Reformation Sunday: October 25, 2015
St Stephen Lutheran Church
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, STS
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It used to be that a good sermon was viewed as
‘three points and a poem.’
I won’t have a poem at the end of the sermon,
because we have enough wonderful poetry in the hymns,
so you don’t need to hear something from me.
But I do want to make three points
about how I think the heritage of the Lutheran reformation
can still inform our lives
and the life of the Church today.
I’ll start at the beginning:
with the very first thesis of the famous 95 theses
which were posted by Fr. Martin Luther in Wittenberg in 1517.
‘When our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’
he intended the entire life of the believer
to be one of repentance.’
Martin Luther was passionately concerned
for the spiritual health of the individual Christian.
He was concerned that the practices of the Church in his time
were actually preventing the believers from living the Christian life.
If one only had to make confession
and then fulfill the penance prescribed by the priest;
if one only had to buy an indulgence
and then one’s sins would be forgiven
and the souls of those in purgatory would be freed,
there was no need to live the baptismal life;
that life in which the old sinful person in each of us
is to be daily drowned by sorrow for sin and repentance,
and that by God’s grace the new person comes forth
and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Grace for Luther was free, but it was never cheap.
By the Holy Spirit, we are called to faithfulness,
not merely to fulfill church regulations,
but seeking God’s will with our whole heart.
from the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518,
‘One is righteous not who does much,
but who believes much in Christ.’
Many, even Lutherans,
still believe that good works are what save us.
It is necessary for the Christian to do good works;
the Holy Spirit calls us to good works,
but we do not ‘earn’ our salvation,
it is freely given in Christ and for the sake of Christ.
No matter how deeply we think we know this,
we always need to keep this truth close to our heart,
that God is the acting subject, the subject of every verb,
and we are the object of God’s action.
He saves us.
Our texts for the day emphasize the priority of God’s action.
The book of Jeremiah says that God himself
will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
that he himself will be their God and they will be his people,
that he himself will put his law within them,
and he himself will forgive their iniquity
and remember their sin no more.
God is the subject of all the verbs.
In Christ, the future tense becomes present.
Jesus says, ‘The one who commits sin is a slave to sin.’
It is something we echo at the beginning of many worship services:
‘We confess we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.’
But our situation is not hopeless,
for though we by ourselves have no hope,
Christ is our hope,
for he gives himself on the cross,
and frees us from sin, death, and evil.
‘If the Son makes you free,
you shall be free indeed.’
Perhaps some of us come to worship
feeling unworthy to be here,
perhaps we hear the words of forgiveness at the confession
or the words of forgiveness at the Communion
and we do not quite believe that these words could be meant for us.
Martin Luther felt the same way,
but when he grasped the meaning of God’s Word in Romans,
Paul’s assertion that God’s righteousness was not we were to earn,
but that God showed his own righteousness in Christ,
his soul was freed for joy;
though he struggled with doubt the rest of his life,
God’s grace continued to console and comfort him.
May it be the same for us.
(who did not leave the Roman Church,
he was kicked out!);
he did not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
But the reformers of the Lutheran reformation
believe with the holy catholic Church across the generations:
God’s grace comes through means,
through the Word of God
and the Sacraments of Bath and Meal,
the washing of the font
and the feeding at the table.
We do not need to worry that God is not speaking in our heart,
for he speaks to us here in the Word and Sacrament.
He speaks to us in the liturgy,
and in the Churches of the Reformation the ancient liturgy has been preserved.
This is important because there are times when we are weak in faith,
we rebel and we despair and we get distracted.
When we realize this,
we do not despair,
we do not resolve to try harder and get it right the next time;
we do not wait for God to speak in our heart; we come to church.
We confess again and we hear forgiveness again
and we praise and pray.
We hear the Word which tells of God’s loving purposes
for us and all creation.
and we remember our baptism,
how Jesus stepped into our place
so that we could step into his;
and we receive the Holy Communion,
remembering how Jesus died for us.
When we are far from God,
we turn to God,
and we find that God has been there all along,
waiting for us to turn again
so that he can give us the ring and the robe
and the meal.
We are called to repentance.
We are saved not by our works but by our God in Christ.
We receive the grace of Christ in Word and Sacrament,
in the ancient liturgy of the Church we hear God speaking to us
with words of blessing and love.
Now we sing the poem.
Joyce, anytime you're ready!