Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession - Circuit Worship

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – John 15:1-11 @ Redeemer, Enid

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          It was the summer of 1530, and it was a dangerous time to live in Europe.  The Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was Charles V, and he had two major problems.  The first was within the German part of his realm, where this “Reformation” had brought about religious debates and fights and anger – disunity.  The second and bigger problem was the Turkish Army that advancing from southeastern Europe.  You see, while in our politically correct day and age we only tend to hear about how those mean, evil Christians invaded the Holy Lands in the Crusades, the Muslims liked to invade Europe as well.  In fact, Charles V was Emperor precisely because his ancestors – Charles Martel and Charles the Great, Charlemange, had stopped Muslim invasions hundreds of years before.  That was how Charles’ empire was forged – and now the Turks were invading – they were even about ready to attack Vienna.  Charles must rally a defense… but how to do this when the Germans in the back lines were squabbling?

          And so, Charles summoned all the various princes and dukes of Germany to the town of Augsburg in June of 1530, and there he intended to forge a new religious peace, to restore unity to his empire.  Put aside your religious differences, you pesky and stubborn Germans, and let’s just do what is really important – fight the Muslims.  Forget these spiritual squabbles, the world and its problems are calling.  Lay down your bibles, pick up your arms, and be reasonable.

          And so the question was this.  What would these German princes do?  Would they merely shrug and go along with the Emperor?  Would they seek to earn new honors and earthly glories, expand their political power?  Who knows what new lands might open up if the Muslims were repelled and pushed back!  Or would they instead chose something as foolish as remaining steadfast in their faith and confession?  What would they do?  “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  These princes, these Confessors, knew that they must abide in Christ, for there is no other safe place to dwell.  They were clean, forgiven by Christ Jesus, and they would bear the fruit that He desired, come what may. 

          One of the German leaders, George, Margrave of Brandenburg, let his position be known most emphatically.  After George arrived, the Emperor demanded that all the German princes attend a Corpus Christi day mass and commune from a Roman Catholic priest.  There would be unity, and I will bring it by force!  So instead, George knelt before the Emperor and lowered his head and said, “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.”  There you go, Emperor.  If you want to live by force, Emperor, you can just cut off my head now and save us all a lot of time.  You see, dear friends, when we sing in A Mighty Fortress “And take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife” we are not just whistling Dixie.  This was the reality that the Lutherans faced in 1530, what they expected.  And yet, they met this harsh reality with the truth that their Victory had already been won, that Christ’s Kingdom theirs remaineth.

          The Emperor was taken aback – in fact he is reported to have helped George to his feet and in broken German (because Charles was actually Spanish) the Emperor said, “Not cut off head, dear prince.  Not cut off head!”  And so the Emperor insisted that the Lutherans present their beliefs, their positions.  What exactly is it that you believe so strongly, that you are willing to risk life and liberty for – and not just those confessors back then.  The men and women who founded our congregations were serious and diligent as well – how many of them gave up their homes come out to the plains to worship God rightly?  And they passed over joining in with the rest of the people here, hob-nobbing with the mighty of Garfield County at the popular, large churches – and instead with their own sweat and toil built churches where God’s Word would be preached in its truth and purity.  But not just them; you here in this room, you as well vowed to do the same.  When you were confirmed the question was asked of you – “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” “I do, by the grace of God.”  We confess Christ.

And so these princes, with the aid of Phillip Melanchthon, one of Luther’s fellow professors at Wittenburg, gathered and wrote what would be known as the Augsburg Confession.  And on the morning of June 25th, 1530, this Confession was read, both in German and in Latin.  And every pastor at each of our congregations has sworn to uphold this Confession as part of their ordination vows, even to this day.  As well we should.  The Augsburg Confession is the most beautiful, the most eloquent, the clearest confession of the faith that has been written.  While we do not have time to read the Confession in its entirety tonight, allow me to read one of the articles – Article 4 – on Justification.  Lutheran theologians have said that this is the Article upon which the Church stands or falls, and rightly so for if we abandon this, we abandon Christ. Listen:  Our Churches teach (hear that – our Churches – it’s fitting that we are gathered as a Circuit for this) that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.  People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.  By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins.  God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.  This is heart of what we believe, this is the heart of what Scripture teaches. You are a sinner, and you cannot be justified by anything you do.  Nothing that you do gets you right with God.  It doesn’t matter how much money you give, it doesn’t matter how many little old ladies you help across the street, how popular and influential you are – your strength, your merit, your worth, your works, the things you do cannot save you.  Apart from Christ you can do nothing.  On the contrary, you are saved because of what Jesus has done – because He went to the Cross and made satisfaction, because he won forgiveness for your sin.  You receive salvation when you hear and believe this, when God gives you His forgiveness.

          This is what we hear throughout the scriptures.  Paul says, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  Peter says, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  John says, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness.”  And this is the truth we defend.  We oppose any teaching, any doctrine which says that we aren’t sinners in need of a savior, and we oppose any teaching that robs Christ of the glory of our salvation.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  We defend the Gospel, the teaching that you are saved by what Christ has done, and we defend this tooth and nail against any and all who would rob it from us.

          This is what we do, this is what we gather for every Sunday in our congregations.  Christ builds His Church upon the Gospel – and so we in His Church abide in Him and His Gospel and we are grown.  Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession explains this.  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, and in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.  Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.  God works in His Word, the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us forgiveness and faith through the Word, be it preached, be it attached to Water in Baptism, be it Christ’s own Body and Blood attached to bread and wine in the Supper.  This is how God grows His Church, through the gifts He gives us here.  This is why each of our congregations was founded, and this is why they exist to this day.  This is how we define the Church – Article 7 says, “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”  That is what we are, and it is our duty as members of Christ’s Church to see that this is what we remain.  Why?  Because we always need the forgiveness that Christ gives in His Church.  Our friends and neighbors, they need forgiveness, so we are to preserve and safe guard the Gospel here so that it is always there for them.  We gather to hear God’s Word, to sing hymns to God, to delight in the forgiveness God gives us.  We maintain this confession, we fight the good fight of faith, and cling fast to the promise of salvation that God gives us, come what may.  We abide in Christ – and He brings forth fruit in us, the fruit of the Spirit – now in part, and then in full on the last day.

            Dear friends in Christ – as Lutherans, our history, our heritage is this: we will confess Christ, we will at all times strive to be ready to give the defense for the hope that is in us.  And we confess this together – we strive to remain in Christ, we seek to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified, and we will oppose any false teaching that would rob Christ and the Father of Their glory.  Why?  Because we know that more than anything, more than wealth, power, the approval of the emperor, the approval of our friends and family – we need Christ and His forgiveness.  And this He has won for you, this He gives freely, without any merit or worth in us, all thanks be to God.  This truth has echoed from Lutheran pulpits for nearly 500 years, and may it ring forth even until He comes again.  Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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