Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28;
John 8:31-36; Reformation Sunday
October 29th, 2006
Re-Reformation: Let’s Do It Again!
Vicar Brian Henderson
INTRODUCTION: In 1505, a young but brilliant German law student named Martin Luther found himself caught in the open, on foot during a violent thunder storm. As lightening struck the ground all around him, Luther in fear for his life threw himself on the ground, and with his face in the mud, he begged God to have mercy on him and spare his life. He entered into “negotiations” with God by stating that while he knew he was a sinner, if God would spare his life, he would then dedicate his life to Him and become a monk.
Luther did survive, and true to his word he became an Augustinian monk. During his time in a monastery, Luther tried to work out his salvation and become closer to God through study of the Psalms, prayer, fasting, meditation and hard work. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not seem to find peace for his troubled soul. Nothing seemed to shake his feeling that he was a helpless sinner caught in the grasp of an angry and vengeful God. We might say that Luther began to feel as if he was a flightless bird caught in the gilded cage of sin.
In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood and licensed to preach and study Theology at the University of Wittenberg. Luther’s superiors soon discovered that God had gifted him with a brilliant mind, but yet he seemed to be held back by his now obvious feeling of guilt. The solution? Luther must make the pilgrimage to Rome, where tradition taught that the journey itself would earn merit with God and bring the pilgrim closer to salvation. Luther was also told that he could purchase certificates of forgiveness called indulgences, which were published by the Pope himself. These indulgences guaranteed the purchaser of even more favor and love from God. Well, Luther, ever the obedient monk did as he was told, but found no peace in either the pilgrimage nor the possession these indulgences.
While the story of Martin Luther is history, for some ancient history it is nonetheless our history, the history of the church. Historians tell us that If we are to understand our history correctly, then we must learn to identify with it. This morning, that will be easy for us. We don’t have to become a monk, Priest or Pastor to put ourselves in Martin Luther’s shoes because we all have something much deeper than this in common with Brother Martin. We all struggle with sin. If we think of Martin Luther as a flightless bird being held in a cage, then sin was the cage that held him captive. Today, on Reformation Sunday, we celebrate the freedom that God gave first to Martin Luther and then to the whole church. This morning, we will look at how we too can be free and live as God intends us to live, by learning two concepts. First, the cage that holds us captive must be opened; and second, we must be given two good wings so that we may fly out of it. Once these concepts are realized, all of us will see that we too can be reformers; reformers of our own faith and reformers of this place where we gather.
I. The cage of sin can only be opened when God’s Word provides the gift to believe, that is faith. All of us, like Martin Luther are born trapped in the cage of sin. No matter how hard we try to free ourselves from our cage, we fail. This is the hard lesson Luther learned. It was not until God, through His Word provided Luther with the faith to trust in Jesus that Luther saw the cage of sin opened. What does scripture say about faith? Faith comes from hearing, and hearing the Word of God. Martin Luther discovered this one evening while studying God’s Word in the privacy of his own room. Through God’s Word, faith was given to Martin Luther while reading in our Epistle this morning. Listen to these words, “But now the righteousness of God has been made known apart from the law, the righteousness of God (then comes to us) through faith in Jesus Christ (and it is) for all who believe. (God) makes no distinction (between people): for (everyone has) sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, (but everyone is also equally) justified by (what Jesus Christ has done, because it is) a gift, (from God to all of us). (Rom. 3:21-24) By these Words, Luther discovered that God is not angrily staying far away from us and we do not have to try hard to reach Him. In fact, the opposite is true. You and I though born sinful and distant from God are not lost at all, for God Himself through Christ, has come to us so that we who were once lost are now found and released from the bondage of sin. Now while this is certainly Good News, it is not New News, but rather it is the consistent and old gospel of grace, which has been handed down from the very beginning; it had simply been overlaid and hidden by the traditions of men. But now the cage, which once imprisoned Luther and even us, has been opened and like Luther, we are free; but free to do what? Free to follow God’s direction in our lives.
II. So Luther, now armed with a vibrant faith through God’s Word was able to rightly understand that Word. Through God’s love and care, Luther was changed in a way that would impact time and eternity, and God’s desire is that we would also be changed in this way. We can better understand this central theme if we continue to follow the picture already provided where Luther was compared to a flightless bird, caught in a cage. The cage has now been opened, and now Luther and we must be provided wings so that we can leave the cage of sin and soar where God leads.
A. The first wing for Luther and for us comes from our Lord in these Words: “Come unto me, all you who are tired of carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” For Luther there could have been no heavier burden than the burden of sin! And now Jesus had miraculously removed that burden from him and exchanged it for peace with God. What did Jesus say in our Gospel reading? “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (And) if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” What Luther discovered, and what we must also realize is that not only have we been freed from the bondage of sin, but we have also been adopted as sons and daughters of God. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12). (And) all who are now led by the Spirit of God, are now sons of God.” (Romans 8:14).
Dear friends do we understand the importance of this proclamation? Brother Martin did! He was set free from the sin that once held him back. It was no longer him setting the course for his life, but God’s Spirit living within him, leading and guiding him, and it was this very same Spirit that ensured Him that he was a beloved son of God! What’s holding you back this morning? What’s preventing your from living out this reality? For some it may be an addiction of some kind. Or maybe it is your anger or an unforgiving spirit. If so, please hear my words, CHRIST HAS SET YOU FREE!
For some, perhaps what’s holding you back is the very thing that hindered Martin Luther for much of his early life, FEAR—if so you also should rejoice with "inexpressible and glorious joy," because you have been delivered from all of your fears. (Pause) There is nothing that I can think of that darkens the human heart more than fear in any of its many forms. But those of you who truly trust in Jesus Christ have been saved from all of your fears. You’re delivered from all fear of misfortune; you’re delivered from all fear of other people; you’re delivered from all fear of death; and you’re delivered from perhaps the biggest fear of all, the fear of eternity. Do you know friends that to a true believer in Jesus Christ, “eternity” is one of the sweetest words in the English language? It’s a word that should make the hearts of believers pound with anticipation, because as a son or daughter of the Heavenly Father you have a place prepared for you at His side; a place of inexpressible joy and happiness. But "eternity" isn’t a sweet word to someone who doesn’t know and trust in Jesus. Write this question on a card "Where will you spend eternity?" and give it to a person who doesn’t know the Lord, and it will make that person extremely angry; write the question on a card and hand it to a Christian, and it will make him glad. Why is this? Simply because a person who trust in Christ alone isn’t afraid of eternity, but instead that person delights in the thought of eternity because to that person, eternity means joy, happiness and glory. St. Paul, in Romans 6, sums up this idea quite nicely when he says, "But thank God, (because now as His child), you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands (has) set you free to live openly in his freedom!" (Romans 6:17-18). If we are no longer servants of sin, but instead God’s servants of righteousness, what does that mean for us? The answer to this question then provides us with our second wing, so that we may leave the cage and soar where ever God leads us.
B. Jesus said “(Now) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The second wing then is God’s promise to be with us as we are obedient to His great commission. We are to listen to His call and follow Him. But follow Him where? Well out of the cage of course; out of our bondage to sin and fear and out into our communities, our schools, or work place and even into our families to be His Children, the Ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Well what are we to do? Well, we are Ambassadors of Christ are we not? Well then we are to represent Him; we are to do the very thing He did, we must seek out and save the lost. Who are the lost? They’re the broken people that live in our community. They’re the people who still live in bondage to sin and fear. They’re the people who become angry or afraid when asked where they will spend eternity.
ILLUST: During World War II, June 1, 1945, the crew on a B–29 suffered a direct hit from a flak shell from Tokyo. Half of the big plane's nose was shot away. The pilot, strapped in his seat, was dead. The co–pilot, his left arm hanging uselessly and blood streaming over his body, could not control the aircraft, no matter how hard he tried. All of the gauges were inoperable. He did not know his speed, direction, or altitude. He was flying blind. To bail out, with the enemy below, meant sure death. When the situation seemed hopeless, two American P–61 Black Widow Night Fighters suddenly appeared on the horizon. They flew alongside the badly damaged bomber and nudged it back safely to its base in Iwo Jima.
In 1984, almost forty years later, the crews of the planes met for a reunion in Long Beach, California. They recalled the day when death seemed so near, and comrades in arms came along beside them and delivered them to safety.
There is spiritual truth in this story. People without the Lord are broken, hurt and flying blind in life, with death as their final destination. We have been sent out to come along beside them and guide them safely into the arms of their Savior. But before we can bring them to their safe landing strip with the Word of God, we must first identify ourselves to them as friends, not foe, by developing a relationship of trust with them so that they will follow us. While it is true that it is God’s Word that brings Salvation, it is also true that the Word must be heard. If we think of God’s Word as the Seeds of Righteousness then we must also follow that analogy and learn to think as farmers. A farmer does not simply buy a sack of seeds and scatter them into the wind. No, but what does he do first? He prepares the soil through tilling and fertilization and then he carefully places the seed in the ground; and so we must do the same thing with our neighbors before they will receive the Word of God. We must go out to them and develop relationships of trust by serving them where they are. What is easier, to bring the City of Imperial Beach into St. James or for St. James to go out into our community?
CONCLUSION: Dear friends, it is God’s desire that we along with Martin Luther and all other Saints learn to soar where he leads us. But we must soar on two wings, not one. To live only in the promise “Come unto me you weary and I will give you rest” is to live only half of the life God has provided for us. Instead, while retaining the first promise we must embrace the second one, which is that God will be with us as we go out into our communities with the Good News in a way that will impact the people in our communities for time and for eternity. We must not let our fear hold us back, because He is with us—we are not alone! He is always with us, even to the end of time. If we can live out both of these promises, then along with Martin Luther we will have reformed both our own lives of faith and also the faith life of our church.
May God grant this to you and to His church, in Jesus name… AMEN!