The Festival of the Reformation 2012 – Matthew 11:12-19

28. October 2012
The Festival of the Reformation
Matthew 11:12-19

“We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.”

The problem with expectations is that they are easily shattered. Politicians rely upon expectations of the people to be elected. When re-elections roll around they rarely meet your previous expectations. Hope and change? Not really. The entertainment industry thrives on giving you exactly what you expect with perhaps a little twist of creativity. Your first consumption is enjoyable but their products don’t live up to repeat listens, views, or experiences. The sales person plays your expectations to sell you just what you want. They know that once you get home, chances are good you’ll keep the product even if it fails to meet your expectations.

This is an important reminder for us on this festival of the Reformation. Why had the Christian church of Luther’s day departed from the Apostolic truth? Why had they stopped listening to the Word alone? Why did they believe that there was salvation not alone but by some other means? Why had faith and trust in God alone been replaced with trust in rulers and works? Why had Christ taken the backseat while the cult of the saints drove the car?

Their expectations of God were driven not by the Holy Scriptures, not by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not by His grace, and not even by faith. Their expectations were driven by their own fallen desires. The holy message given by Moses, the Prophets, and Christ himself, delivered to us by angel-apostles was sidelined in favor of the thoughts and intentions of our sinful heart. Rather than be subject to Christ, the church subjected herself to the desire for self-worked salvation, big bank accounts, and earthly kingdoms. She gauged her hopes and dreams on the ways of the world and not the intents of God.

Luther needed a true set of expectations. When he asked, “How can I stand before an angry God?” the church of  his day answered, “through works of penance, prayer, and fear.” The polluted God demanded righteousness by the Law contrary to the Holy Scriptures. The blood of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world was mixed with the bile of man’s own merit. Luther’s conscience could not bear the the torment and despair. In an act of divine providence, his confessor Staupitz directed Luther back to the Scriptures.

There Luther rediscovered what had long been hidden under a dark cloud of false piety: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

Our yearly festival commemorating the Reformation is not a day to go “rah-rah–Lutheranism!” or “Boo! Catholicism!” Most of us don’t even know what the church of Rome believes today, wrongly thinking that Lutherans abandoned all the ancient practices. No, today we celebrate the recovery of the Gospel by the Holy Sprit through Martin Luther His angel. The good news is that Jesus Christ alone has saved you. He has done this through His Holy Scriptures alone which grant you faith alone to receive salvation through grace alone. Not three alone-s but one alone in Jesus Christ.

Luther’s false expectations needed reforming as do ours and as did our fathers’ of old. For example, Jesus sent His messenger John to prepare the way. But what did they go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken in the wind, that is, a false prophet who will capitulate to their itching ears and will gladly blow over if it suits them? What did they expect of John? A man dressed in the latest GQ fashion, hip, and utterly approachable? Ah, yes, they went for a prophet and Jesus gave them one. Not what they wanted nor expected but exactly what they needed.

John came preaching a hard, unlikeable message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The sinner scum came to John from all Judea and the region of the Jordan came to be baptized by him, confessing their sins. Meanwhile the Abrahamic bourgeois come to him trusting in birthright and personal piety and he runs them off: “You brood of vipers! Even now the axe is laid to the fruit of your legalistic tree. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” No one expected a prophet quite like John the Baptizer. Yet he is precisely what God foretold: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

Expectations are everything. John came neither eating nor drinking and they said, “He has a demon.” Jesus came eating and drinking and they said, “Look, a glutton and drunkard.” It’s not that John failed the expectation of their fathers. It’s not as if Jesus was something other than the Messiah promised of old. They had long since stopped listening and no longer had ears to hear.

As their hopes for the new wilderness Elijah were off-base, the expectations for the Messiah-Christ were worse. John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” The people of Israel’s hope for change was nothing like what God had in store for them. Jesus is not the earthly Enemy Slayer but the Lamb of God who is slain by the enemy. He is not the Great Yes Man but the Great Judge with winnowing fork and fire. He is not the Bread King but the Bread from heaven. He is not the king of this world but the King of heaven. He is not the friend of elites and a rock star pop icon but the humble friend of sinners and tax collectors. He does affirm the Pharisaical law in the temple but preaches the Gospel to the poor.

Sinner’s expectations are never God’s. God is not forced to conform to our hopes but rather we conform to His. Blessed is he who is not offended by God’s expectation fulfilled in Jesus. Most expect a different kind of prophet. Most do not expect such a hard call to repent or such a sweet message of release. Most want a slick pastor with a wishy-washy message that tugs at the heart strings and addresses the felt needs. They care nothing for God’s way nor His thoughts. This is why from the days of John the Baptist, through the life and death of Christ Jesus, and even now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Jesus will not dance to our song nor lament when we whine.

The hopes and dreams of fallen men do not coincide with God’s hopes and dreams for them. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. The Jesus campaign promises would never get Him elected. The sweet voice of Christ chanting the Psalms doesn’t fit our fancy. The show Jesus puts on is a gruesome and horrible display that lacks the entertainment value of a DVD in the discount bin. And the product he procures for us we neither desire nor will receive.

God sends his messengers to reform our false expectations. His holy prophets come with confession and absolution. These prophets’ sons expose your sin and preach the good news to you. They’re not impressive and don’t submit to your strong gusts for change. The pastor-angels have received their marching orders from the Good Commander. They are clothed with the rough garments of salvation and are ready to give you the very thing you need whether you expected it or not. They are preparing and preserving the way for the Lord to dwell in you His redeemed.

Jesus reforms our sinful expectations. We think we’re worthy of salvation and he humbles us by the law redeems us by His shed blood in His body and His blood. We think we can contribute to grace and He gives us his abundant mercy and complete grace as a free gift in Holy Baptism. We think there is wisdom unto salvation in earthly gurus and He gives us everything our faith needs in the Holy Scriptures. Our sinful expectations are reformed to His, all though the giving of the gifts.

Wisdom proceeding from the mouth of the Most High reorders and governs the Christian expectation. This work of God was given by the Scriptures and through violent suffering. This work will continue until our dying day or Christ comes again. Martin Luther was without hope and true desire for God. In God’s mercy he revealed the truth of to our church’s namesake. Today, you may not have wanted Him as He has promised but now you know we need Him and you know right where to find Him. Our hopes and dreams are restored by forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus who dances to his own flute and sings a new song of salvation for you.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Holy Pentecost (Whitsunday) ’12 – Acts 2:1-13

27. May 2012
Holy Pentecost (Whitsunday)
Acts 2:1-13

Today is the festival of the Holy Spirit, celebrating the gift of the Word,  when He established the church, and revealed to Himself to the world for courage, boldness, and joy. Pentecost has two preachers—Moses & Holy Spirit: 1) Moses. Mt. Sinai. Dismay and Terror. People begged Moses to stop speaking with God. They could not bear it. Moses is their go-between. Thunder & Lightning. Mountain smoking. God gave law for state and law for moral (10 Commands). This same Law holds today and still results in dismay, despair, eternal death. We need it for we are hardheaded, crude, insolent. We need the rod, fire, sword, gallows.

Pentecost—HOLY SPIRIT CHURCH. This is a kingdom of joy, courage, and certainty. It is a totally different message and voice. It does not cause fear as Sinai. It does not kill. it gives joy and boldness. It gave the disciples not terror but courage. Every disciple, filled with the Spirit, boldly takes on the world. They are no longer timid, weak—hearts with joy, eager to speak.

There are two preachers and two words. The proclamation of Moses terrified a whole nation. The proclamation of the Spirit emboldens Peter. Peter who was scared of Caiphas’ servant and denied the Lord. Peter who huddled terrified for fear of the Jews. Now Peter preaches against high priests and whole council of Jerusalem, and even speaks against Roman emperor. And all the Apostles do the same, like Peter.

There are two messages: the law of God and the gracious favor of God. Pentecost brings about a huge change. They have no fear, neither in heaven nor hell. There is a miraclous, divine transformation. They are courageous, bold, defiant, speaking against secular and spiritual alike. So also the whole host of apostles and disciples, 120 brave soldiers of the cross.

All the Apostles and disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to preach. Not only that, they began speaking Greek to Greeks, Latin to Romans, Persian to Persians, Egyptian to Egyptians. Now the Gospel is given to all the earth in their native tongue.

The miracle is bigger than that. The content! Listen! New and wondrous message! Easter, Jesus of Nazareth, crucified as criminal, villain, traitor? mocked, spit upon, scorned, cursed, and killed? Who is He? The Lord of heaven and earth! The Son of God! WOW! Jesus of Nazareth, dragged out of the city seven weeks earlier, legally condemned, publicly executed, is now proclaimed Lord and God who rules the whole world.

This is the foundation of the church: poor and ignorant fisherman and offensive preaching of crucified Jesus. A horrible injustice was perpetrated against him. Those who crucified Him are enemies are enemies of God. Wrath and fury upon sinners. No previous precedent.

Imagine: defend person accused and condemned to death, left to rot in the grave seven weeks, and then condemn the whole government, spiritual and political, declare the man innocent, damn the judge rulers, and everyone else. the betrayers, criminals are not innocent before God and world, but are traitors against God, denied the Lord and God and crucified HIm! Daring and audacity!

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:13-15).

All the disciples preached with the strength of a great army, later spreading this offensive and foolish preaching to the world. The crucified Jesus of Nazareth is the Lord of heaven and of earth.

Why didn’t chief priest, Pontius Pilate kill them right then? The New Testament and Kingdom of God, while seeming to have little power, has in fact almighty power that no one can resist.

The message: Proclaim Jesus of Nazareth, condemned and executed, is the LORD, of whom the prophets foretold. Whoever wishes to be rid of sins and to have eternal life, let him repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Insignificant, unimportant message and incompetent messengers.

So Christianity begins with nothing but powerless foolishness: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

What is the source of this great power and might? The Word and the Holy Spirit. Witness Peter and all the rest. Look at the words and tongues they were given, as if they had been with Jesus a lifetime. Simple fishermen used by God to prove and reveal great wisdom. God preserved them and the church to this day, despite the seeming foolishness and ignorance of proclaiming the lowly, despised Jesus of Nazareth as God and Lord. Tongues of fire and native tongues confirmed God’s power on Pentecost.

Pentecost should always be on our mind. It is of no less importance to you, dear Christian, than Christmas or Easter. We should always thank God that through the Apostles and the work of the Holy Spirit, we have know this sermon. We know what Peter preached. Holy Spirit preserved. Beautiful festival and comforting, joyful sermon preserved and given. Neither devil nor opponent can destroy it.

Why full of joy? Because by God’s grace it has been given to us, so that we too may know the distinction between the two preachers and the two messages. We must distinguish between the message of the Law and the message of grace, the Lord Christ’s proper message. So the old Jewish Pentecost, given by the Law, is overcome by the new Pentecost, when the Gospel is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

So we can now distinguish between sorrow and joy, death and life. Mt. Sinai is full of sorrow, terror, despair and death. Now, in Jesus Christ, we have a joyful and precious message which fills our heart with joy and courage.

This work of drawing you away from the message of the Law unto the New Testament begins today. HOLY SPIRIT carries out His office and work as paraclete (comforter) and Spirit of truth. He filled the apostles and disciples with a sure and certain comfort, joyful courage, bold attitude, and total confidence.

Witness: Stephen. We need the same. We need the Spirit to create in us this sort of faith to speak boldly and confidently in a world hostile to Jesus. We need the message of the Spirit to remain content and disregard their slander. We need a courageous heart, to disregard the slander, persevere in the midst of offense, to continue this proclamation of Christ crucified.

Make no mistake, the world hates this message. It is not a nice, sweet message, easy to proclaim. Nor does the public accept it. It offends both high and mighty, thus we need the Spirit. It accuses all as traitors and murderers. It also forgives in the death of the sinless one, without anyone deserving it one lick. Therein true joy is found, as freedom in forgiveness is given as a gift.  Thanks be to God.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Based on Luther’s sermon preached at the parish church in 1534.

Festival of the Reformation 2011

30. October 2011
Festival of the Reformation
Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3; John 8:31-36

When St. John saw another angel flying directly overhead, what was this angel’s name? It is opinion of the church of the Reformation that this angel was none other than God’s messenger—the blessed Martin Luther. For Luther returned to the church—languishing under medieval corruptions and authoritarian papal rule—an eternal gospel. This good news is Christ crucified and risen, the only means of salvation which is for every nation, tribe, language, and people.

It is as if St. John was transported through time and space to hear the preaching of our father Martin Luther, straight out of the pulpit of St. Mary’s in Wittenberg: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

This angel brought an eternal gospel. The Book of Heaven was opened before this angel to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he read: “For by works of the law no man will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

Apart from Christ, the angel Luther and all mankind is in bondage. Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Slaves cannot free themselves. Nor do slaves remain in the house into eternity. Freedom from slavery comes only by the Son. If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples , and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. 

Your Lutheran birth does not save you. Your moral upbringing does not save you. There is no boasting, for we are all powerless to save. Only by faith in Jesus, the one who died and rose, only by Him are we freed from sin and bound once more to our gracious God.

By this Holy Word, the angel was set free. His tongue was loosed to confess Christ’s name only. His dead flesh was crucified with Christ. God now passed over the angel’s sins because God’s wrath and judgment was propitiated by the Son of God’s own blood. Righteousness is given, not earned. Sins are forgiven, not repaired through acts of penance. All this makes God just and gracious. He only is justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

This message rocked the 16th century world and continues to this day. The modern division and schism of Christianity is tragic. For over a millennia, Christianity was marked by two divisions, East and West.

Even then, faithful Christians could not agree on the procession of Spirit from the Father and the Son nor could they arrive at a common date for the celebration of Easter. And so—the split. Despite these two traditions continuing apart from each other, they remain the dominant distinct confessions for a thousand years.

Then came Dr. Martin Luther, a Roman priest of the Augustinian order, the angel of God. The way the historians like to write the story, Luther was the instigator of our religious potpourri. By rejecting that the papacy retained the sole authority to interpret the Word of God, it is thought he caused all these little schismatic and heretical denominations or non-denominations that continue to sprout up all around us.

There is an element of truth to this. Evangelicals banded to together to form churches or around princes who shared their confession. A new split emerged from East and West—and they are the Evangelicals (or Lutherans as our opponents named us). Large swaths of western Europe and nearly the whole of Scandinavia become Evangelical in their confession.

But to blame Luther is to miss an important piece of the puzzle, one which is still relevant today. Dr. Martin Luther was not interested in leaving the church of Rome. No, he sought reform through a church council.

Today we celebrate the anniversary of this Reformation. Unfortunately neither the papal authority nor the holy Roman emperor Charles V would hear their call for reform. For their confession of the Gospel, priests and nuns, noblemen and professors were declared outside the Roman church.

It is clear from the ecclesiastical and secular histories, Rome and her Pope were the primary party responsible for the Reformation. The pope and all his cardinals could not abide by the teaching of Luther and his students. They found it incompatible with their man-made authority and aims. Rather than allow the teaching of the Scriptures be restored in their midst, they excommunicated Luther and the lot.

The name for Luther and those who follow in his steps is Evangelical, or according to the Gospel, the evangel. Lutherans will not allow anything to infringe on Christ and His work to save you. All that hinders this work of God in you through faith and by the Scriptures is to be omitted. Yet, we are not rightly called Protestants, at least not by today’s standards.

Today, Protestant means not Rome and not East. It describes all sorts of false-teaching churches, many of which might not even be called Christian. For example, there are protesting Christians who say we cannot pray the prayer our Lord taught us because its not “from the heart.” This is a clear rejection of God’s Word, as it is our Lord who commanded us so to pray.

There are “Christians” who are unwilling to confess the Creeds, saying they are man-made documents. Most have serious issues with the confession of Christ, His essence, and His life. Yet, examine the Creeds and tell me whether they are not truthful expositions of God’s Word.

Are they not necessary to be believed? How can one call himself Christian and deny God is maker of heavens and earth, or that Jesus died and rose again, or that the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith, granting the forgiveness of sins? Yet, there are protestants who make this claim.

Then there are “Christians” who deny that Baptism now saves you, or that is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. No, they say, baptism is a work, something we do, and it only saves if we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and savior, and then only if we’re after the age of accountability. Thus, they deny our Lord’s command and the Apostolic injunction to teach and baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity. Christian? Protestant?

Never mind the mess with the Holy Communion! Most protestant churches deny Christ’s bodily presence under bread and wine, received into the mouth, received for the edification of the faithful and the condemnation of the impious.

Now it is acceptable to receive bread and wine anywhere you want, even if the church doesn’t believe its Christ’s very body and blood received for the forgiveness of sins. Its become some sort of great agape meal, where we can all sing about peace, love, and understanding and put aside our differences.

Just as before, this is a clear rejection of the command of Christ, who clearly says “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” The Apostles’ ate and drank Christ’s body and blood when they gathered. It was a statement not of personal faith but of the corporate confession, that is, the Apostles’ doctrine. St. Paul clearly teaches to avoid false teachers and their union. He clearly teaches as well those who do not believe the Apostolic doctrine each and drink to their judgment.

So is the case for you. If you receive the Supper without faith in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” then you receive it to your judgment. St. Paul says that such eating caused some in Corinth to become sick and others to die.

Do not think to receive the Sacrament without preparing with repentance. So also, do not receive the Sacrament in a church that teaches contrary to your confession. Their false teaching makes a mockery of this saving grace and you cannot join in union with them no matter what is in your heart.

These things all sound pretty Roman catholic, don’t they? And they should. Luther sought reform of Rome not a new church body. We live in perennial hope that the church of Rome will reject their council of Trent and return to the evangelical teaching of the Scriptures.

Yet, we do not protest. No, we do not hate Rome nor do we hate the Protestants. We confess not protest. We confess the truth. We are a light in the darkness, markers in the wilderness of American protestantism.

We retain that which can be retained without sin, standing on the shoulders of our spiritual fathers. Thus, we retain the prayers, the propers of the mass, the ordinary divine service, the priestly vestments, images, and other accoutrements. We do not protest that which is indifferent or edifying. We confess that which is necessary and true.

Luther summarized this essential Evangelical confession in the three solas—Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone. In other words, the good news of salvation is known only be the Scripture, given purely out of God’s grace, and received only by Holy Spirit-inspired faith. There can be salvation by none other than Christ, his gracious lifeblood, received through faith in His gracious Word of promise.

If you believe this, can confess the Creeds, pray the Lord’s prayer, know that the pastor’s forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness, that there is only one baptism and it saves, and that the Holy Communion is truly Christ’s body and blood received in your mouth for the forgiveness of sins—well, then you are truly Christian for you trust in the Word of the Holy Scripture and that this is all received in faith without any worthiness or merit in you.

This may describe many Roman catholics and it may some Protestants. Yet, they remain in their false communion despite their public error and false teaching.  There is the only true confession, the one attached to the one holy catholic and apostolic church. This was the aim of the Reformation.

“Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” He spoke with God’s authority, freeing bound sinners to be free in Christ. We are sons of God, knowing the truth, and this truth setting us free. We thank God he used his servant Dr. Martin Luther of blessed memory to bring the Gospel to light.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana