Twentyfirst Sunday after Pentecost: Reformation

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all. Our Lord, Jesus Christ tells us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;

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 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  Today, we celebrate the truth of the Good News.  Good News that sets us free to be in a right relationship with God our Father.  Good News that ‘the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ‍ for all who believe.’ 

Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:  we live our continuously new covenant of salvation received through faith in the sacrifice of your Son, our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Guide our time together this morning as we remember the remarkable history of the reformation spurred on by your presence in the world through your Holy Spirit.  Help us to embrace your word, and receive once again the reforming power of your Gospel message as we worship You. God our gracious Father, hear our prayer in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In these trying times of virus pandemic, it’s commo to experience many of the feelings that would have been evident during the time of the Reformation in Europe.  They were experiencing a plague that kept arising over the past two hundred of years.  Suspicion and isolation were often a part of life in the urbanisation of Europe as they evolved from the Medieval Age to the Modern Age.  Some even call the 14th and 15th Century the Reformation Age.

We discover in a biography, that Martin Luther spent his younger years isolated as a monk battling his personal demons. Luther felt utterly worthlessMartin Luther and incapable of carrying the burdens of priesthood. He was often, he wrote, pursued and tormented by Satan and his cohorts.

Before his spiritual reformation, Luther was discovered in his monk’s cell weeping because of his sins. His confessor, another young monk, simply didn’t know what to do, so he began repeating the Apostles’ Creed.  When he came to the last part of the creed, he spoke with reverence the words, “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; ” when Luther interrupted him, “Wait!” “What did you say?”

 And the dialogue continued, “What do you mean, what did I say?”  “That last part. What was it again?” “Oh, that. ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins.'”

“The forgiveness of sins,” Luther said as if savouring each word. “The forgiveness of sins. Then there is hope for me somewhere. Then maybe there is a way to God.”

In his search for that ‘way’, while reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther suddenly understood the meaning of God’s grace and how it is appropriated by faith. In that moment he came to understand that he was justified before God through faith and not by his works.

Luther discovered the way to God. Jesus Christ died to provide that way. The reality that mended Luther’s broken heart.  That gave him a passion for Scripture which would remain a hallmark of his life.  That there is one who sees our broken hearts and cares, who forgives and heals, who makes whole.  (ChristianGlobe Illustrations, King Duncan, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.)

But Luther was not alone.  The wondrous discovery of the truth of Christ was awakened in others as well.  Even another Martin.  At the beginning of the Reformation, Martin of Basle came to a knowledge of the truth.  But, afraid to make a public confession, he wrote on a leaf of parchment: “O most merciful Christ, I know that I can be saved only by the merit of thy blood. Holy Jesus, I acknowledge thy sufferings for me. I love thee, I love thee.”  Then he removed a stone from the wall of his chamber and hid it there. It was not discovered for more than a hundred years.

What made the difference between these two Martins?  When Martin Luther affirmed in his heart that truth as it is in Christ. He said: “My Lord has confessed me before men, I will not shrink from confessing Him before kings.” The world knows what followed, and today we remember that  Martin Luther made a difference.  But as for Martin of Basle, who difference did he make?  —Sunday School Times

‘Jesus said to those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  This truth makes us free.  Free to trust in Jesus. Free to express our right relationship with God every day by living in Christ.

Living without Christ is like driving a car with its front end way out of line. You can manage to stay on the road, if you grip the steering wheel with both hands and hang on tight. Any lapse of attention, however, and you’re out of control. It’s a constant struggle.  

I can imagine that we are sometimes like Luther, almost weeping over the wrong that seems to be happening in our lives.

Living in the truth that brings the freedom in Christ, is like getting a front-end alignment. The lack of control is corrected from the inside. Not to say there won’t be bumps and potholes ahead that will still try to jar us off the road. Temptations and challenges will always test our alertness to steer a straight course. We can hardly afford to fall asleep at the wheel. But the basic flaw in the moral mechanism has been repaired.  In a way we can never do ourselves.  By Christ Jesus our Saviour.  (adapted from Robert Schmidgall:  Illustrations from ChristianGlobe, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.)

The Apostle Paul gives us the best example of this.  He began his service to God with complete assurance in his own righteousness and piety.  He just knew he was right in putting his energies toward the destruction of the followers of Jesus.  Like that car that was out of alignment.  And then he encountered Christ Jesus in his full power.  And Paul realised just how frail and useless his misguided trust in himself had been.  When Paul turned his complete trust in and reliance upon  Jesus, his passion, energy, and will were transformed into the powerful servant and apostle that Christ Jesus knew he would be.

Paul wrote in his Letter to the Church at Rome:  ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. .. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  (Ro 1:16–17 NIV)

For Christians in the 21st Century, speaking of righteousness has become a challenging proposition.  When we speak of being righteous before God, it appears to be a two sided coin.  On the one side, it almost seems to be boasting about our piety and purity.  And on the other side, it almost seems to be placing an obstacle to God.    And so, most Christians are really timid about sharing our righteousness before God.

In reality, righteousness simply speaks of our right relationship with God.  That right relationship with God, was sealed at the cross, and offered to us as children of God by our faith in Christ Jesus.  That is the only way to experience righteousness.  There is no other way.

Just as Paul received from Christ Jesus and explained to us.  And as Luther discovered in Paul’s letter to the Romans and reinforced so often.  A right relationship with God and with each other is the clear understanding of God’s love and mercy displayed in the Gospel that spurred the Reformation. 

The Reformation wasn’t about religion, or society, political power or culture. The Reformation was simply about returning to the freedom given to us through the Gospel.  Freedom to trust in Jesus Christ and live with confidence.  As Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”    

When Martin Luther penned the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” I believe he was expressing his faith in the truth that makes us free. 

‘A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon, our faithful helper in all need, our stay, whate’re may happen.’    And later, ‘for us fights the valiant one whom God himself elected.  Ask ye: who is this?  Christ Jesus it is.’

That hymn, first published in 1529, has been called “Battle Hymn of the Reformation” and with good reason. It is said that the Reformation touched off one of the most influential movements in world history.  And yet, in the 21st Century we are hard-pressed to discover any worshipping community, outside of Lutheran, to remember and celebrate.  Because it is also said that the Reformation set the spark of disunity and discord among Christians that has diminished the Church’s authority to effect positive change in the world today. 

Certainly, I would agree, that if Reformation Day only celebrated the pride we have in being Lutheran, then it shouldn’t be a matter of celebration.  But if Reformation Day is about truth, than the Reformation can be celebrated with both humility and confidence. The truth that Martin Luther rediscovered from Scriptures.  The truth that was hidden by centuries of faulty doctrine.  The truth that Jesus says ‘will make us free’.

And so, for me, the Reformation does matter, and Reformation Day still matters too. It matters, because confessing the truth of our salvation still matters.  And also confessing the truth about our sins still matters.  Confessing the truth about God’s grace at work to save us still matters.   The truth that the Scriptures tell us about every human being, as both a saint and a sinner at the same time still matters.  A saint, who has been brought into a right relationship with God.  And a sinner, who still falls far short of all that God wants from those who are his children.

A sinner who know sins, who feels regrets, who suffers from the broken heart of broken relationships with God and with each other. 

And a saint who knows God’s love, who feels God’s forgiveness, who releases guilt to God’s grace.  God who says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Through Christ we have received what we could never, on our own, earn or deserve – eternal salvation.  Because of Christ Jesus we have been given the gift of eternity, through faith, by God’s grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here at St Peter’s we have been through a rough year, from the last Reformation Sunday.  First by drought and fire, then by pandemic and isolation, and finally by a decision that was brought before us that has affected all of us.  As we now engage with the road ahead to discover what is next for St Peter’s, we are reminded that we are united in Christ and the love of God.  United by the confession of our faith and the Gospel of grace.  United by the body and blood of Christ Jesus, and the care we have for each other.  Let’s enter this new year as one body in Christ Jesus, and see what brings before the next Reformation Sunday.

We are free to receive and share, to believe and confess, to teach and promote the truth of God’s grace.  A message we are honour bound to carry forward, as disciples of Jesus Christ in our time and this place.

As we both remember and celebrate the reformation, and become its voice in our day, the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. David Thompson.

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