us to proclaim the powerful, living Word of the Lord wherein Christ is known and the Spirit works.  This is the Word that has the power to break down the barriers of unbelief, to forgive the sinner of his or her sins, and to give new life to those marked with the power of death.
    Today we acknowledge the day when but a few stood before the powers of the day to confess Jesus Christ.  Everything was against them and yet they confessed boldly in the face of the threats they faced.  When the Augsburg Confession was placed before the Holy Roman Emperor, the world was forever changed.  This was not the power of the men confessing or the strength of their ideas or simply the moment in history.  This was and is the power of the Word of the Lord.  What was true nearly 500 years ago at the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession is no less true for us today.
    Jesus says “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will acknowledge before My Father in heaven.”  That is a bold promise and yet so often we forget the promise attached to the witness we make by speaking God’s Word in our own generation. 
    When did faith become the domain of mere private opinion instead of the sturdy truth of Christ and Him crucified?  When did what we believe, confess, and teach become little different than our whims or tastes of the moment?  We do not confess a private opinion or idea or personal preference but the Word made flesh to suffer for us and for all people and to rise to lead us to everlasting life.  This is no private idea but a very public Gospel that refuses to be bound. God will not have it.
    When did feelings become the barometer of belief or success?  When did we surrender the eternal Word to the judgment of what feels good now?  When did Scripture take a back seat to personal preference?  Yet that is exactly what Christians have done.  We have exchanged the Word of the Lord that is forever for what feels good or right to us in the moment.  Our witness is weak before the world because it is a witness built upon the weakness of human whim, idea, or desire instead of the strong and sturdy truth of God's Word that endures forever and the powerful Word that rescues sinners from condemnation and the mortal from death.
    Those who stood at Augsburg were not fighting for the right to think or believe as they chose but for the Word of the Lord that endures forever.  Those who stand in Christ today cannot stand for anything less.  We remain, with Luther, captive to the Word of God and on this Word we stand or fall.
    When Jesus said “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will acknowledge before My Father in heaven” He was making a promise.  His Word is not turned over to us to do with as we desire but remains His own domain.  It is the Word that will not return to Him empty but will accomplish His purpose in sending it.   God is at work in that Word.  Just as in creation He spoke and all things came to be, faith comes by hearing the Word of God and by that Word sins are forgiven and lives are reborn.  The Spirit is the power of that Word.
    So Jesus encourages us.  Do not be afraid.  Do not fear.  You are more valuable to God than many sparrows yet no sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge.  When you stand up for Christ, you are not alone.  God is the power of Your words of witness and God’s purpose will be accomplished by Your speaking and He will guide and guard you.
    What the Lord tells us in the shadows we are to shout from the housetops.  Have you noticed how quick we are to weigh in on a sport or team or restaurant or brand name?  Have you noticed how easily and quickly we argue our position in politics?  If we will speak up for a mere opinion, why will we not speak up for the sake of the truth that endures forever?  God did not mean us to shout behind the closed doors of the church only to whisper in fear when we head back out into the world.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  Before the Lord we whisper in awe of His love but outside the House of the Lord our voices cannot be silenced for the cause is too marvelous and the good news too great.
    The Reformation was never about private opinion.  If that is all it was about, then we ought to be ashamed to wear the name Lutheran.  No, the Reformation was not about opinions or feelings or ideas but about the Word of the Lord that is living and active, a two edged sword with power to condemn and love to heal and redeem.  In that Augsburg Confession we insisted that the faith we held was the yesterday, today and forever faith of the apostles and saints.  It is the faith we shall pass on to those who come after us.  And that Confession is fulfilled when fathers teach their sons and mothers their daughters and pray together this faith in the home.  It is fulfilled when we as people enter our neighborhoods, workplaces, and street corners with the Word of Hope upon our lips and the voice of God speaking His truth in our throats.
    If we have something to celebrate in our history, then our own time demands nothing less than what we honor of those who went before us.  We cannot be quiet about the Word of the cross.  We must teach it carefully, proclaim it without embarrassment, and hold fast to its doctrine and truth even in the face of persecution.  God is watching.   He knows what is against us.  Do we know who is with us and for us?  The promise is clear.  Hold up Christ in Word and deed today and in the everlasting day Christ will hold you up before the Father in heaven.  This is not some consolation prize but the promise of His presence, His power, and His peace today and forever.  In Jesus name, Amen.


Anonymous said...

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
2 Corinthians 4:13-14

John Joseph Flanagan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"We must begin by knowing ourselves, and being true to that knowledge. Let us not, with our rich coffers, play the part of beggars, and ask favors where we have every ability to impart them. No Church can maintain her self-respect or inspire respect in others, which is afraid or ashamed of her own history, and which rears a dubious fabric on the ignorance of her ministry and of her members."
Charles Porterfield Krauth