Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The beating heart of the Reformation. . .

Sermon for Reformation Day, preached on Sunday, October 29, 2017.

    All it takes is for a 500th Anniversary to come along and you find out the Reformation is grossly misunderstood by people on all sides, from scholars to the folks in the pew. The Reformation was not about vestments or liturgy or egalitarianism or separation of church and state or democracy or giving voice to the people in the pews or personal conscience or individualism or a simpler church structure or simpler worship style or anything like that.  And if it was, we should be repenting of that history today rather than honoring it.
    The Reformation was about the quest for certainty, for security before the Lord.  It was about the medieval system Luther knew and how it kept the people of God from the certainty of God’s promise of salvation.  Nobody knew where they stood with God.  Dazed and confused by the demands laid on them and ignorant of His Word and the Gospel, people were left with only their works to comfort them and with the nagging doubt if those works were going to be enough to deliver them from their sins.
    Luther was a child of his age.  He was better than most because he cared deeply about what God thought.  He tried harder than most to win God’s favor by the good works he did.  He tried harder than most to avoid sin and went to private confession more than anyone.  But he found no peace, no comfort, and no confidence.  In the end, his revelation was not that the pope was bad or works were an uncertain foundation for your salvation.  Everybody knew that. Luther’s tower moment was that grace really was sufficient, that Christ’s death actually paid for all of our sins -- their guilt and their punishment, and that His resurrection provided the life that death cannot touch.
    Those who think Luther and the Reformation was a rejection of fancy churches or statues or crucifixes or reverence or such, are trivializing the Reformation and making Luther the fool and Lutherans stupid.  What 1517 was about was nothing less than the beating heart of the Gospel that gives live to the Church.  It was about how to know your sins were forgiven, to know that death was undone, and to know your hope and future was secure.  This was not a freedom from anything – not from clergy or ceremonies or good works that glorify God -- but the freedom to receive with joy the preaching of the Gospel, to honor the ritual that gives form to this faith, and to do the good works that flow from faith, under the power of the Spirit.
    Your salvation is not uncertain.  If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.  Baptism really does  wash clean and there is no dirt of sin that sticks to you that God has not forgiven.  You are clothed with Christ’s righteousness.
    Your works add nothing to what Christ has done but merely give evidence of the faith within you.  You past is drowned and dead and cannot condemn those are in Christ and your future is already prepared for you by Christ.  You can add nothing to this full and free gift of salvation.  Even confirmation does not fill in any gaps remaining or make up any lack.  Confirmation turns you to the certainty of God’s Word and promise.
    A Mighty Fortress is Your God.  Faith is not in what if’s but in the because of Christ and Him crucified.  The life of faith you live is not some tenuous and uncertain tiptoe around an angry God.  The life of faith you live is the Spirit bringing you to Christ and leading you to live the new life Christ has given you.  You belong to Him and no enemy can steal you away from God.  God has not declared you good enough but has revealed your secret sins and shame so that He might put Christ on you, cover you with His righteousness, and set you free to do the good the Law speaks about and your new heart can now desire.
    The point is this.  Christians don’t look back over their shoulders to see what dirt the devil might have on us.  God is with us.  Christians don’t wonder if their works are good enough or if they did them for the right reason.  We trust the work of Christ.  Christians don’t fear God might have a change of heart on judgement day.  His Word endures forever.  Christians don’t have to cram all their living into this one life.  We live forever.  Christians don’t have to live for themselves in fear not getting enough.  We live for neighbor because the love of Christ overflows us. 
    How foolish it is to think that Luther would stand for something that could divide Christendom over feelings or personal preferences or taste.  How foolish it is to think that we free to live how we want our own lives instead of living the holy life Christ has given us.  How foolish it is to think that Luther was fighting for individual liberty or separation of church and state when it was our eternal life and salvation at stake.
    The Reformation was and is about Christ.  About faith that apprehends His sufficient grace through the Word preached and the Sacraments administered.  About prayers prayed not in doubt but in confidence.  About good works that earn us nothing but display Christ and our life in Christ to the world.  About the eternal Gospel that no one can silence and that God will raise up before the world. 
    It is not about minimums but about the maximum of grace, known by faith, in Christ alone.  That we may know Christ and live under Him.  That is the Reformation Gospel.  Anything less is unworthy of God and shames Luther.  That is why this Reformation has endured and will.  It is about Christ alone!  Amen.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Great message indeed.

Cliff said...

You are right pastor Peters, there is confusion even among our own Lutherans who do not even attempt to dig deeper into what actually caused Luther to correct abuses in the Catholic Church. Catholics, as you pointed out are all over the map. With that being said, there are many fine Catholics who stand with us, especially in the area of Life issues.