Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
31. October 2010
The Festival of the Reformation
Rev. 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
“The Gospel: No Strings Attached”
Dear Christians, today we celebrate the festival of the Reformation and our 50th anniversary as a congregation. For some of you, you have lived in the Lutheran church for generations and perhaps your whole life. Maybe you’ve at Grace since it began in 1960. So, you have celebrated these holy days many times. For others, this festival commemorating the anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation is new. It may be a bit odd for your church to celebrate an event or persona not found in Scripture.
There certainly is a risk of beating our chest and sounding a bit triumphant. “We are Lutherans! Here we stand! We have defeated the antichrist and Satan himself!” Or “We have preserved this place called Grace for these 50 years.”
For one thing, such boasting is not fitting for Christians. It was none other than the Holy Trinity who are to be given credit for the Reformation. Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Chemnitz and the rest were merely servants of Christ.
Today is not about the blessed Dr. Martin Luther. It is not about Wittenberg, Germany. It is not about sauerkraut, brats, and beer (or lutefisk and lefse if you are a Garrison Kiellor Lutheran). Non-Germans and Non-Scandinavian, you are still welcome.
Nor was nor is the Lutheran Reformation about rejecting Roman Catholicism and all its accoutrements. Today is not about destroying edifying Christian piety. You are free to make the sign of the holy cross. You may wear a crucifix around your neck or hang one in your home. You may fast and not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. You may have Christian art and statuaries. You may have an altar in your home and pray three times a day.
So also, the Reformation is not reject the edifying practice of the church. You may remember feasts and festivals commemorating the significant events and people of Christian history. You may process with the cross, bowing in reverence. You may kneel before the altar or genuflect at the Words of Our Lord. You may use bells, incense, candles, and acolytes. Your pastor may dress in the traditional western rite vestments. Your altar, pulpit, and lectern all may have paraments. You may hang banners and perform ceremonies.
Now some of these edifying practices of personal and churchly piety may not be your cup of tea. You may be asking yourself, “Is pastor telling us to be Roman Catholic?” Certainly not. These acts of piety and the home are not the marks of the antichrist that Luther was so vehemently opposed.
Nor were matters pertaining to the liturgy and the church rejected. We retain the orders of Holy Communion, Matins, Vespers, Compline, and others. We retain the Sacraments instituted by Christ, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Holy Absolution. We retain the hearing of God’s Word and the reading of the Gospel on the Lord’s Day. We retain preaching. We retain prayers and petitions for all those in need and for the whole world. We retain hymns, canticles, and liturgical verses. We retain the rites of Confirmation and private Confession.
If you didn’t know better, you might suspect we were Roman Catholic. No, these practices and piety are not the hideous marks of the medieval church the reformers sought to destroy. These things were not rejected by the Reformers because they are not destructive to faith.
What is destructive to faith? False teaching. What must be reformed is rejection of God and His Word. What must be reformed are practices which teach falsely.
False prophets with lying tongues infect the faith of believers. They speak with Satan’s deceit, seeking decay and ruin. One such false teaching is making a new law where there is none. As if our Lord’s Ten Commandments aren’t impossible enough to keep, the medieval church added more. They said you must not eat meat on Friday. You must make the sign of the cross. You must follow the liturgical rite to the letter. You must do this and you must do that.
The medieval church thought they were protecting the Law. Yet, instead, they gave the appearance that you could keep the Law, even in part while on this earth. Then, they added insult to injury. They added the hideous and frankly unbiblical doctrine of purgatory. Without the witness of Scripture, they said that Christ’s shed blood wasn’t enough. Upon your death, you don’t sleep with Jesus until the resurrection of the dead. No, you have to work off all the trespasses you committed in life, this through acts of penance and through purchased certificates called indulgences.
God’s Word clearly teaches the contrary. Our work, whether on earth or in purgatory, cannot justify us. Our work cannot make us right with God. “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:20, 23) Acts of penance or indulgences don’t make us right with God. Not even pastors avoid this proclamation. All are sinners and deserve nothing by God’s punishment.
Jesus says this life of sin is a life of slavery. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34) Slavery is bondage. Its like fairy tale stories where the ugly witch comes to you disguised as a beautiful maiden. You fall for her charm, her good looks, and her sweet voice. You make promises to her and bind yourself to her. Then, she reveals to you her true nature. She is a boil-covered, hook-nosed, raggedy old hag. But its too late, you’ve bound yourself to her and you can’t get away.
That’s what sin is like. It tempts you with lies and binds you when you fall for the deceit. In sin, we are not free. We are attached to our false gods, our false doctrines, and even our false christs. Desire to destroy our idols won’t work. Efforts to remove false teaching from our midst fails. Rejection of the false christ of salvation by works or salvation by pope or whatever, fails too. Sin, death, and Satan, our mortal enemies, hold the battle field. The victory is won. The sin we whored after has taken over us and we are bound forever.
Christ’s Reformation of His church has not ended. We continually critique our churches based on the Word of God and find them lacking. As Christians, we always long to be a part of the pure, spotless bride of Christ, not the ugly, bloodstained, whore of Babylon. At times, we recognize that we either personally or as a congregation have pursued other gods, serving them and getting into bed with them. We have desecrated this Christian home and sanctuary with teaching and practice contrary to God and His Word. This adulterous relationship with false prophets, false doctrine, and false christs results in our destruction.
Then overhead, as we lay wounded and bleeding on the battle field, we saw another angel flying, bright as the sun, proclaiming with a loud voice the eternal Gospel. This angel is frightening but good. This messenger destroys the bow and shatters the spear. This steward of God’s Word makes the war cease and burns the chariots with fire. The Angel proclaims: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Then the angel swoops down from heaven and destroys the bonds to our mistress sin with one little word: “It is finished.” The bonds are shattered and the captives are led free. The slave is made a son. “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.” (John 8:35-36)
The angel says: No dear Christian, you are not justified by works of the Law. Yet, rejoice! You are justified through the righteousness of God! This is given to you through faith in Christ Jesus. You have been made right with God freely, as a gift of grace. Rejoice, oh pilgrim throng! Rejoice, every nation, tribe, language and people! Believe in Christ! He has passed over your sins and you are free!
No strings attached. No bargaining with God. No deals necessary. The eternal Gospel is good news and that a gift. The giver of a gift expects nothing in return. The gift is good because it is free and unmerited. Christ is no Santa Claus, trying to find out who’s been naughty and nice. No, all are slaves to sin, all are naughty. There is only one who is nice, who is good, and that is Christ. He roars into our sin infested life and takes the field. He destroys the evil hordes of sin and death and crushes the wicked Serpent’s head.
In this battle, Christ was wounded for our sake. The battle scars are seen in his head, his hands, his feet, and his side. From his side flowed water and blood, that washed over us. His blood and water anointed us as sons of God, freed from bondage in slavery and adopted into freedom.
What is freedom according to the Gospel? We are children of God. Our brother Christ still pours out blood as a propitiation for our sin. His shed blood continually restores us to freedom. Freedom is to be bound to Christ and His Word. We have been bound in freedom to God, to love and serve in obedience and faith. The blood of Christ binds us to Christ. This blood oath of faith cannot be broken. It now curses through our veins. We have his victory and his life eternally.
The Reformation restored the proclamation of the Word and especially the Word of the eternal Gospel. Today we celebrate not the defeat of the medieval church by the reformers. Today we celebrate not our hard work to preserve Grace Lutheran Church of Dyer, Indiana. Today we celebrate the defeat of Satan’s lies among us. Today we celebrate the righteousness of God that has come to us as a gift through faith in Christ Jesus.
We do not boast in our triumph. We do not declare triumph by our works of the Law. No, we declare with a loud voice Christ’s work of forgiveness in his shed blood from God’s holy habitation to the world. We proclaim forgiveness of sins as we dwell near the river in the city of God. God is in our midst and we cannot be moved. The Lord of hosts is with us. He is our fortress, our shield, our weapon, and our life. We are freed by His blood with no strings attached. Amen.