Reformation Day - October 31, 2015 - John 8:31-36
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit+
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit+
Tonight we celebrate and observe Reformation Day. Why? Yes, yes, on October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, really giving a start to what becomes known as the Protestant Reformation. But why do we observe this day? I ask because there is a very wrong way to think about Reformation Day, to think about the Reformation. You see, the idea of reform in the Church is nothing new. Read Paul’s epistles. 1st and 2nd Corinthians are calls for that Church to reform. Looking at Church history, I can find calls for reform in every Century of the past 2000 years. What makes this one, the one we celebrate tonight different? Why do we observe it?
Was it that Luther relied simply upon the Word of God? Well, that’s true. Luther does rely simply upon God’s Word, and much of his calls for reform were simply calls to be focused on the Word – but there are other reforms like that. When they wrote the Nicene Creed in the 4th Century, that too was a reform of the Church that relied simply upon the Word of God as the source of truth – “and rose again according to the Scriptures.” In fact, any good “reform” in the Church in any age and place relies simply upon the Word. No, the thing that distinguishes the Lutheran Reformation from all others is what Dr. Luther wrote with Thesis number 1. The 95 Theses start this way: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” There it is. That is the difference – our reformation is not a single event, but an entire life.
Many reformers have come in the History of the Church, and they have had their plans for fixing things. I could talk about many in detail – Wycliffe and Hus and Gregory the Great and Leo IX, or after Luther you have folks who found other denominations, like Calvin or Wesley. All with their plans for fixing things. All seeing problems in the Church and saying, “Ah, if we do this, it will fix things.” Plenty of reformers came up with plans to fix things, some good, some bad. The Nicene Creed is good reform, it eliminated a lot of heresies. However, new ones just popped up afterwards, many even worse. Some of the reforms folks dreamed up weren’t so good. In 1049, Pope Leo IX saw that too many of the clergy were living scandalous lives, so he said, “That’s it, priests can’t get married anymore.” Priests not being allowed to marry has been around less than 1000 years, less than half the history of the New Testament Church – it was plan to fix things, but it hasn’t removed scandal. Or in the 18th Century, John Wesley thought if we just gave simple guidelines to follow, a simple method, we could perfect people – and you get the Methodist Church. Didn’t make perfect people. All too often reforms come about with the idea that when it happens the Church will be fixed and it’s all good. In fact, this is sometimes the view we can be tempted to take of our own reformation, as though when Luther nails the 95 Theses on the door he “won” and everything was fixed.
“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Here is the Lutheran difference. For Luther, there was no sense of fixing the Church and then it is done, no restoring the Church to some mythical pristine state. Luther was a student of Scripture, a student of history, and someone with keen insight into his own spiritual condition, and as such he saw one truth that stands out clearly. Satan and sin are always trying to destroy Christians and the Christian Church – trying to enslave us to sin, trying to make us fall, to stumble, to forget what we know. And because of this, we the people in the Church, from youngest to oldest, lay and clergy alike, are always, always in need of repentance, always in need of Reform.
Reformation Day ought not simply be a celebratory day for the past, but it ought also be a day where we consider our own lives, where we consider what reform and renewal is needed for us. Until we reach heaven, until our bodies are raised on the last day, we will always need to live lives of repentance. Why is this? Hear what our Lord says in John 8. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” While you live, Satan and your own sinful flesh will keep trying and trying to get you to fall into sin, to get stuck in things worse and worse, to trap you in slavery to sin. This is happening to you now. So I will ask you – what sins tried to ensnare you this week? How was Satan trying to shackle you, to make you less than who you ought to be this past week? Now there’s too many options to mention here, too many sins with which Satan can try to allure you. Are you being tempted to do things that you know are wrong and being trapped that way? Are you being tempted to not act, being tempted towards complacency, not doing the good that you know you ought, and thus trapped that way? Are you being tempted to ignore Christ, to think less and less about His love for you, to put off or minimize the things of Jesus and His Church? Are you being tempted to focus more and more on the world, on stuff, on mammon, on the idols of your own devising and desiring? Yes. These are ways in which Satan attacks you constantly – and as for the specifics, I don’t them, but Satan tailors them to you, to try to appeal to you, to try to shackle you in sin again and again and again. And as you are sinful, his shackles are always somewhat appealing.
Thus, every Reformation Day is a call to repentance. Repent. Turn away from these temptations. Don’t simply assume that you are doing fine, that everything is hunky dory. Don’t be tempted to assume that a quick little dab of spiritual duck tape, the latest book with 12 steps to having whatever it is that they are selling will simply fix things and then you will be done. As long as you live, your life will need to be one of repentance, for Satan your foe crouches like a prowling lion, ready to pounce. Sin lies crouching at your door, and it is easy to fall. Repent. Seek out your sin and turn away from it.
But turn to where? When you see your sin, when you see your struggle – and if you see your sin you are going to see struggle, because the simple fact is we tend to like our pet sins, we like to give into them, and it is a struggle to break them down – when you see these things, where do you turn? Our Lord says “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth with set you free.” The cure, the solution, the strength for struggle, the shelter and protection you have been given is the Word of God. And what makes this Word of God so good at protection? Because the Word of God gives you Christ Jesus Himself. Think about this – Jesus says that when you are in the Word, you are His disciples, you are learning and following Him. He says that when you are in the Word, you will know the Truth. This isn’t just “truth” as in you will know neat little facts – a few chapters later in John Christ our Lord says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Your solution, your hope, your salvation is Christ Jesus Himself – and where do you find Jesus, where can you be sure that He is present for you, present to forgive you, to restore you, to reform and reshape you after Satan and the world have done their best to wear you down? Where your Lord has promised to be – in His Word, whether that Word is read and proclaimed, whether that Word is attached to water in His gift of Baptism, whether that Word is attached to bread and wine so that our Lord can give you His own Body and Blood thereby. Abide in the Word – not simply so that you know more stuff – but when you Abide in the Word of Christ you abide in Christ – and it is Christ Jesus who gives life, Christ Jesus who wins victory for you over Satan, Christ Jesus who is your mighty fortress who wins victory for you where with might of yours could naught be done. A Christian is simply one who continually is turned away from sin and unto Christ.
Every call to repentance, every call to turn away from sin, every preaching of the Law of God, must be accompanied by the proclamation of the Gospel, the proclamation that Christ Jesus, with His perfect life, death, and resurrection has won you salvation, has freed you from the power of the devil, has given you new life, given you strength for your fight against evil, has forgiven you and cleansed you from your sin. And this is a continual thing. This is something that is to shape your entire life here on this earth. You will always need Christ and His Word of forgiveness to defend and protect you from Satan, for the Devil never stops seeking your downfall. Our lives are not like a football game, where the referee blows the whistle and then suddenly Satan stops and says, “Oh well, I guess I can’t try and tackle you anymore.” Satan doesn’t fight fairly or politely. And we are worn down, battered and bruised by his assaults. To you who are bruised and battered by sin, Christ Jesus our Lord comes, and He speaks a Word of forgiveness and life. You are forgiven and have life in Christ. He calls you to abide in Him by calling you to His table, where through His Supper He will abide in you. Over and over and over our Lord gives you life and forgiveness, to defend you against Satan, to reshape your heart that Satan continually tries to break. His love for you endures, and He will always reshape you, reform you through His Word.
We call this day Reformation Day because of specific historical events. And that is a good and fine thing – I’m never going to knock talking about History, and especially Church History. But in reality, every Saturday or Sunday, every worship here, every time the Baptized children of God are gathered around God’s Word and Preaching, every time we come to the Supper and receive Christ’s life giving Body and Blood, it is Reformation Day, for through these means, through His Word and Sacraments Christ Jesus our Lord takes us and reforms us, reshapes us, renews us so that we would continue to remain in Him despite the attacks and assaults of the devil. Our old evil foe now means deadly woe – but for you fights the valiant One who God Himself Elected, Christ Jesus – He fought for you upon the Cross, and He fights in you and for you now through His Word, through the grace He gave you at your baptism, and through His Supper. God grant to us continual reform all the days of our lives until we reach the new life of the resurrection on the Last Day. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. +