Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sermon: Reformation – 2012

28 October 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 8:31-36 (Rom 3:19-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus preaches: “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Our Lord links truth and freedom.  Of course, the opposite of truth is a lie, and the opposite of freedom is slavery.  These two, lies and slavery, are linked as well. 

Not long ago, we prayed together, confessing before God the truth that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  We are in bondage, dear friends, we are enslaved.  We are enslaved by a lie, an untruth, a sin that “infects us all,” from the Fall in Eden.  The lie: “God did not actually say…” is the all-enslaving untruth.  And the opposite of this bondage-laden falsehood is the powerful liberating truth proclaimed by Jesus, the Truth Incarnate, who says veritably: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

“The truth,” dear brothers and sisters, “shall make you free.”

This truth is confessed by the seal of Dr. Luther on the back of this chasuble.  It shows a black cross within a heart, confessing the truth that in the depths of our hearts, we are sinners.  And while the black inside the heart confesses sin, the cross confesses the truth of how that sin is forgiven.  Around the heart is a white Christmas rose, symbolizing the purity of the Christ child born as a shoot from Jesse’s stem into our black-hearted world.  This confession is surrounded by the gold ring of eternity, having no beginning and no end.  And the glorious truth of Christianity is declared in a little word, something that you don’t always see in representations of Luther’s Seal.  That “little word” is “Vivit.”  It is Latin for “He lives.”

He lives, dear friends.  Christ lives!  He who was slain for our sins lives, the Lamb of God lives, for He rose the victor over sin, the vanquisher of death, the conqueror of the devil.  Vivit!  He lives!

One group of Christians that certainly understands the relationship between truth and freedom, between the lie and slavery, is our sister Lutheran church in Russia.  For nearly all of the twentieth century, our brothers and sisters in the USSR were enslaved by a lie.  And that lie also began with: “God did not actually say…”  For the leaders of the Russian revolution denied there was a God at all.  They told the lies that Jesus was not God’s Son, that Jesus did not die for the sins of the world, and that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Instead, they substituted a lie for a truth when they spoke of Lenin, the leader of the Russian revolution, whom true believers in the false god of Communism believed would be raised from the dead.  Children would sing: “Lenin lives” in school.  “He lives” they confessed about their false failed god whose dead body is still shockingly on display in a glass coffin in Moscow.  In that context, “he lives” is a great lie.  And this lie enslaved people for decades.

The red we see on Reformation Day, unlike the red of Communism, is a reminder of the blood shed by the martyrs who confessed the truth.  The Romanov family: the last Tsar of Russia who had resigned, his formerly-Lutheran wife, and their innocent children were murdered by Lenin’s thugs (called the “Reds”) in 1917.  They were told a lie that they were being photographed before being moved to the basement and shot.  The Russian people were lied to for decades about the fate of this Christian family whose blood was shed by the liars of Communism.  The Romanov’s bodies were destroyed and buried in a mine shaft in an attempt to suppress the truth.

But truth eventually comes out, dear friends.  Truth always trumps the lie, even if it takes a long time to do so.  And in the 1980s, the truth of the martyrdom of the Romanovs became known.  The truth that Communism is a lie, that Lenin does not live, that Christ lives, that God wants people to be free, that the state is not a god – all came out in the 1980s as well.  Today,  a magnificent Christian church stands in Yekaterinburg on the site where the blood of the Romanovs was shed.  It is called “The Church on the Blood.”  And the Blood of Christ is freely distributed, proclaiming the truth that He, our Lord Jesus, lives, and that He is true God and true Man, the Savior of the world.  The lie was told for decades, but the truth lives unto eternity.

There is another church nearby in Yekaterinburg.  It is a small Lutheran church called Sts. Peter and Paul.  The original church was bulldozed by the great father of lies Joseph Stalin.  The previous pastor was shot.  Today, the truth of the risen Lord is proclaimed by another Lutheran pastor in that revived Lutheran congregation, and the evangelical truth that the blood of Christ covers the sins of the world is proclaimed there.  One of the faithful who receives Christ’s true blood in that parish is Albina Becker, a lady who was deported to Siberia after her grandfather, a Lutheran pastor, had been shot.  Today, the USSR is dead and buried, along with Lenin and Stalin and the lie that the state is god, all the while the truth of the Gospel of the risen Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed as His true body and blood are freely distributed for the true salvation of all who believe.

Albina’s ancestors, and those who went before us in the 1500s also confessed the truth over and against a great lie.  For they held the truth that we are saved by grace, through faith, and that this truth is confessed in Scripture – even over and against mighty popes and councils and other church bureaucrats.  And many of our pastors and people likewise shed their blood making this good and true confession.

The early Lutherans understood how the lie enslaves and how the truth sets free.  They understood that the Scriptures proclaimed the truth, and that anyone and everyone who sets himself up against the Scripture is a liar, and only enslaves people deeper in their sins.

It doesn’t matter how big the lie is, how important the liars are, or how long the lie is told.  One little Word of truth fells the lie along with the father of lies.  The lie had been told a very long time that the Lord’s atoning death on the cross was not all-sufficient, that there was a place for the dead to suffer their remaining sins being purged from them, and that by doing good works, one could purge away sins.  Later, it was suggested that this purging could be purchased.  Of course, these are ridiculous lies that made church bureaucrats rich and powerful.  There were other lies as well: that the saints can hear our prayers and do little jobs for us, that the pope had the power to speak infallibly, that salvation could be had by mere ritual apart from faith, and that lay people should not read the Bible.  

Our Lutheran forbears knew the truth, and they also knew the truth that “the Truth shall make you free.”

Once liberated from the lies of the medieval church hierarchy, the truth of the Gospel spread around the globe, liberating people from the lie of slavery to the church bureaucracy, and most importantly, liberating men and women and children from the bondage of sin through the preaching of that Truth that makes us free, Jesus Christ.

The Truth has indeed made us free, dear friends, the truth of the atoning death of our Lord on the Cross, the truth that “He lives,” the truth that although “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” nevertheless, we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… a propitiation by His blood, through faith…” and that we are “justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”

For we have joined Lutherans around the world hearing this  response to our confession, the liberating truth: “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And we have joined truth-loving Christians of every denomination and nationality, of every time and place, in being liberated by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ from our sins, by grace, through faith, as indeed is confessed in Scripture.  And with all our brothers and sisters we give our Lord all thanks and praise, for being the Truth that makes us free.  Moreover, we proclaim the glorious truth that “He lives,” now and forever.


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

Albina Becker today worships freely at Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church in Yekaterinburg 

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