Thursday, November 1, 2018

Reformation Day (Observed)

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 28, 2018

Text: Rev. 14:6-7 (ESV): Then I saw another angel kflying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to lthose who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, m“Fear God and ngive him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and oworship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the psprings of water.”

            Reformation Day is all about the eternal Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is all about the proclamation of God’s Law and Gospel, repentance for our sins and faith in Christ, the sin-atoning work of our Lord Jesus in His suffering and death on the cross, and His life giving resurrection.  The proclamation of this eternal Gospel in Scripture and preaching and Sacrament bestows the forgiveness of sins and eternal life upon the hearers, upon you, and it is received by the very faith in Christ which it creates.  This day is not actually about Martin Luther.  It is about his teaching, which is this very eternal Gospel proclaimed in our text.  It is not about the Lutheran Church.  It is about the people of God who receive this eternal Gospel, hear it proclaimed, have it wash all over them, and eat it and drink it…  And then confess it!  It is not about sticking it to Rome.  No, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Rome, and we rejoice wherever they do have the eternal Gospel, and we long for them to come into it fully, for the eternal Gospel to reform them from within so that they join us in the preaching of Christ as our only Savior from sin and death, the salvation that He gives to us by grace alone, received by faith alone, that we be united in one, holy, catholic (in the true sense of the word), and apostolic Church.  Reformation Day is all about Christ and His gifts to us.
            Already in Reformation times, the angel, in our text, flying directly overhead, was thought to be a prophecy of Martin Luther preaching the Gospel purely once again.  This is why this text is appointed for Reformation Day.  Now, this may seem far-fetched to us, but only because we’re infected by the modernist notion that the Holy Scriptures have nothing to do with real history.  You’re gonna have to get over that.  That isn’t the kind of thing sola scriptura, Bible believing Christians say.  I don’t know if the Holy Spirit had Luther specifically in mind in this prophecy.  It’s not impossible.  The word “angel,” after all, literally means “messenger,” and it doesn’t always, or only, refer in the Holy Scriptures to the spirit beings we commonly call “angels.”  It can also refer to preachers, as it does in Revelation 2 and 3 where St. John is told to write to the “angels” of the Seven Churches, which is to say, their pastors.  Here the “angel” could be Luther.  I don’t know.  But I do know the Holy Spirit is teaching us about the ever new preaching of the everlasting Gospel by a nearly endless train of Christian preachers, a few of them more prominent, like Dr. Luther, and many whose names are lost to history but known intimately by our Lord.  So whether this text is about Luther and the event of the Reformation specifically, it is most certainly about Luther and the Reformation and God’s continual breaking in to history to declare the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ.  Wherever that Gospel is preached, this prophecy is fulfilled.  Which is to say, it is fulfilled this day in your hearing, at this very moment.  Because this text, like the Reformation itself, is all about Christ and His gifts to us. 
            And that is what the angel proclaims.  Now, this eternal Gospel is the Gospel in the broad sense, which is to say the whole counsel of God, including both Law and Gospel in the narrow sense, which is the forgiveness of sins.  So the preaching begins: “Fear God.”  The First Commandment.  Repent of your idolatry.  Get rid of whatever else you fear above God.  God is the One who gives His Commandments from on high, who writes them in stone with His own finger.  It is to Him you are accountable.  It is to Him, and Him alone, you are to give glory.  Not to other gods.  And there is a judgment.  This is why you should fear.  The hour, the appointed time, the moment for judgment has come.  So worship God.  Turn to Him in faith.  He made heaven and earth.  He created all that is.  The sea.  The springs of water.  He renews the face of the earth.  He sustains His creation.  And He redeems it.  Christ has come.  He died, but behold, He lives.  And He is coming soon to judge.  Therefore let this Word go out to all the earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.  Proclaim this eternal Gospel.  Confess it.  For it is a matter of eternal life and death. 
            Do you see, by the way, how this is nothing other than the preaching of St. John the Baptist… in fact, the preaching of Jesus Himself?  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Yes, beloved, this day, in this very moment, the eternal Gospel is proclaimed to you: Examine yourself.  Repent of your sins.  For this is the moment.  Now.  Today.  The Kingdom of God has come in the Person of Jesus Christ.  He is here, now, to forgive your sins, to wash them all away in His blood, to give you His righteousness, to feed you with His body and give you drink of His blood.  Come to Him.  Fear Him.  Cling to Him.  Hang on His every Word.  That is what it means to worship Him.  That is what it means to give Him the glory.  Receive His gifts.  Receive them now.  For He is coming again in judgment, and only those found in Him, in Christ, will be saved. 
            Lutherans have their peculiarities.  I mean, just look at yourselves.  It is good and right that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, even, and perhaps, especially on Reformation Day.  But I will tell you this: Lutheranism is a gift.  I don’t know why you’re forever apologizing for being Lutheran.  Roman Catholics don’t apologize for being Roman Catholic.  Baptists don’t apologize for being Baptist.  Everything the Baptists do is unapologetically Baptist.  They don’t excuse themselves to their guests or their fellow Christians from other denominations for having authentically Baptist worship.  The Roman Church doesn’t apologize for the Mass.  But we’re always suffering an identity crisis here in Lutheranism.  We’re afraid when our worship is too Lutheran.  We’re afraid when our doctrine is too Lutheran.  So we ape the non-denominationalist denomination.  We try to do worship like they do, or preach like they do.  Lutherans, get over yourself already.  Just receive and give thanks for the gifts handed down by your forefathers.  If you’re Lutheran, be Lutheran.  It’s not a sin.  In fact, it is a high and holy gift from God.  The liturgy is a gift.  Our hymnody is a gift.  The Lutheran Confessions are a gift.  The Holy Scriptures, from which the liturgy and our hymns and the Confessions all derive, are a gift.  Don’t be embarrassed by your Lutheranism.  Embrace it as the vessel in which you have received, and continue to receive, nothing less than the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ.
            After all, what is important in Lutheranism?  The Confessions answer that one for us: The Gospel and the Sacraments, which give us Jesus, who forgives our sins.  That’s it.  That’s Lutheranism.  Listen to just a few articles from the Augsburg Confession, the Augustana, for which this congregation is named: Article IV: “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.  People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith.”[1]  Article V: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22].  He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.”  Article VII: “The Church is the congregation of saints [Psalm 149:1] in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.  For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.”  On and on it goes: Faith in Christ, the Word of God, the holy Sacraments (Baptism, Absolution, Lord’s Supper).  Eternal salvation.  Forgiveness of sins.  Another way to say it is grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone.  And you’re apologizing for this?  No, embrace it.  Claim it.  Proclaim it.  Love it.  Because, in spite of the peculiarities of the people involved, you’re really just loving Christ and His Word and His Baptism and His Supper.  That’s Lutheranism.  And by the way, you’re loving those people, too, warts and all, because in Christ’s Church we live by grace and the forgiveness of sins.  We joyfully put up with each other, defend our neighbor, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything. 
            And what of Martin Luther?  How should we regard him?  We do not worship him.  What a ridiculous charge.  You know that isn’t what is happening here.  Nor do we agree with every single thing he ever said, although we do agree with most of it, because most of it is right out of the Bible.  And believe it or not, we actually aren’t named after him.  We’re named after his teaching.  That’s the only way he would ever allow a group of Christians to call themselves “Lutheran,” and he says as much.  This is how we should regard Dr. Luther: He is simply the chief teacher of our Church.  We thank God for him and we rejoice in all that he continues to teach us in his preaching and writing.  And this isn’t wrong, unless it’s wrong to thank God for all the Church Fathers or for the pastors who have taught you, baptized you, fed you with the Supper over the years, consoled you with the Gospel, pronounced Christ’s forgiveness.  Of course you should thank God for them, and you should thank God for Luther and for his teaching, of which you are a direct beneficiary.  But then, the teaching really isn’t his.  It is God’s.  It is Christ’s.  And that is why I’m a Lutheran.  That should be the reason you are, too.  Because the teaching of Lutheranism is simply the teaching of Jesus Christ.  It is the eternal Gospel.  And as you hear the eternal Gospel, your sins are forgiven, and you are in Christ, and Christ is in you.  And the angel directly overhead (whoever he may be), along with all his angelic friends, and with the whole company of heaven, including now Martin Luther… they rejoice.  They join their praises with our own.  And so, beloved, hear once again the eternal Gospel for you: Fear God and give Him the glory.  Worship Him, which is to say, believe His Word and receive His gifts.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have eternal life.  In Christ, who is coming soon.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] All quotations from the Augsburg Confession from McCain et al., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005, 2006).

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