October 27, 2013: Reformation Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this glorious day we join to thank You for setting us free! Free from eternal death. Free from the inner anguish of sin. Free from the power of Satan over us. Free from our unholy flesh. Free to live in joy and gladness over Your glorious gift of salvation! Today remind us anew of exactly how that freedom is given to us and where we can find it while still on this earth. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST OUR ONLY SOURCE OF ETERNAL FREEDOM!

TEXT: I Cor. 10: 1-4: “For I do not want you to ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”

Dearly Beloved Lutherans Made Free By Jesus Christ:

In four short years we will join together for a wonderful celebration! That’s because in four years we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Already our synod is planning for this event. Lutherans around the world will mark that wonderful day. Meanwhile, we are privileged to be here today on the 486th anniversary of Dr. Luther nailing up his famous 96 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg which set off a chain of events that has changed the world—for the better!

Last week I addressed you on the topic: “What does it mean to be a Lutheran?” Together we examined in minute detail one of the foundational pillars of the Luther’s Reformation of the church—namely, Scripture, or the Word of God. We also touched on the two other pillars: grace alone in Christ saves us and we apprehend this amazing blessing through faith alone. But, exactly how does grace “get” from God to us? Exactly what role does God’s undeserved love in Christ play when it comes to creating and strengthening our faith? Historic Christians and certainly Lutherans today know the answer to these questions. And since our text addresses them, let’s examine God’s answer to our question and refresh our memories.

I

Do you know what a chasm is? Go to the Grand Canyon and you’ll experience one—a huge one! Standing on the edge of such a chasm and gazing across, you might wonder: how do I get from here to there? It’s too wide to jump. It’s too deep and too rugged to walk or climb. You have no wings with which to fly. No helicopters are in sight. So, what about the chasm that exists between our perfect, holy God and His fathomless love for us and the mire of sin, temptation, doubt, uncertainty, and general weakness of our frail flesh? How do we bridge the chasm? Well, we don’t. But God does! And He does it through something called: the means of grace. He does it through the message of the gospel, through baptism, and through the holy supper.

St. Paul takes his readers back in time to Israel standing at the Red Sea looking at its foreboding waters while being pursued by the evil Pharoah’s army. He takes us back in time to Israel dying of thirst in the Sinai desert with no oasis in sight and dying of hunger with no food to eat. How did God bridge those chasms? Well, first He rolled back the waters of the Red Sea and allowed His people to escape through them. Those waters saved them from slavery and death. Next He provided water from rocks in the desert. Moses struck the Rock at Meribah with his staff and from it pure water flowed for all quenching their thirst and giving them life. And finally, God also provided the miracle food of manna and quail each day for them to eat—for the 40 years they roamed the desert of Sinai—thereby saving their bodies from starvation. And during this entire time God accompanied them, Christ accompanied them, hidden in that great fiery cloud that went with them every single step of the way. Yes, Jesus saved His people!

Note well that St. Paul likens the saving waters of the Red Sea with baptism. He identifies the Rock of living water with Jesus Christ. And He also identifies the spiritual soul food of manna and quail with holy communion later in this chapter from 1st Corinthians. This is not by happenstance. This is Godly truth. Yes, God bridges the chasm between weak-willed sinners and His holiness by means of His inexhaustible power, His grace.

II

This is why we Lutherans hold God’s Word and Sacraments in such high esteem. Since the Sacraments, baptism and communion, were instituted by Christ Himself; since they contain Christ’s forgiveness for all sins; and since through them the Spirit comes with eternal freedom for our consciences and souls; well, God’s means of grace are thus the source of our faith. They not only strengthen existing faith, they also plant the seed of saving faith and water and feed it. They are the original spiritual “soul food.”

Not all Christian churches teach this clearly and therefore not all such churches are able to “bridge the chasm.” One of Dr. Luther’s key points was to remind all people of the vital importance of upholding the truths about God’s Word and Sacraments. Some of his day believed them to be ceremonies that humans must engage in so as to make God happy with us and thus earn His favor. They turned communion into a work of man which merits God’s favor. Thus, when you commune your good deed, coming to the altar rail, causes God to pay you back with forgiveness for your sins. In essence this was Rome’s view. And it was wrong because it robbed God of all the glory and turned undeserved love, or grace, into something we actually did deserve!—Wrong. Others in Christendom taught that baptism really didn’t wash away sin, it was simply a ceremony whereby a child was “dedicated” to God somehow. Doesn’t this also “reverse the flow” of grace and isn’t it another attempt by humans to jump the chasm on their own? Still others taught that in communion we don’t actually receive the genuine body and blood that Christ expended on the cross to save us, but only a symbolic facsimile. As I’ve told many of you for many years: “Do you want to be paid in Monopoly money or in genuine greenbacks? Which one is worthless and which one will actually be accepted in a store? So, do you desire genuine forgiveness for your sins or just a representation of it? Which kind will be accepted at the Pearly Gates on judgment day?

III

Only the historic Lutheran Church teaches that God, alone, bridges the chasm between Him and us via His powerful Word of the Gospel and His Sacraments. Many of our forebears left Scandinavia and Germany for the New World in order to hold onto these truths rather than risk their soul’s salvation. True Lutherans know in their marrow that Christ alone won our salvation on the cross; that Christ alone distributes His grace and power to us via Word and Sacraments; and that Christ alone thereby implants, works, and builds up our personal faith. We know, as John the Baptist did, that “Christ must increase, and I must decrease.” We know that we dare never take His credit, His glory, or His honor away from Him. We know that God, out of pure love for us, bridges the chasm so that we may be blest while on earth until we’re welcomed into heaven.

This is what the Reformation of the visible Christian church in 1517 was all about and what it is still about today.—Giving God all the glory and never stealing any of it for ourselves. This is also why true Lutherans are humble of heart—for all that we have is a gracious gift from Him in Christ. Amen