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Reformation (Observed) – John 8:31-36

by pastorjuhl ~ October 23rd, 2008

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

It is not presumptuous to say that all the problems that befall God’s people in Holy Scripture happen as a result of not abiding in His Word. The same can be said for the Christian Church. When we abide in another word, we mock God. We fear, love, and trust in another god above all things.

Saint Paul lays it all out in Romans chapter three. When we do not abide in God’s Word, we become guilty before God just as all the world is guilty before God. We stand under the Law’s condemnation. The Law does not save us. The Law only condemns us. The Law says we are to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This we cannot do because Adam and Eve, our first parents, could not do it either. Therefore by the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.

Believe it or not, there is a female Episcopalian “priest” in the Pacific Northwest who calls herself both a Christian and a Muslim. She attends Holy Eucharist every Sunday at her Episcopalian parish then dons a burqa to attend prayer at her local mosque. Her bishop is excited about the interfaith possibilities. The Muslim authorities don’t quite know what to think about, as do most Episcopalians. The two faiths are incompatible, but don’t say that to this woman who really believes God has called her to be both Christian and Muslim.

Being a Christian and a Muslim is like wanting to have your cake and eat it too. One is a religion of the Law: do these things and you will be saved. The other is not a religion of the Law. It is impossible for a sinful human being to fulfill God’s Holy Law. That’s the lesson Blessed Martin Luther learned as an Augustinian monk. He could pray a thousand prayers; he could whip his flesh into submission with the monastic discipline; he could say one hundred Masses, but he could never pay back perfectly his debt of sin.

Every attempt we make to rectify our debt of sin to God will fall short too. The Law works repentance, not salvation. The Law silences our mouths and makes us guilty of sin. We can’t boast about clean living on the one hand and get ourselves dirty in false boasting on the other hand. The minute we think salvation is a solo effort on our part, or at best a cooperative venture between “me and Jesus” is the minute we no longer abide in His Word, not knowing the Truth, and a slave to sin.

One wonders whether or not Luther would recognize what’s become of the Reformation worldwide. The European continent has nearly become pagan, let alone atheistic. Church buildings are still church buildings, but they are mostly museum pieces recalling days gone by when people actually went to Church to hear the Word proclaimed and receive Holy Communion. They are examples of beautiful architecture rather than active houses of worship.

The Reformation in the New World has nearly been hijacked by the New Measures of the 19th century that use emotion and feelings to measure faith rather than faithfully receiving Word and Sacrament. Congregations who stay by the old ways are told “this is not your grandfather’s church”. They are expected to get with the times lest they be left behind with grandpa. The problem is we Lutherans are the garbage collectors of Christian fads. What is now popular among us was once popular ten to twenty years ago elsewhere. Yesterday’s hot ministry is today’s fad.

Will there be a generation of Lutherans who can confess the Apostles’ Creed, or will they shrug their shoulders at the mention of the creed because their pastor wrote a new creed every week? Are we raising a generation of Lutherans who will remember one stanza of “Abide with Me”, let alone even know what a service book is, not to mention the Small Catechism or even the Bible?

Saint John’s Revelation says the angel flying in the midst of heaven has the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. We sing in that cherished hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”:

The Church shall never perish!

Her dear Lord, to defend,

To guide, sustain, and cherish,

Is with her to the end.

Tho’ there be those that hate her,

False sons within her pale,

Against both foe and traitor

She ever shall prevail. (TLH 473:3)

I find it fascinating that Lutheran Service Book left out this important stanza. This missing stanza confesses the truth that the Church shall never perish. Jesus Christ is ready to defend, guide, sustain, and cherish His beloved bride to the end. The Church is more than white Americans. The Church believes the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

Saint Paul’s words concerning the righteousness of God revealed through faith in Jesus Christ is the Word Jesus wants us to abide. The Reformation is more than the Bible being translated into a language people can understand. The Reformation is not Protestant Christians shaking their fist at Rome and telling them to get lost. The Reformation is much more than politics. The Reformation is all about God the Father reckoning us righteous for eternity because of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. The Church of the Reformation confesses Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins, rose from the dead three days later, ascended into heaven to fulfill all things, and sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church to give the Gospel and the Sacraments until He returns to take us home to heaven.

When we abide in this Word; when we put fads, trends, and partisan church politics aside to abide in the clear words of Holy Scripture confessed in the Book of Concord; we know the truth, and the truth liberates us from the Law of having to fear, love, and trust in any other false god, especially the false god of self. It is liberating to give up trying to make the Christian faith in our own image and let Christ mold us into His image through preaching, baptism, absolution, and His Supper.

The old Latin saying is “The Church is always in reformation.” As long as we live in this world we will have to contend for the faith. Our contention will not always be popular, even among other Lutherans of our fellowship. Yet we contend for the Truth of God’s Word faithfully, knowing Jesus Christ fights for us. In life and in death we abide with Jesus and His Word that brings freedom from sin and death.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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