[Note: This sermon was preached in Chapel at the International Center, on the Festival of the Reformation, October 31, 2013. Longer versions were also preached in St. Paul, Munster, IN, and St. Paul, Readlyn, IA, the weekend before. + Herbert Mueller, LCMS First Vice President.]
We observe Reformation Day, not because Lutherans are better, but we observe it for the sake of the Gospel.
Our Church is always reforming, always coming back to the Word of God, always being reformed to focus on Christ.
And a church that is always reforming is also always repenting, daily. The first of the 95 Theses Luther put up for debate October 31, 1517, reads:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. (LW 31:83).
- This is simply to admit our need for Christ.
- To know that Christ dwells only in sinners.
If you don’t believe me, just wait. The Law that exposes sin will come in full force when you are facing death – because the wages of sin IS death.
Yes, the Law is a curb against sin. Yes, the Law is a guide for Christians, but when we are talking about our standing before God, the Law always accuses.
Now we know that whatever the Law says it speak to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight (Romans 3:19-20)
We are all, each one of us, held accountable to God. I know we are tempted to say – Yes, but…
Yes, but I tried my best. Isn’t that good enough?
Yes, but why is this happening to me?
Yes, but I don’t deserve to die? Not yet.
Yes, but God is not being fair.
God’s law says STOP. Hold your mouth. Stop the excuses. Like a parent with a child trying to excuse his behavior – stop, stop trying to justify yourself.
This is a “bad news/good news” situation.
The bad news is that you cannot do it. It doesn’t work. You have no excuses, even if you are a pastor or work at the International Center. You cannot justify yourself.
But here’s the really great good news.
You don’t have to! It has already been done.
Been done by God in Jesus Christ.
He did it all.
There is no distinction, Scripture says, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And that ALL includes you and me. In fact, it BETTER include you and me, or the promise doesn’t apply to us either.
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).
God justifies! God speaks. God declares us righteous for the sake of Christ. And when GOD speaks, it is DONE. And God does this by grace as a gift – undeservedly.
In other words, God does not give US what we deserve, but He gives us instead what JESUS deserves. And God can give us what Jesus deserves, because on the cross God allowed JESUS to have what WE deserved for our sin. He took it all for us.
That’s what the word propitiation means. He took it all! Christ is the sacrifice in our place, the sacrifice that takes away our sin. He is the place of mercy, the one who soaks up all the wrath of God for sin – in our place.
And it’s all done – for us.
It is never our working, but always God’s doing, in Jesus.
We simply receive it through faith – it’s a gift.
Believe it and you have it!
In his Galatians commentary, Martin Luther explains:
“Here we work nothing, render nothing to God. We only receive and permit someone else to work in us, namely, God… We do not perform, but receive righteousness. We do not have, but accept, when God the Father grants it to us through Jesus Christ.” (LW 26:5f)
What does this mean? Practically speaking? Justified through faith means there is so much we do NOT have to worry about.
- We don’t have to worry about the guilt of our sin, because Christ took it all.
- We don’t have to worry about how you look before God, because in Jesus you are covered in HIS righteousness. GOOD!
- We don’t have to hide from God like Adam and Eve in the garden or make excuses…
- You don’t have to defend yourself before God, because Jesus did that already, far better than we’d ever be able.
- You don’t have to dwell on past sins and failures, because they’ve all been put on Jesus, they’re all atoned for, all forgiven.
- And the blood of Jesus really DOES set the guilty conscience FREE.
- You don’t even have to worry about your future, or worry about your death, because Jesus rose – you will rise.
- You don’t have to compare yourself with other Christians, to see how you measure.
- You don’t have to…
Because you are justified.
You are set free.
Christ has got you covered.
As a result, here’s now what we GET to do:
You get to
- revel in God’s grace – the gift given.
- live free – in the freedom of sins forgiven.
- walk right into the throne room of God in your prayers to pour out your needs before God – He won’t say – hey! who are you? But welcome, my child. Here’s all the good I have for you.
- You get to love the people He has given you because you know Jesus loves you and Jesus loves them.
Even if you feel bad, feel ashamed, or feel guilty… none of your FEELINGS can CHANGE God’s promises.
For HE is righteous, and HE justifies us.
In ourselves, we have nothing, but in Christ and the cross, we have everything. That’s what this means:
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:27-28).
And this Christian life of repentance Luther talks about in the 95 Theses is simply a life of looking away from my sin, of looking away from my death, from myself to see Christ only, FOR ME.
I am crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20).
You have to hear one more bit of Luther on this:
Now these words, “who loved me” are filled with faith. … He who was completely God gave everything He was, gave Himself FOR ME. For me, I say, a miserable and accursed sinner… Now I have Another, who has freed me from the terrors of the Law, from sin, from death, and who has transferred me into freedom, the righteousness of God, and eternal life. He gave Himself FOR ME.” (LW 26:177).
For each of you!
And that’s why we observe Reformation Day!
In the name of Jesus – Amen!
[Note: This sermon was preached in Chapel at the International Center Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, by Rev. Steven Schave, Associate Executive Director of the Office of International Mission – An excellent example of a sermon that spoke stinging law and comforting Gospel to me – Herbert Mueller, First VP.]
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:3
And God said it was good. And God said: it-was-good. Not sorta good, not kinda good, but when God saw His creation with its crown jewel of humanity… He said it was good, through and through. We had it all, paradise; well cared for, in want for nothing. Sickness, what is that? Pain, wow, sounds awful! I hope that never happens to me. Death, that would be a completely unnatural part of God’s creation. Loneliness, no way, God wouldn’t allow it, only perfect communion with Him and a soul mate to be united to for eternity. Perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect peace…just plain perfect, we didn’t know anything else.
But it wasn’t enough: surely God is holding out on us. Give us an orchard, and if there is one tree that God says stay clear of, it will seem the sweetest. And after all, let’s not kid ourselves, we weren’t so concerned with being like God in some holy sense, we want to be God and have our every desire. No, when the crafty serpent comes on to the scene, it doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing before the juices of forbidden fruit are dripping from our sin stained lips. And so covered only in our guilt and shame, with our tails between our legs, we find ourselves evicted from a paradise lost. All of creation now corrupted by our rebellion and disobedience and death will begin its reign. The tree of life in the garden – forever in the rear view mirror.
But that was so long ago. Now we say, “life stinks and then you die.” We don’t even bother with “did God really say?” anymore, because our tingling ears tuned out the voice of God long ago. It’s about creating our own paradise now. We build our towers to reach the heavens, we fashion together our golden calves to worship, we feverishly reduce, reuse, recycle and plant our gardens to try to recreate a paradise lost. We mask the pain, we turn our face from truly looking at death, we try to clothe ourselves in our own righteousness and justify our disobedience. But it is all a fleeting breath; because in the end we must still weep at the grave of a murdered son, the soil is still infested with thorns, the labor of bearing a child remains, and the flaming swords of God’s justice still bar the door to the tree of life in an Eden that is but a ghost town.
And so it is that poor miserable sinners fall to their knees on this very day and must confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…we sinners have no business in a holy place in the presence of God, ashes to ashes and dust to dust of a fallen world. And yet God, God who is faithful and just, still loves His creation. Never doubt that in all of creation, of heavens and earth, you are the crown jewel, you are the apple of His eye. For the creator becomes a creature to redeem his creation and to make it good. And so when Christ puts himself into the Jordan and the Spirit is hovering over the water, God says it is good. When Christ fulfills the Law on your behalf and conquers your every temptation from the serpent, God says it is good. When Christ bears your sins in His own flesh, the seed of the offspring crushing the head of the serpent by being obedient to the Father, even unto death: God the Father says, “IT-IS-GOOD!”
And so when you doubt your worth, when you doubt God’s love for you, when you are convinced that your passport will never be stamped for Eden…you will look to the perfect sacrifice made on your behalf, hanging from this wretched tree planted in the barren soil of Golgotha, and you will hear those words from the very voice of God who says, yes my child, it is good – it is your tree of life! Come and eat from the fruit of this tree and drink it’s wine: filled with forgiveness, life and salvation. Put the bread on your tongue and the chalice to your lips made holy, for it is good. Come and be cleansed in this river of life that flows from a riven side and be made a new creation, for God looks upon you remade in the image of His Son, clothed in His righteousness, and says, “IT-IS-GOOD!”
So make no mistake you sons of Adam and you daughters of Eve, the new Adam has come to conquer death; and to bring you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. The tomb has burst forth, the trumpets declare that that victory is won, and God says, “IT-IS-GOOD!” The seed of the woman is but the first fruit of those raised from the dead. For from your rest in the tomb, you too, dear child of God, will be awakened. From out of your slumber, the angel will come to show you the waters of the river of life; bright as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And beside the river you will see the tree of life, with fruit that gives life and leaves that bring healing to the nations. No curse here, only the throne of God and the Lamb to be worshiped. And all those who have His name upon their foreheads will see His face, and live in His light, where He reigns forever. And so the day is coming soon, when we will dwell in this new paradise, this new creation, this Eden restored. And until then the bride will wait in great anticipation for her bridegroom who says He is coming soon. And we will call out day and night, Amen, Come Lord Jesus! Come Lord Jesus, for “IT-IS-GOOD!”
In Jesus name, Amen.
From 21-25 October 2013, the Luther Academy held continuing education for pastors from six Latin American countries: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela. This was the first time the Nicaraguan Lutheran Church attended a Luther Academy conference. They would like to host two Luther Academy conferences in Nicaragua over the coming year. The Nicaraguan Lutheran Church is a mission of the Lutheran Church Canada (LCC).
Dr. David Scaer, Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, lectured on “Law and Gospel.” Rev. Roberto Bustamante, New Testament Professor at Concordia Seminary Buenos Aires Argentina, lectured on “Confessional Lutheran Identity.”
A subgroup of the Luther Academy conference met to discuss theological education in Latin America. The churches represented discussed the unique challenges of theological education and the specific needs of Latin American Churches.
Location:La Antigua Guatemala,Guatemala
The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM — Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy) is remarkably similar to the Missouri Synod (LCMS) and at the same time different. The Malagasy Lutheran Church originates in the mission work done by the Norwegian Mission Society (NMS) begun in 1866 (The Malagasy Lutheran Church is only about 20 years younger than the Missouri Synod.) The Norwegian mission work began a couple of years after Queen Ranavalona I, a great persecutor of Christians, died in 1863. Her son, King Radama II, opened the door to more mission work. The northern part of Madagascar became Protestant under the influence of the London Mission Society (LMS), while the southern part of Madagascar became predominately Lutheran. Roman Catholicism made inroads into Madagascar by the French, who eventually succeeded in colonizing Madagascar in 1895, some 253 years after the first Frenchman landed in Madagascar in 1642.
Many of the Norwegian missionaries died within two years of arriving in Madagascar due to malaria and other tropical fevers. The cemetery above is from the first Lutheran church established in Antananarivo in 1871. Buried there are Lutheran missionaries from South Africa. In many cases, the church has become risk averse focusing on relatively risk free mission endeavors, while forgetting the sacrifices that the saints and martyrs of the church made to bring the Gospel to the nations.
The church in Antananarivo was established near the place Queen Ranavalona I executed so many Christian. The king of Madagascar desired a Lutheran church be established so that he could keep a better eye on them — to ensure that the Lutherans were not promoting foreign political ideas that might threaten his reign. Today this congregation (“The Rock”) has at least 3,000 people in worship on Sunday. Many of the city parishes of the Malagasy Lutheran Church worship between 3,000 and 10,000 people on any given Sunday.
Pictured above is a new congregation built within the past couple of years in Antsirabe. The sanctuary seats about 3,000. Total worshipped number right around 9,000 on a Sunday. Attendance numbering in the thousands is virtually unheard of in America and Europe.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church uses a hymnal for Sunday worship. The liturgy is very similar to what is found in the Lutheran Service Book. A good portion of their hymnody is the same as found in the Missouri Synod’s hymnal — translations of German and Scandinavian hymns. There also are a number of original Malagasy hymns that are Christ-centered. Some of their hymns are based on their unique context, for instance that a number of the Malagasy have engaged in ancestor worship:
1. “O children who are gone astray, come back!” Your Father calls you; We will respond freely without any constraint. “Here we are. We confess that we are not good, and we are wounded by the enemy; Heal us because our way of living is corrupted.”
2. “Oh, we have sinned and deserved to die and to be condemned forever! Our ancestors have worshiped the dead and we have followed them. O Father look at us and save us so that we may become Your children. We, who now now down our head before You.”
3. “I will heal your going astray O my children! I will not also make my face sad for you.” That what we want to hear in our heart is that You are our Father who comforts Your people.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church is one of the fastest growing Lutheran Churches in the world. More than one new congregation opens each week, most of these new congregations quickly are worshipping in the thousands. Yet they use the liturgy and the hymnal. This demonstrates that the traditional liturgy and hymns can be used in a rapidly growing church and is not a deterrent to church attendance.
The church also has radio stations around the country. The Lutheran radio station in Antananarivo is one of the most popular in the city. They would like to partner with KFUO to exchange programs and resources.
Seventeen of twenty-one Malagasy Lutheran Church bishops met with Drs. Collver and Quill to develop closer relations between their church and the Missouri Synod this past week. The Malagasy Lutheran Church desires that the Missouri Synod assist in areas such as theological education and mercy projects. The church does not ordain woman and is vociferously opposed to the sexuality decisions made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and the Church of Sweden (CoS).
There is much that the Missouri Synod could learn from the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Some Malagasy Lutheran pastors even said they could teach the Missouri Synod how to revitalize their congregations.
As the Malagasy Lutheran Church approaches 4 million members in one of the poorest countries of the world (the average Malagasy lives on $2 a day), we see a vibrant church that faces many challenges. Both the Missouri Synod and Malagasy Lutheran Church have much to offer each other. May The Lord bless this growing relationship.
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver on 19 October 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone