The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Christ Jesus speaks words of truth and wisdom to us, just as he did to those who followed him, and “As he was speaking to the people, many believed in him. Then Jesus said to [those] the Jews who had believed in him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Let’s join in a word of prayer: O God, our gracious loving Father, through the words of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, you have given us faith, filled us with your Spirit, and claimed us as children of your heavenly kingdom. Help us to live our faith in the freedom we have to maintain attitudes of grace. You have shown us your love in so many ways. Help us to respond to the world around us in compassionate and healthy ways. You have inspired us with hope in life eternal. Help us to endure every challenge of this life with obedience to your will. We come now with confidence before the world and with humility in your presence, loving Father, hear us for the sake of your Son, our risen Saviour, Amen.
With the constant isolations and restrictions, this year seems to have moved so slowly for me. Even so, it won’t be long before we will be celebrating the Christmas season again. It is such a blessing to join with our Christian brothers and sisters in the common holidays of Christmas and Easter. No matter what Christian faith tradition that we follow.
But there is one holiday, that we commemorate uniquely as Christians of the Protestant Reformation, and especially Lutherans. On or around the 31st of October each year, we dust off our Lutheranism and remember the Reformation. A recognition that protest against the wrongs of the day is not futile, but is certainly costly and requires perseverance and courage. Although we recognise that protest has been a mark of the faith of God’s people from the beginning. I recently came to the realisation that protest is a matter of perspective. Which side of the protest you lean toward. We certainly have seen uproar on both sides of several protests in the past year. As a Christian of the Reformation, I lean toward the attitude of standing out for the truth, rather than protesting against any wrong.
It reminds me of something I once read about the two Martins of the Reformation: 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.
About the same time Martin Luther found the 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 it reveres the memory of Martin Luther who stood out for what he knew to be the truth; but as for Martin of Basle, who even remembers him?
The Prophet Jeremiah stood out for the truth against the idolatry and reckless abandon of Judah, warning of the Babylonian captivity unless they repented. And during the captivity, Jeremiah strongly affirmed hope against the despair that gripped the captives. He spoke of encouragement from the Lord God himself. ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. … I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ That new covenant was fulfilled in our Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of the living God.
In his day, Christ Jesus stood out for the truth against the unfaith that surrounded him. John tells us in his Gospel, ‘The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’
And yet, Jesus gathered around him Apostles, Disciples and casual followers. John said, ‘to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’. In the midst of the unfaith of the world he made, I suspect Jesus treasured everyone who believed in him.
I read his words this morning where he strongly affirms, with such love, that we can all be his disciples in a simple way, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Yes, it’s true that some of those casual followers failed to grasp the love that Jesus had for them. They defended their freedom, forgetting the 400 years held captive in Egypt, and the 70 years held captive in Babylon. But even more, they had been held captive by the sin of unfaith in the past, and were now free in Christ Jesus to ‘believe in the one whom God had sent.’
And so, we take encouragement that in our day, as we hold to the teaching of Christ Jesus, we are his disciples. We can know the truth, and the truth will set us free to approach God our Father in a right relationship.
The Apostle Paul also stood out for the truth against the dividing wall of the commands and ordinances that separated the Jewish and Gentile Christians of his day. His epistle of Romans speaks with such strong affirmation that ‘There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ We are all freed by Christ Jesus as he says himself, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
But the reality of standing out for the truth, and standing out against error will always be with those who believe. In the 16th Century, Martin Luther represented the reformers of his time, standing out against the spiritual abuses of church leaders and clergy of the day. Abuses of the Scriptures that Luther considered would harm their relationship with God.
Luther stood out for the truth that would foster renewal among Christians. He strongly affirmed his favourite Scripture verse: Romans 1:17: “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.” What a powerful reality we have from Paul in his letters, from Luther and from the writing of the other Protestant Reformers.
A right relationship with God is expressed every day as we live the faith we have in God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. With the hope we have in life that extends far beyond what we experience now. This is the heart of the Reformation message as well. And of course Luther held to the simple truth that has been the hallmark of Reformation Churches:
Salvation is received by God’s grace alone through Faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone, as we find in the Scriptures alone.
If we want to live by the principals of the Reformation, we can look to Paul for advice. Paul wrote earlier 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)
Our right relationship with God was sealed at the cross of Christ, and offered to us as children of God by our faith in Christ Jesus. The truth is that this is the only way to experience our right relationship with God. There is no other way. As Christ Jesus spoke to us, as Paul was inspired and explained to us, and as Luther discovered in Romans and affirmed to us. It was that clear understanding of the Gospel that spurred the Reformation.
As we face the challenges of living in this broken world, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead us, to comfort us when we miss the mark, and to guide us in the decisions we are called to make as Christians.
And now here in Port Macquarie, we also have the advice and encouragement of our District, and our Bishop Robert Bartholomeaus, to grow together in the wisdom of the Gospel, to go out into our community with attitudes, words, and actions that demonstrate the love of Christ Jesus, and to trust our Congregation leaders who enable us to fulfil our mission: of Inspiring people to ‘LIVE a purposeful LIFE, growing TOGETHER In JESUS CHRIST!’
In the words of Paul, ‘Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.’ Amen.
Rev David Thompson.