Sermon for Reformation Sunday
October 25, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Sermon Theme: “The Reformation and the Rock of Our Refuge”
(Sources: Luther: His Life and Times by Richard Friedenthal; Rocks, PhysLink.com; Online Lutheran Jokes; Online “You Know You Might Be Lutheran If”; Online Rocks and Gems; Footnotes from the Concordia Self-Study Bible; Protestant Reformation, Online Theopedia; my original ideas; “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over,” Online Bible.org; Nelson’s Three-in-One).
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
We Lutherans are a unique group of Protestants, maybe not so much now as we were in the past. I wonder if we have changed very much. When I was growing up Lutheran in the 1940’s, you knew you might be Lutheran if a midlife crisis meant switching from the old hymnal to the new one. You knew you might be Lutheran if you were 57 years old and your parents still wouldn’t let you date a Catholic. You knew you might be Lutheran if you believed the Eleventh Commandment was “If we’ve never done it that way before, thou shalt not do it.”
You know you might be Lutheran if you actually think your pastor’s jokes are funny.
Today, Lutherans are unique in that they are no doubt the only Protestants who still celebrate Reformation Sunday, and, of course, Catholics, for obvious reasons, never did. The Reformation, led by Martin Luther, began in Germany and spread first to the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Scotland, and parts of France before becoming a world-wide “revolution.” The Reformation is much more complicated than just a German monk nailing 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door.
The Church, which Jesus wanted to remain One, was split in two and soon would be splintered even further, ultimately into more divisions than you can count on both hands and both feet.
There’s a funny story that shows what it’s like after the Reformation. It seems that Pastor Hubert, a Lutheran Pastor, Father Joe, a Catholic Priest, and Brother Bob, a Baptist Preacher, were fishing together in a boat not far from the shore.
Pastor Hubert had to make a trip to the port-a-potty located on the shore, so he got out of the boat, walked across the water, and, in the same manner, came back to the boat after he was finished.
A little later, Father Joe had to make the trip also. He got out of the boat, walked across the water, visited the bathroom, and in the same manner, came back to the boat.
Still later, Brother Bob needed to go ashore. He got out of the boat and immediately sank. Pastor Hubert looked at Father Joe and said, “Do you think we ought to tell him where the rocks are?” I guess that’s one way to lead into the subject of today’s sermon – rocks. And The Rock.
The idea of God as a rock is not new with Paul in the New Testament. The Old Testament is filled with this picture language of God as a rock. Isaiah 26:4 says, “Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.” Psalm 12 and Psalm 95 speak of God as our Rock of Salvation. Psalm 18, Psalm 31, Psalm 71, and Psalm 94 refer to God as our Rock of Refuge. Those are just a few.
Paul takes this a little further in our sermon text for today, a very appropriate text for Reformation Sunday. Paul says, “I want you to know brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud (in the desert wilderness, God manifested Himself as a pillar of a cloud) and all passed through the sea (the Red Sea which God parted), and all were baptized unto Moses (in that they accepted his spiritual leadership) in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
You see the manna and the water from the rock are used figuratively by Paul to represent the spiritual sustenance that God continually provides for His people. That Rock was Christ. The rock from which the water came in the desert and the manna were symbolic of supernatural sustenance through Christ, the bread of life and the water of life.
What we learn from this is all of God’s people experience great spiritual privileges, yet many of God’s people experience great spiritual failure, such as being guilty of idolatry, sexual immorality, uncalled for grumbling, and brazenness in testing God. This was so true of the Israelites being led by Moses to the Promised Land.
And it was true in the time of the Protestant Reformation, and it’s true today with us. We have experienced God’s protection and guidance. In the Lord’s Supper, we have drunk the same spiritual drink and eaten the same spiritual food. And we have been guilty of those same sins the Israelites were guilty of.
Martin Luther started the Reformation because God’s people, the Church, were experiencing great spiritual failure. There were a number of forms of idolatry in the church, such as the worship of the bones of saints, pieces of the cross, and even what was thought to be a feather from an angel’s wing. Sexual immorality was seen even among the priests, who, in Rome, had their own brothel. The sale of indulgences as posted in the 95 theses was a brazen testing of God.
Now the Reformation was not as simple and easy as it may sound, and there were additional reformations after the main one, including Protestants who took reforming too far, and including, later, a reformation within the Roman church itself, purging itself from many of its sins.
In numerous ways, these were the worst of times. Luther did not want to start a new Church, he just sincerely wanted to change the things he thought were wrong with the Roman church. That didn’t happen, and he had to split with Rome and start a church based on the Augsburg Confessions.
After the Protestants broke from Rome, Protestant extremists broke with conservative Protestants like Luther. Monasteries and convents were shut down, nuns were escaping from nunneries and getting married, there was violence and Martin Luther was forced to hide in Wartburg because his life was in danger.
While he was in hiding, the Protestant extremists came into Wittenberg and smashed stained glass windows, altars, crucifixes, statues of Jesus and the apostles, etc. Luther had not anticipated that things would get so out of hand, and he risked his life to try to stop the violence in Wittenberg. Peasants openly rebelled against their overlords and the nobility, as politics and religion seemed to converge.
Radical protestants had taken Luther’s teachings to the extreme, and ultimately the Peasants’ War was a bloody uprising that ended in a huge slaughter of political radicals who were also radical protestants. Luther opposed the Peasants’ uprising and supported the Nobility in putting a stop to it.
Those were extreme times. Most of the seminaries were in the hands of the Roman church, and as more and more churches in Saxony and elsewhere became Lutheran, the need for pastors became acute. There weren’t enough Lutheran pastors to serve the growing number of Protestant Lutherans, and some churches were served by unqualified leaders, causing the Word not to be preached in all purity. Luther translated the Bible into German, and the printing press had just been invented, but most people could neither read nor write, so there was a desperate need for education. The problems were so overwhelming that solutions to them seemed impossible.
Yes, those were very difficult and trying times for everyone. Those were times when leaders like Luther and Melancthon and the people needed the assurance of Psalm 12:6, “God alone is my rock and my salvation, He is my fortress, I will not be shaken,” and Psalm 31:2, “Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue, be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me,” and Psalm 28:1, “To You I call, O LORD my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me.”
And these are difficult and trying times we live in today. These are times when the Ten Commandments have been removed from public buildings. These are times when Christmas has been replaced with Winter Holidays. These are times when the Court rules in favor of violating God’s Holy Word. These are times when religious fanatics of other persuasions behead Christians for being Christians. Yes, these are also difficult and trying times, so overwhelming that solutions seem impossible.
I don’t know how many of you are aware that every hymn in the Lutheran Hymnal is based on a Scripture, which is indicated under the hymn number in the hymnal. Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” is based on Psalm 46. The hymn we just sang a few minutes ago, “Rock of Ages,” is based on our sermon text, 1 Corinthians 10:4.
That hymn helps to explain our text. “Rock of Ages, cleft for me.” Jesus, the Rock of Ages, split open for me. “Let me hide myself in Thee. Let the water and the blood from thy riven side which flowed.” We are able to shelter ourselves in Christ’s “riven” side. “Riven” means the same thing as “cleft,” – split open. Our Savior’s side was split open by a soldier’s spear as He hung on the cross. “Be of sin the double cure.” The water and the blood from our Lord’s riven side is the double cure for our sin, and that cleanses us from the guilt and the power of sin.
The Lutherans of the Reformation found solace in that Rock for that reason, and so do we. So do we. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.