The Lutheran Reformation—the story of a man convinced and convinced by the Word of God.
Luther standing up against the powerful Holy Roman Emperor and the god-like Pope, and holding his own, and holding onto his faith.
Luther’s brave-trickery, sneaking his wife out of a nunnery in a barrel of fish oil and Luther dressing as a knight in order to thwart an attempted kidnapping.
If you let it, Reformation Sunday can become more about the man than his message.
So today, I want to tell you about the central messages of the Lutheran Reformation:
Grace and Faith,
The Word of God,
& The Mysterious Cross of Christ.
Let us Pray
As we read in Romans today, We are justified by God’s Grace—his gift through the redemption found in Jesus Christ, effective through Faith.
Grace and Faith, two enormous touchstones of the Reformation.
Grace is Central—we, though bound to sin and unable to free ourselves, are freed by God.
God is always the one who saves us.
Nothing we do can bring about God’s saving act.
Even as we rattle around in our chains we insist “we have never been slaves to anyone,”
and so it is God alone who comes to us and snaps Sin’s hold upon us and insists we are free.
It’s October, which means it’s election season, and we get those pamphlets and letters from everyone trying to get us to vote for them.
You know the one’s I’m talking about, those post cards with one side all cheery and pretty and bright, with a color glossy photo of Candidate X on it. Then on the back is a black and white photo of a tired haggard opponent surrounded by words like “Dangerous, Wrong, and Scary.”
Well, the crazy thing about Grace
and how we relate to it,
is that we spend so much time sending pamphlets like that to God,
but the wild truth of it is,
God voted in a special election a while back and there is nothing we can do to change God’s costly vote for us
through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son.
All we can do is trust that this is true.
Trust that God is for us.
Have faith in Jesus’ actions.
To be confident that while “the soul is full of sin, death, and condemnation,” “Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation.”
Have faith in that Great Exchange!
Where Christ takes sin, death, and hell
and in return grace, life, and salvation is given to you!
And maybe you’ve heard that all before, but consider the alternative.
Luther was faced with abuses in which forgiveness was sold and faced with various schemes that could be summed up as “Jesus Plus.”
Jesus plus Good Works,
Jesus plus authority,
Jesus plus plunder.
But what then?
What of Good Works?
Why do good if we don’t have to strong-arm God into loving you?
Good Works become responses to this exchange between us and Christ.
Responses to God’s grace.
Responses to God’s unfailing love for us.
When we are shocked by God’s gracious actions for us, we cannot help but look around us and see our neighbor in need.
When we ask ourselves “What do we do, when we have nothing we have to do?”
We respond, “I am slave to none, yet servant to all.”
When we stop trying to storm heaven we see our sisters and brothers beside us now.
This doctrine of Grace & Faith Alone, came from Luther’s close reading of the Apostle Paul, and so you could say it came from the second message of the Reformation, which is that:
“The Word of God is Central to Faith.”
Scripture is the norm of our faith and life as Christians.
It is the true standard by which teaching and doctrine is to be judged.
When we have questions about meaning, when we have why questions,
we turn to the Word.
And in Luther’s day the Word was much neglected.
There were tales of Priests with books of sermons, but no bibles.
Theologians using ancient books of Aristotelian Zoology to understand the mind of God.
Luther reports of Pastors who didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer or the 10 Commandments, let alone were able to read the Gospels in the original Greek or even in a Latin translation.
And so Luther did the long hard work of translating scripture into his native tongue, so that it might be turned to again as a central part of the faith.
And the Centrality of Scripture—Word Alone—could easily start to sound like a slippery slope toward Fundamentalism.
But as Lutherans we focus on how we experience scripture—
How we experience it as a two edged sword.
Scripture is Central, in so far as it comes to us as Law and Gospel.
As Law, Scripture is a Window and a Mirror.
It is a Window for us to look out of, to judge if our society is acting justly—it is a good place to find some basic rules of life.
We experience it as a Mirror when it reminds us that we are sinners,
it convicts us and catches us as we are.
When it, like a sheepdog of the soul, chases us sinners to the foot of the cross and into the arms of a loving God—then Scripture is acting as Law.
As Gospel, Scripture reminds us of God’s grace and strengthens our faith.
It points to Faith and Grace.
It points to Christ’s embracing arms from the cross.
Yes, the Cross, the final Central message of the Lutheran Reformation.
The Cross, that strange and scandalous symbol.
Lutherans are forever astounded by Christ on the Cross.
Think of it. The Son of God executed by religious people and the political powers that be.
Jesus born in lowly a manger, not a castle,
riding on a donkey, not a warhorse.
Finding God in these places calls us to look for God in the last place we’d expect.
Finding God there radically re-orients us-sinners away from where we expect to find wisdom and goodness and God.
It reminds us that if God is found amongst the suffering and death of the cross, then perhaps the world is not as we thought.
It also makes us constantly aware that our “religiosity” can be dangerous and seeking power can crucify Christ.
It calls us to a humble faith in a humble savior.
Not in the pomp of Rome, or the seats of secular power,
Not prosperity, or wisdom
But in the catechesis of a child,
a family at prayer,
the consolation and joy of Christian community,
the washing baptismal waters,
the simple trustworthy words “given and shed for you.”
So today, yes we celebrate Martin Luther tacking 95 theses to a church door, but we also celebrate the larger shape of our faith.
We celebrate with humility that God is with us where we least expect.
We celebrate the Word of God that both cleaves our sinful soul and points us to our Savior.
We celebrate that we can trust God’s love for us through Christ Jesus and share it with our neighbor in many ways. A+A