Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reformation Sermon

Reformation Day (Observed) – October 30th, 2011 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
One thing has remained true throughout the life of the Church, be it in the Old Testament, the New, 500 years ago, or even today. The Church is always in need of Reform. The Church of God, full of sinners as she is, has a tendency to wander away from the clear Word of God, and in the place of God’s Law and Gospel, she can set up all sorts of Idols to follow after. Whether it be a golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai as it was in Moses day, or following Ba’al and his false prophets as it was in Elijah’s day, or false doctrine as it was in Paul’s day, or being rife with superstition and ignorance as it was in Luther’s day, God’s Sheep will wander if left to their own ways, and will ever be in need of being returned to God’s Truth. Today we celebrate Reformation Day, a day where we remember all the times in the past where God has restored His Church from error, a day where we pray that we may be kept from error ourselves.

Our Gospel lesson today shows Jesus confronting people who had fallen into error in His day. Jesus is talking with several Jews who had believed, who were part of the Church. Yet, they were close to a fall, close to slipping away, because things Jesus said seemed too hard for them to believe, and so their faith was endangered. They were beginning to put their trust in their own wisdom rather than simply listening to Christ. They were falling into error, error that could end up destroying their faith utterly. Thus, they were in need of reform. In our Gospel text, Jesus shows us how He is always at work in His Church, preaching and admonishing, and bringing about reform. Let us look at the text.

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It is no mystery what the Church of God is to preach, what we as Christ’s disciples are to do. We are to preach the Word of God, to proclaim Christ Crucified for sinners like us. This seems straightforward enough. If we follow Christ, we should give heed to His Word. It is as simple as that. Hold to the Word of God, then you are a disciple. Christ is so plain, so clear here. Hear my Word, and you are my disciple. Or as we hear in a few chapters later in John, “My Sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow Me.”

That isn’t what so many people focus on, though, is it? Simply holding to Christ’s teaching. So many people want to put the focus on our actions. If you follow Christ, you will do X, Y, and Z. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, give so much money to the Church, and then you’ll really be good little Christian boys and girls. Christianity becomes all about me and what I do, how I live my life, about proving to every one else that I know how to jump through the right holy hoops - see what a good boy am I. We hear this today, do we not? How much preaching at “Christian” churches tell you next to nothing about Christ and what He did, but much about what your life is to look like. And the sad part is, we like that. We like the story to be about us. We like to be able to pat ourselves on the back about what good people we are. We like to point to what we have done. But that, is not being a disciple. That’s not holding fast to what Christ teaches.

Hear again His Word. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Wonderful words. In God’s Word, we see the truth. In God’s Word we hear the full truth of the Law, that we are sinners, that all of our works amount to nothing before God, that in and of ourselves we are lost and condemned creatures. This we know from God. But in God’s Word, we also hear the full truth of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, died to save the lost, to take away their sins; Indeed, that He rose again so as to give us new life, His life. This is what we know from scripture, this is what we read when we diligently search out the scriptures, this is what we yearn to hear preached, that though we have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, Christ Jesus our Lord has redeemed us from our sin, and Justified us before God. Indeed, our Lord even says that He Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and that in hearing the Word of God we are made to know the Truth, made to know Christ and Him Crucified, and we are forgiven.

That there is freedom. Your sin is forgiven by God. And this we know, why? For the bible tells us so. This verse isn’t about social reform, or race relations, or why you need to do well in school, but about God’s Truth, the Gospel Truth, Christ Jesus who has died and risen for you. The weight of sin that hangs over your head, it is gone, removed, taken away. Christ has borne it Himself upon the cross. This is what we are to hold fast to as His Disciples, this is what we are always to defend. Whenever people move away from this, whenever something other than Christ the Crucified one takes center stage, be it our own works, the pope, a golden calf, whatever it may be, the Church lies in need of reform. The Church is in need of the clear Word of God to be preached, the Law in its full effect, and the Gospel in its full sweetness, and then by the Holy Spirit that pure Word of Truth will make us disciples once gain, then that Word will give us freedom.

“They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” And here we see one of the great dangers to Christians. Pride and arrogance. We, the Children of Abraham, have never been enslaved? Do you hear realize how stupid of a statement it is for these people to claim this? First of all, read the book of Exodus. The children of Abraham were slaves in Egypt. . . God is the one who delivered them from slavery. The idea of God setting them free should be quite familiar. In fact, that’s how God often addressed them – I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of bondage in the land of Egypt. But not only in the past with Egypt, but consider the situation in Jesus’ day with Rome. The Jews were a conquered people. All the time, every 20-30 years there would be a new revolt against the Roman oppressors. Most of the people were hoping for a Messiah that would kick Rome out and reestablish a strong Jewish nation. And yet, these people say that they have never been slaves of anyone. Out of their pride and arrogance, they fight God’s Word.

Dear friends, when we approach God’s Word with pride, with arrogance, we fail to hear it, we stop up our ears and throw tantrums against God. There are only two options - we can in sin hold onto our pride, or we can cling to God’s Word; it cannot be both ways. The fact that there is a Lutheran Church and a Roman Catholic Church is proof of that fact. When Martin Luther preached the Gospel with clarity unseen in over 300 years, it was simply out of pride and arrogance that the Pope refused to listen. It was simply out of pride and arrogance that so many of the bishops refused to allow the Gospel and Christ’s free forgiveness to be preached. What would this preaching do to their power and station, let it be silenced! And so the Church was torn asunder. But pride and arrogance wasn’t just the trap that caught Rome. It was simply pride and arrogance in human reason that formed the rest of the Protestant Churches. Zwingli, Calvin, Meno Simmons, all of them victims of pride. What, the Scriptures declare that the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s Body and Blood, how can that be, it doesn’t make sense to my vast human intellect, I’ll come up with something else. No, what you will do is deny God’s Word! And thus we have all the little different denominations that we have, all holding on to stubborn pride and denying God’s clear Word.

Let this be a warning and a reminder to us, lest we fall into the trap which has snared so many in the Church. We must remain diligent, keeping our sinful nature in check, so that we hold fast to God’s Word and God’s Word alone. Those of you who were alive in the 70’s saw this in our own Church Body first hand, as we fought those teachers of false doctrine who denied God’s Word. But this isn’t just a danger of the past, for Satan stirs up the hearts of sinful man in all generations. Today as well we must take care to see that what is preached is simply the Word of God, that we remain true to His Word. Greater Churches than ours have fallen, mightier men of God than us have given in to temptation, and so we must always strive to spurn our pride, and trust solely in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the Son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” This, dear friends, is why we are here. This is what we celebrate and receive every Sunday, every time we gather around our Lord’s Word and His Sacraments. That we are sinners who have been set free by Christ Jesus. By virtue of our Baptism, we have been made the sons of God, brought into God’s family by being united to Christ Jesus our Lord. We are made part of His Body, and where He is there we too are. We have been set free by the Son, so we are truly free indeed. We are welcomed as members of the family. We share in the family meal of the Lord’s Supper, where we receive Christ’s true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our Sin. We hear the voice of our Father as we relish the reading of His Word. We rejoice as God strengthens our faith so that we might hold fast to His teaching.

And this, dear friends, is what we preach, what we share with the world. This truth of God, His Word, is not simply for us. It is for all. We are inviters, calling others to the Lord’s Service, bringing them to His house so that God might give to them the blessings He gives us. We are agents of reform, proclaiming God’s reforming truth all the time, being the clarion bell that rings out to the world the beauty of the Gospel. Just as God has always raised up men in the past to clearly proclaim His Word in the midst of error and false doctrine, we pray that God would grant us strength to proclaim His Salvation in the midst of the errors of our day. We are the Church of the Reformation, we are the Church that is aware that we exist only by God’s Grace, not out of any worth of ourselves. We are the Church that constantly sees her own sin, and repents of it. We are the Church that God constantly feeds on His Word and Sacraments too, so that our sins are forgiven on account of Christ Jesus our Lord. God grant to us that he ever reform our hearts away from sin and unto His marvelous truth so that we might enjoy His freedom for all eternity. Amen.

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