Reformation for Today
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 8:31–8:36
The Festival of the Reformation
October 27-28, 2012
“Reformation for Today”
Psalm 46 is always appointed for the Festival of the Reformation. Luther’s powerful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” is based on the psalmist’s words: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46: 1-3). In advance of Hurricane Sandy, our Southeastern District sent out an email reminding all congregations to be prepared and ready for whatever may come our way. We might also experience waters that roar and foam as Sandy makes its way toward us. As we wait and watch, the three basics of hurricane preparedness are these: build a kit (batteries, working flashlights, bottled water, battery-operated radio, non-perishable food, etc.), make a plan (what will we do and where will we go in case of emergency), and stay informed. Whatever may come our way, our trust is in the Lord, our Maker and Redeemer, even as the psalmist reminds us: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:7, 11).
The message for this Reformation Sunday is based on the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson, and entitled, “Reformation for Today.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
Just like Psalm 46, the Gospel lesson that is appointed for the Festival of the Reformation is what is before us today from John 8:31-36. The context here is the rising hostility and confrontation between Jesus and the teachers of the Law in Jerusalem – the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees. In truth, Jesus had launched a reformation – a repentance, a returning to the Lord, that would by faith see in Jesus the fulfillment of God’s gracious plan and purpose to rescue mankind from sin, death, and hell. Like most reformation movements, this one was welcomed by some and opposed by others. Jesus’ message of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in him was received with joy by many people, but met with great resistance by others, especially the religious leaders. Fast forward some 1500 years from Palestine to northern Germany, and a similar scenario unfolds. An impassioned Augustinian monk challenges the powerful religious establishment of his day, calling for repentance, a return to the Lord and the truth of the Word of the Lord that tells us: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight… For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and 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… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Roman 3:20, 22-25, 28). That monk was Martin Luther, the reformer from whom our church takes its name. Luther is not Jesus; he is not the Savior. But he clearly and compellingly pointed people to Jesus who is the Savior. Luther’s reforming message can be summed up in what appears on the cover of today’s worship bulletin: we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, made known in God’s Word, the holy Scriptures, alone.
Luther and the age of the Reformation was 500 years ago. In fact, in just five short years in 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of when Luther nailed his 95 Theses, his points of disputation with the medieval Church, on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. That was then; this is now.
So what does the Reformation have to do with us today? The short answer is a lot! The human situation has not changed one iota over the centuries. How we live has changed dramatically since the days of Jesus and the days of Luther. But the underlying condition of our human situation has not changed: we are children of a fallen humanity, born into sin and rebellion against God our Maker and Redeemer, and under God’s condemnation and judgment. This clear message of Scripture is downplayed and even dismissed by many today, including many within the Church. The ugly reality of sin in the world and in our lives is rejected for something more attractive like self-actualization and personal fulfillment. The oldest religion in the world is not Lutheranism, or Catholicism, or Christianity, or even Judaism. The oldest religion in the world is one that is alive and well today with adherents in every part of the world. The oldest religion in the world is the one that teaches and preaches how we are our own god. The oldest religion in the world professes that we are capable of making ourselves virtuous, moral and good people, and that if we are such, then heaven awaits us because we have earned it. The oldest religion in the world puts on snappy up-to-date clothing, but underneath is still the same stinking odor of deceit. Do not believe the lie; it is from the father of lies (John 8:44).
Reformation for today is rooted in truth – not some contemporary shape-shifting version of subjective truth, but God’s own truth that speaks across the ages to us today: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). The truth – God’s truth – is that though we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1), sent his only begotten Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is not our doing; it is the gift of God, not because of our own works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Through faith in Jesus who shed his blood on the cross as payment for our sins, we are truly set free. We are set free from the lie and the deception of the oldest religion in the world now manifesting itself in today’s culture that we are our own god. We are set free from fear over whether we have done enough or been good enough to make ourselves acceptable and pleasing to God. We are set from sin and set free for service in Jesus’ Name – to love and serve others just as God in Christ has loved and served us.
The Reformation for today calls each one of us – men, women, and children – to be reformers in the world today. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us through Word and Sacrament, it is our great privilege and high calling to point people to Jesus. God help us to do this, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.