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Reformation 2013

Romans 1:16-17 – In love, God opens our hearts to his Word

Martin Luther didn’t have an easy early life.  In his early life Martin Luther was often troubled and in despair.  It wasn’t the result of a low self-esteem, or the result of suppression from political or social or economic injustice, it wasn’t the result of a dysfunctional and broken home life.  What troubled him?  His conscience.  It didn’t matter how hard he tried, he never felt he was good enough for God and felt God must be angry with him for his sin.  The more he tried to keep the 10 commandments the more he realized he failed.  And the church didn’t help either.  The church at his time taught that it was up to each person to earn God’s favor by good behavior.  Luther’s terror-stricken conscience moved him to leave studying law and become a monk, then a priest in order to find some spiritual peace.  But it didn’t work.  So, he did more.  He’d wake himself up in the middle of the night to do more worship, more confession, more prayer.  He’d sleep on hard surfaces, sometimes whip himself, and once fellow monks even found him passed out- working so hard to earn God’s favor.  To him, God was a vengeful, angry, stern Judge, who demanded something of him he just couldn’t give.

His superiors recognized that the only way to keep Luther from substantially harming himself was to keep him busy.  They gave him more and more work to do, including teaching.  And Luther began to do something rather strange at the time: study the Bible.  Slowly, over time God worked through His Word and then he read this passage, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17).  Aha!  Through His Word the Holy Spirit changed Luther’s false understanding.  The righteousness of God was not something God demanded of him, it was the perfect righteousness God gifted to him through faith!  In other words, salvation was not something he had to do, but it was something given to him by God!  God worked through His Word and convinced Luther of the truth.

Today we live in a world full of doubts and questions and confusion.  We live in a world full of skepticism about God and about God’s Word.  And that attitude can be easy for us to get sucked into.  It happens when God’s Word is pushed further down our priority list, it happens when we dismiss God’s Word because we don’t understand something instead of digging into it.  Ought God to take His Word from us?  Sure.  But He hasn’t!

In fact, in great patience He keeps bringing His Word to us.  And God’s Word is God’s power and God’s might to bring us the comfort of His gift of salvation when our conscience bugs us, it’s God’s power and might to give us the answers when we have questions, its God’s power and God’s might to give us ultimate truth in a world of confusion.  Yes, in love, God opens our hearts again and again and again to His powerful Word!

Isaiah 55:8-11 – In love, God makes sure His Word is spread

After God had opened Luther’s eyes to the truths of salvation, God continued to bring Luther further into the church and the more that he read and studied God’s Word the more he came to see the abuses of the church.

In 1517 something happened that was earth-shaking.  In order to fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome the Catholic Church determined to sell something called “indulgences.”  Indulgences were little pieces of paper that you could purchase and they promised either for you or a loved one less time in a place called purgatory – another false teaching.  Luther didn’t quite recognize these as sinful yet, but he recognized that they were being terribly abused and he wanted to debate the issue.  So, on October 31, 1517, the day before the church festival of All Saints Day, Luther posted 95 theses or sentences detailing the abuses of these indulgences.

All Luther wanted was a debate.  He had written the 95 theses in Latin, but soon they were translated and distributed all over the place and caused quite a stir.  Why?  Because God doesn’t want His Word suppressed, He wants it spread.  The outcome?  It sent shockwaves throughout the empire.  Was there a renewed interest in what God says in His Word?   People discussing things based on Scripture?  A desire to go back to God’s Word for answers?  Sure!

You see, God wants His Word spread and God will spread His word, that’s what God said through the prophet Isaiah:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways and my thought than your thoughts.  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:8-11)

Just like God has attached His power to water and He wills that it causes things to grow and flourish, so God has attached His power to His Word and it is His will that it spreads and causes faith to bud, grow, and flourish.  God wants His powerful Word spread and His Word will be spread either through you and me or in spite of you and me, but it’s much better when He does it through people like you and me!

How so?  By supporting the work of the church, by praying for it, by talking about God’s Word with family members or relatives or friends or co-workers.  But I might not know what to say?  What if they object?  What if I get tongue-tied?  What if it doesn’t come out right?  God promises His Word won’t return empty.  God’s Word is powerful, it was the power of God’s Word that worked faith in your heart, you know what you believe, you know what the main message of Scripture is, you know about sin and you know God’s answer: Jesus’ forgiveness.

And just like God used Martin Luther to spread His Word, so He will use you in your own way, in your own life!  Why?  Because God wants more and more to hear and receive the knowledge of their Savior.

Jeremiah 20:8-12 – In love, God leads us to take a stand

Can you picture it?  It was April 17th, 1521 a high profile meeting at a city called Worms to deal with this renegade monk.  There was Martin Luther, one lone monk, and then there was the high and mighty church officials, princes, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V himself.  Luther had hoped that at this meeting he would finally be given a chance to defend his teachings based on Scripture.  However, all he was permitted was to answer 2 question: Are these your writings?  And, Will you recant?  If he wouldn’t take back what he wrote, then he’d become an outlaw and there would be open season on his life.  So, Luther agreed that they were his books but took a day to answer the 2nd question.  Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Luther at that point?  You’re preaching something different from everyone else and many other Catholic theologians, you’re life literally hung in the balance, scared? Nervous? Afraid?

Well, when he came back this is what he said, “If I am not convicted by testimony from the Holy Scriptures or by common, clear, and evident reasons…then I cannot and will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor advisable to act against conscience.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me!  Amen!”  He stood firm.

Rewind a little over 2,000 years to the time of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah was God’s prophet sent to proclaim God’s Word to a stubborn and rebellious nation.  Jeremiah’s life was put on the line for speaking God’s Word, he was abused and mistreated.  Yet, what did he say?  (Read Text). “Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. 9But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. 10I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side! Report him! Let’s report him!” All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.” 11But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. (Jeremiah 20:8-12)

We must proclaim God’s Word – all of it, both the bad news and the good news.  Jeremiah didn’t want to, but he couldn’t help speaking God’s Word.  So, too, God’s Word led Martin Luther to take a stand.  Perhaps at times we’re afraid to stand up for God’s Word.  God’s Word won’t likely win us any popularity contests or Nobel peace prizes, you won’t likely get a congressional medal of honor for telling someone God’s law and gospel.  It’s not always easy standing firm to friends who want you to join them in sinning, or standing firm as a parent having to discipline your children or tell them no, or just standing firm against the devil’s repeated and continual temptations.

But God’s Word is like a fire within us.  We can’t help speaking about the things we have seen and heard: God’s law and God’s gospel.  Why?  God’s Word leads us to stand firm, no matter what!

Romans 12:4-8 – In love, God uses our talents

Thankfully, after the meeting at Worms God protected Luther.  On his way back one of Luther’s friends had him kidnapped and brought to a castle called the “Wartburg” and hid Luther for a time.  And God used Luther’s talents, he wrote tons of things: pamphlets, letters, books, hymns, catechisms, but perhaps his most important work was one that he started while at the Wartburg – he translated the Bible into the German language- a language the common person could read and understand.  What do you think?  Could you do that?  Could I?  I don’t think I could be able to do that, I don’t have those talents.

But I have other talents and so do you.  Yes, they’re different from Luther’s, but they’re just as valuable!  You see, God has knit His Church together like a body.  That’s what God tells us through the Apostle Paul: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”  Your body and mine has many different parts to it- fingers, hands, feet, nerves, organs, toes – each is important, each has a function, each is needed and necessary.  You wouldn’t just want to lose your fingers, or your nose, or your spine, or your feet.  You want every part!  And every part does something valuable for the whole body.

By calling you to faith God has made you part of the body of Christ.  That means that each of you has something valuable and important to bring to the Church.  You might be an “ear,” or a “eye,” or and “hand,” or a “blood cell.”  It doesn’t matter.  Each one of us is needed and valuable and important for the life of the Church.

And yes, the devil will often try to convince us the opposite.  He’ll try to convince us that we’re not needed, not valuable, not important.  And often we’ll fail to use our gifts and talents for the work of the Lord.

But the reality is: you are needed, you are necessary!  In grace God has made you to have the very talents and abilities that is needed for God’s church today!  YOU are just as valuable to God’s Church today as Luther was in the 16th Century.  Because God loves you, just as much as He loved Luther and God will use you and your talents to do what is most important in our day: Bring God’s Word to God’s world.  Amen.

Psalm 118:15-19 – In love, God takes us to heaven.

Do you have a favorite verse of the Bible?  One especially near and dear to you?  Perhaps a confirmation verse or one you’ve memorized?  There was one verse that Luther is reportedly said to have really cherished, it’s in our text: “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! 16The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” 17I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. 18The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. 19Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.”  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done!”

Yes, every human being will have to die physically; but the believer in Jesus will actually really never die, for when a believer leaves this life, he or she goes to the real life, heavenly life, life eternal.  Yes, we will not die; we will live and live forever.  We can certainly understand why Luther cherished this verse.

When Luther was on his death bed, one of those who was with him asked him, “Reverend Father, do you wish to die steadfastly in Jesus Christ and in the faith as you preached it?”  And Luther responded, “Ja.”  (German for “yes”)  And then 2:45 one morning he died.  Or, more accurately, he stepped from this life into the next; he didn’t die; he lived in a much, much better way.

And because Jesus died and rose you too will live forever.  And finally that’s why we celebrate the Reformation and that’s why we’re willing to stand firm on God’s Word.  We thank God for what God did through Martin Luther, for returning the church back to God and His Word, because eternity is at stake.  Any error or any departure from Scripture put’s eternal life on the line.  That’s why we need to stand firm in the truth, on all of Scripture!

Because in the truth there is eternity.  You stand on the truth.  So on your deathbed, if someone should ask you, “Do you wish to die steadfastly in Jesus Christ?”  You will answer, “Yes!”  And you will go on living forever and ever.  Amen.