Sermon for June 25, 2017

Sermon for Presentation of the Augsburg Confessions

Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 25, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Tx

Sermon Texts:  Luke 18:9-14 and Rom. 6:12-23

Sermon Theme:  “500 Years of Salvation by Grace”

(Sources:  Book of Concord, Online Website; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 27, Part 3, Series A; Reformation 2017, lutheranworld.org; Augsburg Confession Online; Wikipedia; original ideas; Luther’s Small Catechism; Online “What are the Five Solas?”)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you look at the Lutheran calendar in the Sacristy, you will notice that this Sunday is designated as “the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.”  Normally, we don’t celebrate that historical event as a major festival; in fact, many Lutheran today might even ask, “What is the Augsburg Confession?”  However, since this year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we need to observe, or at least, recognize the major documents and events that were part of the Reformation.

In fact, our Synod has sent out messages encouraging us to make 2017 a year to observe and celebrate the Reformation, culminating with a special celebration on Reformation Day Sunday.  To be sure, Synods and Lutheran organizations world-wide have issued a call to celebrate the year of the Reformation, from planting a Luther-garden in Wittenberg to a year-long series of concerts presenting Lutheran music in other parts of Germany and the U.S.

Lutheran churches from all over the world were invited to sponsor one of the 500 trees to be planted in commemoration of the Anniversary.  This method of celebrating was motivated by Luther’s famous statement, “Even if I knew that the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.”

The worldwide kickoff for the celebrations that now continue occurred on October 31, 2016, when the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church held a joint commemoration of the Reformation in Lund, Sweden.  Pope Francis and Lutheran leaders conducted this prayer service, a rather astonishing event considering what the Reformation was all about.  It was nice for the Pope to attend, but I don’t think there was any real progress toward reconciliation.

The cry of the Reformation consisted of the Five Solas, which were SOLA SCRIPTURA, SOLA FIDE, SOLA GRATIA, SOLUS CHRISTUS, and SOLI DEO GLORIA, — Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, and To God Alone Be the Glory.

Up until the Reformation, the confession of salvation by grace through faith alone was not preached, and preaching it and believing it changed everything.

The Reformation began when Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic church by nailing his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door.

Of course, that one piece of paper was not enough to explain the differences between Lutheran beliefs and Catholic doctrine, so the Augsburg Confession, probably the most important document of the Reformation, was written by Luther and Melanchthon in both German and Latin and was presented to the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530, by a number of German rulers.

After Martin Luther died in 1546, Lutheran leaders found it necessary to gather together a collection of documents and books that showed clearly what Lutherans believed.  These documents and books included the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther’s Large Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.

This collection was published on June 25, 1580, on the 50th Anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.  So there are actually two occurrences on June 25 to celebrate, — the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession and the publication of the Book of Concord.  You see, Lutheran leaders decided to title this collection of documents and books, “The Book of Concord,” which is still used today, but most ordinary Lutherans just use the Small Catechism.

The most world-changing aspect of the Reformation was the simple doctrine that we are saved by grace through faith alone.  Prior to the Reformation, grace and faith were not enough, — you had to jump through other hoops to be saved, and you could only be saved through the Mother Church.

In our gospel text from Luke, Jesus tells a parable to some people who trusted themselves that they were righteous through their observances and deeds.  Not only that, but they boasted about their righteousness and looked down upon those they considered less righteous than they.  The parable is about a Pharisee and a tax collector going to the temple to pray.

The Pharisee prayed to God, thanking Him that he, the Pharisee, was not like other men, who were sinful and not righteous as he was.  He tells God how often he fasts and how much money He tithes to the temple.  In contrast, the tax collector, head down in shame and humility, feeling unworthy to be in God’s presence, prays simply, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Jesus made it very clear that the Pharisee’s prayer was the wrong way to worship God.

Our good behavior and our good deeds do not earn us salvation, as we are saved by grace through faith alone.  We can’t behave good enough or do enough to save ourselves.  In Ephesians 2:8-9, the Apostle Paul explains this very clearly:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.”  That statement by Paul is Lutheranism in a nutshell.

Of course, those who were not convinced by what St. Paul said in the Bible or what Martin Luther taught and preached belittled the doctrine of Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, by saying, ‘OK, so Lutherans think they can just sin as big and as much as they want, because God’s grace and their faith will save them!’

Today’s Epistle from Paul’s letter to the Romans counters that absurd suggestion.  In the text, Paul asks, “What then?  Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”  And he immediately answers his question by saying, “By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God, that you, . . . having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Since God has provided so many ways for our sins to be forgiven, should we persist in sinning so that there may be all the more grace?  That’s an absurd idea!  As we died with Christ, this old life was dead and buried.  We came out of the baptismal waters to begin a new life. As we were freed, we now live in the light of that new freedom.  We have a new master to serve, a master who has called us to be holy as the Lord our God, the triune God, is holy.

With this new master, we have a new life, in which God fills the totality of our life, making it a consecrated life.  Through faith, He moves our hands to do His will, our feet to walk His ways.  In this new life, our voice also and always will be singing for God the message that affirms our redemption in His Son.  Even our intellect is driven to love Him with all our heart and mind.

Since faith without works is dead, as the Apostle James says, a life without good works clearly indicates a life without faith.  No works, no faith.  We don’t do good works to earn salvation.  No, we do good works because we are saved and cannot not do good works.

By faith, all children of God know that they are not the cause of the source of good deeds, but it is Christ who is living in them who has carried out God’s holy will.  So God’s children will also realize that the wages paid by the former master, Satan, and by the new master, Jesus, do not bear any point of comparison.  One is a deserved sentence of death, but the other is the unmerited free gift of everlasting life.  The wages of sin is death; salvation is by grace through faith.

Today, we celebrate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession by accepting these truths.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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