Reformation 2007


This sermon is modified slightly from the sermon written and posted by Rev. Christopher Esget of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, VA

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

On this anniversary of the 95 theses we do well to ask ourselves, “Why are we Lutheran?’ But along with that question, we should ask another: “Are we Lutheran?’

The entire Reformation can be seen as a reformation of the Sacrament of Penance. That is the focus of the 95 theses. It all revolves around the question of where can we find and be sure of God’s mercy. Luther was responding to a medieval corruption of the idea of Penance. It was being taught that Penance was an action to be performed. The penitent went to the priest for confession. There he confessed with his mouth confessed and that was all that mattered. It did not matter if his heart was changed or not. It did not matter if he was sincere or if he had faith. The sale of indulgences meant that forgiveness could be purchased with money or by doing good deeds apart from faith.

That sounds good. It seems it would make it easy to be a Christian. Pay your dues and everything is fine. You can belong to the mafia, be a murderer, a pimp, a child pornographer and as long as you pay your dues your sins are forgiven. But it doesn’t work. It fails to comfort. And even those who bought indulgences with sincere and pious hearts, who hoped for God’s mercy, lost the comfort that God would give for free. By selling indulgences and making salvation dependent in any way upon our works the papists had cast the true grace of God into doubtful terrain. For how much must we cooperate? How good, how pure, need we be? How much are our dues and when do we know when we’ve paid in full?

By the grace of God in Christ Jesus Luther, though his own personal angst, broke down that false teaching. He exposed it and preached the pure grace of God that comes for free, for the sake of the perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We now the Gospel with no strings attached. We are saved by grace through faith by the work of Jesus Christ alone. But we must ask, “Is the situation better, or worse, no than it was then?’ In the 16th century the forgiveness of sins required monetary payment. Now it costs nothing. And men abuse it like never before. They seize the Gospel to serve themselves as though it belonged to them! Those who bought indulgences in the 16th century stood higher than us. They were nearer to God. For they recognized that sin costs something. We mock and criticize that they paid money for the forgiveness of sins. At least they realized that sin came at a price! Do you?

Are you better than the medieval peasant who went to the priest for confession? Or do you take confession itself for granted? Do you saunter in here, speak a mindless confession along with the crowd, and suppose that you can live reprehensibly, thinking that the general absolution gives you a kind of amnesty to keep on with the selfishness, keep on with the pride, keep on with the porn, keep on with the gossip, keep bearing grudges, keep ignoring your neighbors? Is that what the Reformation has given us?

No. That is what the devil has given us. Repent. Do not think that real peace comes from learning to forgive yourself. “He who forgives himself his sins is his own God’ If you forgive yourself, you make yourself a god – the worst kind of idolatry.

The Lutheran Reformation recovered for the church that all-important truth that penance, or repentance. Repentance is a comprehensive attitude of the entire life of the believer. We confess: “True repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror, on account of sin, and yet at the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution (namely, that sin has been forgiven and grace has been obtained through Christ), and this faith will comfort the heart and again set it at rest.’

The Reformation was not to create a new church, or denomination. The Reformation at its core was not about dethroning the Pope or even about being right. The Reformers would gladly have continued submitting to the Pope by human arrangement for the sake of good order on the condition that he would allow the Gospel to be preached purely.

The Reformation wanted to ensure that the Church proclaimed true repentance to the people, and pointed those people to Jesus Christ who takes away the sins of the world by His death. The Reformation wanted to give away for free what God declared is free.

So why are we Lutheran? Not because Lutherans are smarter or have some bragging right by being the first to break with Rome. No one should be a Lutheran out of ethnic pride or because Dad and Mom were Lutherans or because he was married into it. The best definition of a Lutheran is a person who confesses and believes that the Small Catechism of Martin Luther is the true and correction exposition of the Bible. That is the pledge made at Confirmation. You were asked: “Do you believe that the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, is faithful and true to the Word of God?’ The doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is not a collection of facts: it is the confession that w are sinners saved entirely by God´s grace, through faith, that we have been reconciled to the Father by the death of Jesus Christ, that He is well pleased by us for His own sake, in perfect, unconditional love and has bestowed this favor upon us for free in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the Holy Absolution, and so forth.

That is a lot to swallow. It is not a list of facts, its an entire reality that cannot be seen or known or felt. Faith does not trust what it sees or what it understands. It supersedes the mind. Nor is faith a feeling. It is not an emotion. It supersedes the heart. Sometimes we can’t feel God, or we don’t feel very good toward Him. It is not confidence or discipline either. We have doubts. It is not confidence, nor is it a certainty that everything will work out. Faith supersedes our will. For all of that, faith is not a blind leap. Faith always has an object. We believe and trust and hope in Jesus. True Christian faith is not a blind trust. It is foolish and yet wise. For it is grounded in the objective, historical reality of the death of Jesus Christ. It is the certainty that in Him our sins are forgiven, death is defeated, Satan is stripped of his power, and God continues to be merciful toward us.

So Christian are constantly aware of two things: My sins are dreadful, they offend God and damn me, I wish to be rid of them; and at the same time, I am serene and confident in the knowledge that God loves me and forgives me all for the sake of Jesus. I know this not by my feelings, emotions, or decisions, not by intellect or will. I know this because of the objective work of Jesus on the cross, and in the tangible ways He gives me grace, in the Means of Grace – my Baptism, when I go to the pastor for Absolution, in the Holy Supper, and in the Bible and in the preaching of the Gospel where God reveals Himself.

Today, then, we thank God for the Reformers, for blessed Martin Luther. We celebrate the Reformation not out of party spirit or because we hate Catholicism and enjoy bashing the pope. We celebrate the Reformation in a spirit of grateful humility that God still allows His good news of forgiveness to be preached to us, and we ask that He would preserve His Church on earth for the sake of Christ so that many more might hear the pure doctrine that God forgives sinners all by grace through faith in Jesus, all while praying that He keep us in the same.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

This sermon is modified slightly from the sermon written and posted by Rev. Christopher Esget of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, VA

Key Words: Penance, Esget, Cheap Grace, Martin Luther, pope, indulgences

Pastor David Petersen

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