Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reformation Sermon

Reformation Sunday, 2012 – Matthew 11:12-15


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

          I am going to say something that may upset you.  It may shock you.  It may even make you sad, but it is what our Lord points out in our Gospel text on this Reformation Sunday.  There are people who hate the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  There are people who seek to do violence to Christ’s Church, who would rejoice if Christ were no longer preached.  But this is what we must know and understand and face – the Church which proclaims Christ Crucified for the salvation of man will always have people who wish her harm, wish her destroyed.  From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.  This is what Christians in a sinful world can expect.  Even the prophets of the Old Testament were often slain.  In Christ’s day, people rejected Him – and they did violence to Him.  The martyrs of the early Church went to the lions, went to the wild beasts, were burned.  Martin Luther lived as an outlaw – the threat of his own death was over him – because He preached the Gospel.  Many of our own ancestors fled Europe to this country because they were hated for their own confession of Christ.  The Church on earth is called the Church Militant not because we are violent, but because we are always under assault from foes whom Satan stirs up – the old Evil foe indeed now means deadly woe.

          And alas, some of these people who hate Christ and would do violence to His Church are even within the Church, within Christendom.  Over the history of the Church, some of these Gospel-haters have even ruled, even led the Church into places where she should not go.  Preachers of false doctrine rise up over and over.  The Apostle John warns us of them over and over in his Epistles and Revelation.  Peter marks them out, likewise Paul in his letters.  And we see this played out over and over in History.  It was no vile pagan king who called for Luther’s head – but it was the Pope, the man who had claim to be the very head of the Church herself who wished Him silenced.  In the 70s, it was not outsiders who tried to make us abandon scripture, but several seminary professors, men who had been entrusted with the teaching and the protecting of God’s Word – they were the very ones who sought to destroy it.  And so on this Reformation day, we remember this fact – that the Church is under threats both from outside herself and from within herself – threats both foreign and domestic as it were.  From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.  There are always those who would wrest the Gospel away from us.  And so we are called to be a Church that is always in Reform – that always checks herself to make sure that she preaches only the pure sweet Gospel of Christ and Him Crucified.

          This is an unpopular idea.  It is something which our sinful nature rebels against.  We think that as Christians our lives ought to be ones that are calm, peaceful.  This is something we pray for, and rightly so.  Christ Himself promises us peace, the peace which surpasses all human understanding, the peace that can only come from knowing and understanding that your sins have indeed been forgiven and that you stand holy and righteous in God’s sight.  This we do have.  Christ indeed comes to us and brings us His peace.  However, we are here on earth, and the world is indeed filled with all sorts of evil.  We are strangers here – this house is a island of peace in the midst of a raging sea of violence.  And we as Christians, as those who are to be in the world but not of it, as those who are to go out and love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us – we will be exposed to all sorts of dangers in the world.  Hear what Christ Jesus our Lord says in Matthew Chapter 10, just a few verses prior to our Gospel.  Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  To the world.  To the wicked and wretched.  To those who reject Christ and despise His Word – to these there is no peace, for they reject the very Prince of Peace Himself.  There are those who reject Christ and there always will be those who reject Christ – and so in the world there is no peace, nor will there ever be.

          And this, the hatred that the world bears our Lord can impact us.  Again, from Chapter 10.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  It’s not just those people far, far away who hate Jesus, who rebel against Christ.  Sometimes it is people very close to us.  Family.  Our parents, our children, our brothers or sisters – they reject Christ, and despise us as well.  Our friends, our neighbors – they too can put pressure on us, mock us for our beliefs, lay out temptations to stray and fall away.  And we are tempted, we are tempted to give in to their demands – to be pleasers of people rather than followers of Christ.  Hear what our Lord says.  Whoever loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.  This is the temptation and struggle, this is the cross we bear – that we are called to be faithful to Christ no matter who that upsets.  And that can be hard.  None of us likes to be looked down upon – especially not by people we love and care about.  But our loyalty, our highest love is to be to God and to God alone.

          This holds true not only for us as individuals, but for the Church as a whole.  The Church herself can be tempted to fall, tempted to follow other lords than Her Lord and Master Christ Jesus.  500 years ago was such a time – where the Church had rejected the Gospel and instead sought earthly power and glory and respect.  And thus the Reformation came about.  The temptation to fall away from God’s Word is still present today.  Churches fall by the wayside into false doctrine.  We see this to even in the Lutheran Churches.  What should be my home church – the church where my father was baptized, where he was confirmed has fallen in the past 40 years.  False doctrine is taught there now, and slowly faith crumbles.  Even for us here at Trinity/Zion, the temptation to fall away is present.  What do we at Trinity/Zion do?  Do we follow the crowd, follow the world, or do we remain true to the Word of God?  Do we turn a blind eye to sin as the world does?  Do we say, “That’s alright, live however you wish” and ignore God’s Word?  Or even with our neighboring Christians?  We are in the middle of the Bible Belt, and most Churches around  here deny that Baptism saves.  Do talk less about Baptism in the hopes that they won’t think we are different or weird – do we try to fit in, to look and sound like them?  Or do we proclaim as Peter does in his Epistle “Baptism. . .  now saves you”?  Do we seek to please men, or do we delight in God’s promises to us? That’s the temptation – to fall away, to remain silent, and slowly to abandon our faith.

          We know the answer, we know what we are supposed to do.  We are to confess Christ come what may.  But how, how do we find the strength to do this?  How when the eyes are upon us, when we hear the scorn, do we confess Christ?  Listen to the Word of Christ from Matthew 16.  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And [the disciples] said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He  said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  The world says many, many things.  But like Peter we are to confess that which God has revealed to us in His Word – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  That He came down from heaven and suffered to save us from our sin.  And against this, against this truth the world has no response.  Even hell itself, even Satan and all his legions are rendered helpless by the confession we make of Christ.  We say the Creed, and Satan cowers.  We pray the Lord’s Prayer and we are indeed delivered from the Evil One.

          From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of God has suffered violence and the violent take it by force.  For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears, let him hear.  He who has ears, let him hear.  That is how we stand, dear friends.  That is how we continue to confess Christ even in these dark days where sin and war run rampant.  Not because of our own strength.  But because God has given us ears to hear – in the waters of Holy Baptism God washed us clean not of dirt, but of sin and wickedness, washed us clean of the evil which made us refuse to hear His Word.  You indeed have ears, and you hear the Word preached and proclaimed, and this is how you live.

          You see, this is the truth and wonder – that we are reformed daily by Christ.  We are daily reformed by Christ and His Word – His Word builds us up and restores us and our faith.   The weight of sin and temptation, the pressures of the world weigh down upon us – and Christ come to us, and molds us back up again by His Word.  When we falter and become weary, He calls us to His table to strengthen us, to feed us on Himself.  You are built up by Christ and Christ fights for you – in fact He fights not only for you but through you.  Christ takes you and builds you into His servant – and He uses you to proclaim His truth, opens your mouth so that from it might come His own life giving Word.  He indeed creates in you a clean heart, He renews a right spirit within you so that you can bear your cross, so that you can fight the good fight, so that can be bold and confess your faith in spite of all the dangers of the world.  And He does this by His almighty Word, whether it is read or preached, whether it is tied to water and given in Baptism, or whether it is tied to bread and wine in His Supper.  The Lord gives you strength – and the Reformation of God’s Church is not something we do – it is something that God does to us whenever we hear His Word and cling to it.

          Dear friends in Christ Jesus – the Lord has given you ears to hear.  This is His great gift to you – that you know His truth.  Cling to His Word, trust always in the truth that you are a sinner who has been forgiven by Christ Crucified – that He has washed you clean in Baptism and daily sustains you through His Word and Sacrament.  And whenever the world tries to take you away from God by force, rely upon your Lord, return and flee to Him – and He will always build and form you again into whom He wishes you to be – His own beloved child.  Amen.

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