Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sermon: Reformation – 2015

25 October 2015

Text: Matt 11:12-19 (Rev 14:6-7, Rom 3:19-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Since the fall in the Garden of Eden, the world has been the very opposite of what it was created to be.  It fell from being a paradise, becoming instead a war zone.  Conflict is everywhere.  Man fell out of favor with God, men fell to other men, and even the natural world fell into becoming a bloody place of predators and prey. 

The red on our altar and in our sanctuary today is, in part, a reminder of this, because red is the color of bloodshed.  Red is the color of martyrdom.  And indeed, red is the color of the Reformation.

The Reformation was a sad and sorrowful time of violence.  The areas in Germany where the reforms were first being made in the churches became places of violence, places of conflict, places of bloodshed.

Confessors of the faith, pastors and lay people alike, were imprisoned and put to death.  Families were devastated. Books were burned.  The peasants had a bloody revolt, and the princes put it down with vicious cruelty. Governments were overthrown.  Armies clashed in the fields as the emperor tried to force Lutherans back under the pope at the point of a sword – something we today associate more with radical Islam than with the religion of the Prince of Peace.

Although today we remember the incident of Martin Luther quietly nailing an academic paper to the church door, something that was nothing more than an ordinary debate between Latin-speaking scholars at a remote university, the fallout of this event would change the world.  Dr. Luther’s paper was translated and published.  Ordinary people were reading it.  And before long, the streets would run red with the blood of people from every walk of life who believed that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, and that the bishops of the church were under the authority of the Bible, and not the other way around. 

And yet, in remembrance of this monstrous time of bloodshed, our church is bedecked in the festive color of red, and we are celebrating.  To be sure, we do not celebrate cruelty or war, violence or bloodshed.  Christians are lovers of peace, even as our Lord is the Prince of Peace. But we do celebrate courage and steadfastness, faithfulness, and the witness of the testimony of the saints who loved the kingdom of God more than they loved their dear life’s-blood itself.  For at no point in history has the Church’s life in this fallen world been peaceful. Christian blood has run from our veins and dyed the earth red since the very beginning of the Church. And all of the enemies of the cross, outside the church and inside, all who have sought to muzzle the Gospel, have ended up in ruin.  But yet, as St. Peter the apostle wrote, citing Isaiah, “The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.”

The armies who defended the Lutheran territories from the pope’s armies had the letters VDMA on their flags, Latin for: “Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum: the Word of the Lord endures forever.”  For as all Christians know, all flesh is indeed like the grass.  It is like a flower.  Like all things in our broken world, everything is temporary, everything except the Word of God.  And that Word is worth dying for, and it is worth living for.  For the Word-made-flesh Himself died to give us life.  And He, Jesus, is the heart of the confession that makes people so angry and filled with hatred and rage so as to want to spill our blood.

As our Lord said: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”  We are a sinful people who are never happy.  We grumbled at John the Baptist for not eating and drinking.  We grumbled at Jesus for eating and drinking. We beheaded John. We crucified Jesus.  We are most certainly poor, miserable sinners for whom Christ died.

And indeed, the red in our sanctuary stands for the blood of the saints and martyrs, but also for the blood of the One whose blood sets us free from death itself: the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blood of Him who saved us.

For our Lord’s blood ran from His veins at the cross, and His blood covered the whole world’s sins. This is the confession of our forbears who would at some point be called “Lutherans” by their attackers.  Being saved from sin, death, and the devil is free – it is a gift.  You don’t need a pope to interpret or even mangle the words of the Bible.  You don’t need to buy an indulgence or attempt to earn your way into the kingdom of heaven.  For the kingdom of heaven suffers violence whenever the work of our Lord on the cross is minimized or obscured by false doctrine or by false prophets.

It took Dr. Luther and the so-called Lutherans to remind the world what the Word of God actually says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

Dear friends, this is not some kind of “Lutheran” doctrine, it is the Christian faith in a nutshell.  It is the Word of the Lord, and it endures forever. It is the Gospel testified to by the blood of every holy martyr, including the holy confessors of the Reformation.

For just as the grass withers and the flower fades, and just as all flesh is grass, everything in this fallen world is temporary, dear brothers and sisters.  The things we love and hold so dear are all temporary: our homes, our country, our vehicles, our friendships, our hobbies, our heirlooms, our treasures – all of it.

Bloodshed is also temporary and will cease, as swords will be beaten into plowshares.  Conflict is temporary and will cease, as the lion will lie down with the lamb.  Sin, death, and the devil are temporary and will cease, as the Lord Jesus Christ defeated all three by His own death upon the cross, and promises to cast them all into the lake of fire. 

And that victory, the victory of the cross, belongs to you, dear friends, to each one of you who have been baptized and who believe this Gospel.  That victory is a free gift. For the word “Gospel” simply means “good news.”  The war has been won.  The enemy has been defeated.  Our own sinful flesh that is in rebellion has been recreated anew by the flesh and blood of the Savior. And He speaks to us today in His Word that endures forever, and His flesh becomes your flesh through eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper: His very body and blood given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and eternal communion with the Triune God, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.

And so, yes, dear friends, we are so bold as to celebrate, even festively decorating our church in the red of the blood of our fallen brothers and sisters.  For that blood is also Christ’s blood, spilled for our behalf and given to us in a saving communion with the One who created a perfect conflict-free world in the beginning, and who has saved us by that same blood at the cross, paying for something that we could never earn or afford, and sharing it with us free of charge right here in this sanctuary. 

And He promises us an even greater Reformation: the reforming of heaven and earth, one that will endure forever.  Amen.

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

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