Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Sermon: Reformation Day (Observed Wednesday)

1 November 2017

Text: Matt 11:12-19 (Rom 3:19-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Five hundred years is a long time.  We’ve seen quite a few changes since 1517.  Obviously, technology has gone from the Gutenberg printing press to the Internet. We have progressed from the wheel to the satellite.  We enjoy heat and air conditioning, indoor plumbing, entertainment, refrigerators, cars, planes, and medical advances bordering on the miraculous.

The Church had a lot of changes as well, which we call the Reformation.  It has been both good and bad: good because the idea that forgiveness is for sale or can be earned has been refuted by the Scriptures – which are available in our own language.  We also worship in our own language, have Bible classes, and lay people are encouraged to participate fully in the Lord’s Supper.  The Reformation did have some bad changes as well, as many reformers went too far, and now we have lots of denominations, many of which teach false doctrines.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is sin.  We are still poor, miserable sinners as we have been since the fall in Eden.  And sin leads to violence.  Violence is a shortcut to get what we want.  Instead of earning money to buy what we desire, we can steal or intimidate other people to give us their money.  Or we can have politicians steal for us.  In the last century, we saw both fascism and communism commit totalitarian violence and destroy entire nations.

Violence quickly followed the fall in the Garden of Eden.  We see violence between even married people, as God told Eve that this would happen.  We see brothers killing brothers, as happened between Cain and Abel.  We see the world becoming so violent, that God Himself violently wiped out nearly the entire population of the world.

In the Reformation, we saw Christians murdering other Christians.  Luther was himself threatened with being burned at the stake. 

And today, we suffer a lot of violence, as the recent terror attack in New York, committed in the name of a false god, serves as a grim example.

Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”  John was beheaded for the sake of his preaching the Word of God, and his testimony of Jesus.  John was the first martyr – even preceding our Lord’s own crucifixion.  The violent think they can take the kingdom by violence, in the same way that the violent kill their enemies and rob possessions belonging to others.

But God’s kingdom cannot be won by violence.  The stake and the concentration camp do not make Christians. 

But there is an irony at work in the cross.  For the kingdom of God came to us through an act of violence.  For the violent sought to lord over the Lord by violence.  But what happened was that the Lord used that act of violence to redeem us by His grace.  The universal symbol of Christianity is the cross: an instrument of cruel and violent torture that has become a symbol of grace and merciful love.  The violence of God’s wrath has been laid upon Jesus, the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”

The cross is central to the life of the Christian.  Jesus said that to follow Him, we must bear our own crosses.  One cross that we must bear is to live in this world of violence and hatred – at least on this side of the grave and until the return of our Lord. 

The Lord’s observation of the world’s fickleness is still true today: “John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘he has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at Him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”

Dr. Luther taught the same Gospel as the Roman Catholic Church of the days of St. Augustine, a thousand years before his own day, and the leaders of Rome called him a heretic.  Dr. Luther and we so-called Lutherans continue to practice the liturgy and the sacraments, and we are accused of being “Romanists.”  Yet, as Jesus says, “wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

Dear friends, we continue to live our Christian lives according to the confessions and principles of the Reformation, not because they are “Lutheran” ideas, but because they are Biblical ideas, or more accurately, they are Christ’s ideas that the Church has confessed since the days of the apostles.

You cannot have the forgiveness of sins by violently taking the kingdom.  Rather, forgiveness is a free gift.  You cannot buy it, earn it, or treat it as a commodity.  It is the merciful disposition of God toward you for the sake of His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. 

There is nothing to steal, to lust after, to plot to take, to buy, or to seize from another by violence.  The Good News is that we “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 in faith.”  Through the cross, we have peace with God, and we receive mercy and pardon by a gracious act of God.

That is the central message of the Reformation, our confession for five hundred years.  We do not put people to death or coerce them by violence.  Christianity is the Religion of Peace, even as Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

Indeed, many things have changed in five centuries, but the truly important things have not, chief of which is the fact that though we are sinners, God loves us, and redeems us by His Son.  And we, the Church, are charged with proclaiming and spreading this Good News.

Let us pray for the grace to continue in this nonviolent confession and life for the next five hundred years, and beyond, even unto eternity!  Amen!

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

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