Monday, June 25, 2012

Sermon: Presentation of the Augsburg Confession - 2012

25 June 2012 at Hope Lutheran Church, Bellaire, MI

Text: Matt 10:26-33 (Neh 8:1-2, 5-6, 9-12; 1 Tim 6:11-16)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Believing is easy.  Believing is just being convinced that something is true.  And you can do that without anyone knowing about it.  It’s the confessing that can be hard. 

Because Satan and his allies in positions of authority do not want to hear what we have to say, what the Church has to say, what Christ has to say.  Confession of Christ has resulted in the shedding of blood of every martyr of every age.  Confession has placed men, women, and children into shackles and cells and torture chambers right down to this very moment.  Confession is what it means to “fight the good fight of faith” as St. Paul exhorts us.  For once one has engaged the enemy, once one has “confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses,” one is taking up the cross and truly following our Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself “witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate.”

Christians of every time and place are called upon to confess Christ and to openly and lovingly proclaim to the world the reason for the hope that is in them, to confess before kings and before paupers the good news of Jesus Christ, of His atoning death on the cross, His freely offered sacrifice of His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and our own unworthy reception of this redemptive grace through faith, by hearing the Word and partaking of the sacraments.

Sometimes this confession can be made freely.  Sometimes there is a cost.  While salvation is free, sometimes the confession of the free grace costs confessors their very lives.

Our forbears in the age of reformation knew this cost.  They had seen those who dared ask questions being tortured and burned at the stake.  They followed the sad saga of the excommunication of Doctor Luther, one of the Church’s greatest theologians, and stubborn refusal of the Church’s pompous bureaucracy to submit to Holy Scripture.  Some of these confessors would be burned at the stake or have their lands seized.  At very least, their reputations would be savaged, and they would be accused of being heretics.

But these brave men and women, pastors and laypeople, redeemed sinners of many lands, Christians who hungered for righteousness and thirsted for truth, took comfort in our Lord’s encouragement, “Therefore do not fear them.  For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  ‘Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light, and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops….  Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.’”

The evangelical movement that began in Germany – the churches, the pastors, the lay people, the university professors, all Christians who looked to the Bible instead of bureaucracy, who sought the Gospel and not superstitious trinkets – they were to have their opportunity at Augsburg to “fight the good fight” and “confess the good confession” before church and state, before nobles and peasants, before angels and demons – on this very date 482 years ago.

In the very teeth of the Roman Church and the Imperial State, these confessors, just as their Lord did before Pilate, “witnessed the good confession.”

And like the Old Testament exiles who returned home after decades in captivity, these confessors of Augsburg once more “opened the book” of the Word of God, and “the people stood up.”  They heard about the good news of our Lord’s death on the cross and rejected the theory of Purgatory.  They heard the proclamation of grace and rejected the mercenary trade in Masses and in relics.  They heard the Word in its glory and they rejected the self-proclaimed infallibility of church bureaucrats.

And the people were called to “rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”

The people heard the presentation of this good confession with clarity, that these reformers indeed worshiped the Trinity and confessed original sin, the Son of God, justification, the ministry, the new obedience, the Church (and what it is), baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confession, repentance, the use of sacraments, order in the Church, the observance of ceremonies, civil government, Christ’s return, the proper understanding of free will, the cause of sin, good works, and the proper way to honor the saints.

They heard these 21 articles of faith confessed with charity, in firmness and yet in love, with courage and with faith.  And they indeed confessed, “Our churches do not dissent from any article of the faith held by the Church catholic.” 

And the people heard explanations of certain practices of the ancient church that were restored: both kinds in the sacrament, the marriage of priests, the proper understanding of the Mass and its ceremonies, confession and absolution, the right way to fast, a biblical view of monastic vows, and the proper exercise of authority in the Church. 

And this confession was offered at this time and in this place for the sake of the Gospel, “so that it would be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies, we have received nothing contrary to Scripture or to the Church universal.”

Dear friends, this confession is needed now more than ever.  We live in a postmodern age where those who are afraid to commit and afraid to offend allow truth to be twisted and turned and led around like a pig with a ring in its snout.  But truth is objective, dear brothers and sisters, and though we can (and do) have honest disagreements with other Christians and even within our on communion, there is a basic confession that we Lutherans have bound ourselves, our pastors, and our churches to. 

Not only is there an objective truth, but it is knowable as revealed in Scripture and confessed by the Church Catholic.  We confess the faith of our fathers, of the apostles, of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  The Bible always trumps the bureaucrat, the Gospel always outshines trinkets, and we are bidden always to confess Him “who is 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.

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