Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sermon: Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

25 June 2006 at Salem L.C., Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 10:26-33 (Neh 8:1-2, 5-6, 9-12; 1 Tim 6:11-16) (Historic)


In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today marks the 476th anniversary of an event so important in the history of the Church that we celebrate it today as a feast day. On this date in 1530 in Augsburg, Germany, a document was read. But this was no mere document – it was a confession, a solemn public declaration of faith. This confession was made in a great time of danger and hostility against the Gospel, during a period of political turmoil, in days in which not even princes could count on having the right to free expression.

Indeed, most confessions are made in times of great upheaval and peril.

In our Gospel text, Jesus shows us just how urgent the notion of confession is: “Whoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

In other words, confession reflects salvation, and a failure to confess can land a person into eternal damnation. Jesus drives home the point of the importance of confession by pointing out that God himself is always in control – even when it seems to our feeble eyes that evil is winning. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s will, and so when persecution comes, we must still confess the truth and not fear what the evil one can do to us.

The word “confession” simply means to say the same thing, to repeat, to echo. This is why our blessed Lord instructs us to repeat his words – and to do even more: “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on housetops.” The words of Jesus are nothing other than the very Word of life, the same creative Word that stirred the void at creation and brought the universe into being out of nothingness. This creative Word fashioned mankind and breathed the Spirit of God into him. And Jesus entrusts his Church with that same powerful, mighty Word.

And even when ruthless kings, princes, dictators, or even wicked bishops, popes, district officials or synodical leaders threaten us – we are to continue to say the same thing, repeat, and echo our Lord. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” We are to confess, and do so articulately, forcefully, and yet in love – knowing that these are not our words, and this is not our own personal courage that girds us for this battle between good and evil, but rather the Holy Spirit himself.

We see Ezra confessing in our Old Testament reading. After the children of Israel suffered decades of exile, they have miraculously and mercifully been permitted to go back home. Ezra the priest confesses by reading the Book of the Law of Moses to the people. He doesn’t rely on his own clever words, nor does he offer up a rambling prayer telling God that “we just wanna thank ya, Lord, for all the good weather.” No, he says the same thing that God said when he delivered his Holy Word to Moses. And Ezra makes this confession public. And Ezra drew conclusions from that Law, and confessed it to the people: “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep…. Do not sorrow, for the day of the Lord is your strength.”

St. Paul points out to his son in the faith, St. Timothy, that our Lord Jesus Christ himself made the good confession before Pilate. In the Book of Acts, we find Sts. Peter and John on trial for preaching the Gospel. They were arrested and beaten and ordered to cease their public confession of Jesus – and Peter replies: “We must obey God rather than men.” And the Gospel continued to be preached – even as Satan slaughtered these confessional Christians by the thousands.

It is part of the Christian’s cross to confess the true faith – in season and out of season, popular or unpopular, politically correct or incorrect, come what may. And often, what comes is death, imprisonment, or the threat of some bodily harm.

In 1530, a group of faithful Roman Catholics were seeking reform in a Church that had become a filthy sewer of corruption. The Papacy of that day was a superpower, and dissent was handled at the stake and at the rack. All efforts of reform either fell on deaf ears or resulted in death. But by the grace of God, this Lutheran reformation was turning out differently. With the Turk threatening the peace of the Empire, the Emperor called for a meeting between the Pope’s theologians, and these reformers who were called the insulting term: “Lutherans.”

This meeting in Augsburg was no laughing matter. The emperor and pope had the power to arrest and kill anyone who disagreed with them. The so-called Lutherans decided there was only one thing to do: confess. And that they did. On this date, they presented their confession. It is not large, in fact, CPH sells it in booklet form for less than a dollar.

This confession caused a stir as soon as it was read. The Bishop of Augsburg, who was faithful to the pope and in whose palace it was read, said that it was all true and could not be denied. One of the princes who was loyal to the pope asked the pope’s head theologian if it could be refuted. Dr. Eck replied: “I can’t refute it using only Scripture.” The prince was stunned, and asked: “Do you mean to say that these Lutherans sit inside Scripture, and we outside?”

Dear Christian brothers and sisters, our congregation confesses this Augsburg confession. Every rostered teacher at our school and every pastor this congregation has had since 1870 has explicitly sworn before the holy altar that they would norm all of their teaching by the Lutheran confessions, of which the Augsburg Confession is chief.

All around the world for nearly five centuries, churches that clearly proclaim the Gospel and rightly administer the sacraments have clung to this confession. In fact, some churches that we today call “Lutheran” don’t even have “Lutheran” in their title – but rather “Churches of the Augsburg Confession.” For our identity is not that we believe every word written by Martin Luther. Our identity is actually that we Catholic Christians who have come to be known as Lutheran confess this beautiful and true little document known as the Augsburg Confession.

You may also find it amazing that the current pope, Benedict, in his previous work at the Vatican as Cardinal Ratzinger, embraced the Augsburg Confession and called for its recognition by the Roman Catholic Church.

This is an astounding confession because it is nothing more than the confession of the ancient Catholic faith in its purity. As we confess in this confession:

“In doctrine and ceremonies we have received nothing contrary to Scripture or the Church universal.”

“Our churches do not dissent from any article of the faith held by the Church Catholic.”

“As can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church universal, or from the Church of Rome, as known from its writers.”

This confession is a creedal statement for all Lutherans around the world – with which we once had harmony and concord with one another. Of course, this is hardly the case today.

Even in our own synod, we have wandered from this confession. We have teachers and pastors whose oaths to this confession are only lip service. There are sophists who play word games with this confession so as to weasel around its very clear confession of the Catholic faith.

Should we be surprised? We saw the ancient Israelites fall away time and again, only to be rescued by God through prophets armed with his Word. We saw heresies and schisms threaten the early Church – with the right confession of the faith against all odds coming out on top. We saw unspeakable corruption in the middle ages, where salvation was bought and sold like butter and gunpowder, and where popes openly sired illegitimate children and bishops bought and sold powerful government posts while the common Christian was kept in the dark. It was out of this terrible state of affairs that this Augsburg Confession was drafted and presented, and became the backbone of what is today known as Lutheran Christianity.

So should it be any surprise that such reformation should be needed again? We poor miserable sinners are forgetful – which is why we drill the catechism into our young people, why we repeat so much of God’s Word in the liturgy and in hymns, and why we feel obliged to read, re-read, and study our confessions. We have the obligation to hold our leaders’ feet to the confessional fire. We have the obligation to take this Augsburg Confession as our own – not simply leaving it to pastors, professors, and synodical bureaucrats to argue about it. For this confession is your confession. It was presented by courageous laymen who knelt before the emperor and invited him to chop off their heads before they would abandon it.

For this is the nature of the Christian faith. It isn’t a “message.” It isn’t just a bunch of “data” or “facts” and “conclusions.” Satan knows the facts, and the demons know the “message.” Our confession is the very Word of God himself, the repetition of the Good News that our blessed Lord charges us to preach from the rooftop. Confession is repetition of the truth, the unpopular truth, the truth that will land you in jail or at the stake. It is the truth that may make others make fun of you, a truth that becomes the very center of your life.

For we don’t really confess a thing, but rather, we confess a person: Jesus Christ. Our Augsburg Confession is nothing other than the confession of Jesus and the Catholic faith, a confession that has changed the universe.

Let us embrace our confession, not in a spirit of arrogance, but rather in a spirit of humility and gratitude. For we stand in the long train of saints, martyrs, and heroes who all confessed our Lord. And at the very head of the line of this confessional train is our crucified Lord himself.

It is his blood that saves us, and his Word that delivers that salvation to us. May we remain faithful to this confession unto death, and may we transmit this confession faithfully to those who come after us until our Lord returns and we will have the opportunity to joyously and eternally confess him “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


5 comments:

Mike Green said...

Great stuff as usual! Looks like there were some problems posting the text, though:

"In 1530, a group of faithful Roman Catholics were stle – but rather..."

"We saw unspeakable corruption in the middle ages, where salvationace our confession..."

Father Hollywood said...

Mike:

Thanks for the info - I had a lot of trouble getting this to upload. This happens sometimes - chunks of text go MIA when I try to post something. I'm going to repost it right now.

Pax!

Lawrence said...

Amen!

Whey Lay said...

Great sermon, I really needed to read it after the one I attended that weekend. No mention of Augsburg, sin, cross, law, or gospel. Christ was mentioned only once, as in " It's God's will that we change and grow Christ's church here." I was feeling pretty poorly over the whole thing. Later in the day though I checked the blogs and came across your sermon. It bolstered me enough to make me head back into the church this coming Sunday and start working for change in the congregation back towards confessional doctrine and practice. I figure witnesses of Augsburg put their heads on the line over it, the worst for me will just be someone showing me the door.

Father Hollywood said...

Whey:

Thanks for your kind words. I'm very sorry that you are having these struggles - which are all too common in our synod. If people (especially pastors and district officials) would only read and accept the Augsburg Confession (instead of a foreign, American Protestantized rendition of Christianity) we might move back toward concordia. As of now, we are a kaleidoscope of competing theologies and worship practices - and the laity suffer for it.

Once again, heroic laymen literally put their necks on the line for this confession. These saints are heroes to me as well. May God grant us the courage to confess as they did and not count the cost - not for personal glory, but for the Gospel.

You're in my prayers!