Sermon for Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: John 8:31-36
Sermon Theme: “Preaching the Truth for 500 Years”
(Sources: Anderson, Cycle C, Preaching Workbook; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 4, Series C, Aug. 28 – Nov. 20, 2016; Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Online Lutheran Jokes, Christian Forum; LCMS Plans Taking Shape for 2017 Reformation Celebration by Roger Drinnon; LCMS Convention Prepares to Celebrate Reformation 500th; Online Lund and the Quest for Christian Unity by Timothy George; Vatican Radio, Pope to Take Part in Reformation Events in Lund)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s been a while since I have had a Junior Confirmation class, but here’s a story I can relate to. It seems a Lutheran Pastor was teaching his junior confirmation class about the Sacraments of the church when he noticed that young Johnny was not paying attention.
“Johnny!,” the Pastor said in a loud voice. “Pay attention! The Sacraments are very important to the church!”
“I know,” replied Johnny.
“Then, how many Sacraments are there in the Lutheran church? Catholicsrecognize seven Sacraments, but how many do we acknowledge?” Having just explained what a Sacrament is, the Pastor was very put out with Johnny.
Panic-stricken because he hadn’t been listening, Johnny searched hismind, trying to think of all the things his parents had always said were important to the church. Then he took a breath and said, “Two.”
The Pastor was really impressed; he couldn’t believe Johnny got it right!
“And what are those two Sacraments?,” asked the Pastor.
Thinking he had it right, the boy responded with great confidence,
“Coffee and donuts!”
Tomorrow is October 31, Reformation Day. Today is known as Reformation Sunday. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, marking the start of the Protestant Reformation, — which means that this year we begin the 500th year. For 500 years, faithful Lutheran pastors have preached the truth, and the truth has set people free!
That’s why the pastor in my story felt it was so important for Johnny to understand the two Sacraments of the Lutheran Church.
Celebrations honoring this awesome event start tomorrow and will last through October 31, 2017. Well, actually the LCMS began celebrating at our Synod convention this past summer, with plans to renovate the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, presentation of documentaries, hymn-writing contests, etc. Our Synod passed a Resolution for all churches to celebrate our 500th anniversary in some way this year.
Tomorrow is the kick-off celebration, — at least officially. Tomorrow, Pope Francis will visit Lund, Sweden, to participate with Lutheran church leaders in a joint ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation. The Pope’s presence at the prayer service in Lund Cathedral will be followed by a larger gathering at nearby Malmo. For the Roman Pope to launch the 500th Reformation year is astonishing.
This celebration kick-off is sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation, and it seems unusual to some of us, because the Reformation began in Germany, not Sweden. It is true that the Lutheran Church is the State Religion of Sweden, and other Scandinavian countries, but Sweden has the lowest weekly church attendance of any Lutheran church in the world, — like 14 percent.
Jesus said in our text, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I’m not going to be Pharisaic and judge the Lutheran church in Sweden, nor the Lutheran churches in Germany, nor, for that matter, the Lutheran churches in America. But in the 21st Century, you cannot say that “Lutheran” is “Lutheran,” as we now have such divisive doctrines among the various Lutheran denominations in the world that the Augsburg Confession no longer ties us together.
The three largest Lutheran denominations today in the United States are the ELCA, the LCMS, and the WES. The ELCA has about 3.5 million members, down from previous years. The LCMS has about 2.1 million members, up from past years. WES has about 373,000 members. The ELCA, which is liberal, ordains women and approves abortion. The LCMS and WES are opposed to this.
We have neither altar nor pulpit fellowship with the ELCA. The LCMS and the WES are both conservative, and we are meeting with each other to see if we can merge together to form one church. So you see, in America, Lutheran is not necessarily Lutheran. That’s true in other countries, too.
According to our sermon text, through Jesus’ Word, the truth, the Gospel, some of the Jews who were listening to Jesus were set free. Martin Luther was also set free by THE truth. Through Christ’s Word, he was led to know and believe that salvation is a gift, that a person is accounted righteous by God through faith in Christ Jesus. This is the great truth that Luther recovered, by God’s grace. This is the truth that brought about the Reformation.
The recovery of this truth – THE truth – is what we celebrate in this service. Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, is usually considered the beginning of the Reformation (as I said before). In the first words of his introduction to the Theses, Luther gives the reason for his action – “Out of love and concern for the TRUTH” – and “the truth” here referred to THE spiritual truth. The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, following in the footsteps of Luther, continues to proclaim the truth today, and this is also done by other Christian groups. The truth, Christ’s Word, has set us free.
Those who do not believe the truth are slaves. In our text, Jesus uses an illustration from the earthly level – of a slave and a son in a house.
Jesus says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. The slave has no lasting status; he can be sold at any time. A son, however, has lasting status; he will not be gotten rid of, he will remain in the house.”
Those who are slaves spiritually – slaves to falsehood, slaves to sin – have no lasting status before God. Without faith, they will be lost forever In hell when they die. But when a person believes in Jesus, that person becomes a child of God, and that child has lasting status – already here on earth and forever in heaven and the world to come.
Jesus goes on to say, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
The Son of God, who has lasting status because He is the eternal only-begotten Son of the Father, is truly God. When He sets a person free, that person is “free indeed.” The context in which Jesus is saying this is in the fact many of our Lord’s followers had fallen away from Him. If the truth becomes difficult, you can choose not to continue with Christ.
The problem with the 21st Century is that truth has become so subjective; you couple with that, the compulsion to be politically correct, — and you’ve got what we’ve got today. ‘Your truth is not my truth, and I must not offend you by proclaiming my truth; therefore I will water it down, so that I can accept the un-truth you are preaching. Sticking to my truth is too difficult!’ God help us!
The Reformation is 500 years old. The truth of the Reformation is the truth of the Bible. The Bible is eternal. Many, but not all, Lutherans have preached the truth for 500 years. The LCMS has been in existence for 169 years, and it has preached the truth for 169 years, — and that truth has set us free! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.