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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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Reformation Reflections

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

October 29, 2017

Jer. 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Rom. 3:19-28, John 8:31-36

 

This sermon, preached on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, reflects on four central themes of the Reformation – Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, and Word Alone. The service was structured with a scripture reading and hymn followed by a message on each of the four themes. You are welcome and encouraged to read the related scripture passage prior to each of the four messages.

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – Christ Alone

 

Message 1

Today we celebrate an event that changed the world. 500 years ago, a Catholic monk sought to begin a discussion of ways to reform the Catholic Church. He made a list of 95 issues that he felt needed to be addressed to make the church more faithful to its calling. As Martin Luther nailed those 95 thesis to the church door at Wittenberg, he set into motion a whole series of events that would change the world.

 

This morning we will focus on four central themes of the Reformation: Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, and Word Alone. We begin with Christ Alone.

 

In our scripture, Jeremiah spoke of the “new covenant” that God would make with his people. God would no longer depend on people to keep the law as the means to their salvation. No, he promised that he would “forgive their sins and remember their sin no more.” That promise was fulfilled through Jesus. Jesus came so that we could be forgiven. Jesus came to save us from our unfaithfulness.

 

At the time of Martin Luther, the church said forgiveness could be purchased by paying money to the church. Luther realized this was a scam. There was no need to pay for “indulgences” as they were called. Jesus had paid the full price for our sin.

 

It was hard then and is still hard to fully accept salvation as a free gift. We like to think there is something we can do to earn our own salvation, or at least help it along. We like to think if we are good people, or if we’re faithful in coming to church, or if we help others that we will somehow ensure our salvation. Those are all good things to do. but that is not what saves us. Christ Alone is the means to our salvation. Without Jesus’ saving work on the cross, we would be doomed. But the good news is that Jesus came and offered his life for our salvation.

 

As we celebrate the Reformation this day, we celebrate the assurance that our salvation was earned by Christ Alone. That is the first key principle of the Reformation.

 

As we prepare to consider for the second principle of the Reformation – Faith Alone, we’ll be reading Psalm 46 responsively. This is the psalm that inspired Martin Luther to write “A Mighty Fortress,” which we’ll be singing later today. As we recite this psalm, think about what it means that we have a God who we can depend on even in the toughest of times.

 

 

Psalm 46 – Faith Alone

 

Message 2

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” What a powerful promise! As we reflect on all the natural disasters we have experienced in recent months – hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, earthquakes – it is a comfort to know that in the midst of all this uproar, God is with us as our refuge and our strength.

 

For some of us, the earth-shattering events are closer to home. A tough medical diagnosis for ourselves or a loved one. A beloved friend and family member languishing in the hospital. A child or grandchild struggling in school, distracted by worries no child should have to endure. A marriage in trouble, a family at risk, a job in jeopardy, worries about how to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

 

Through all of the challenges life can throw at us, it is good to know that God is our refuge, a very present help in time of trouble. Faith gets us through the tough stuff. Faith is a lifeline as we feel we are sinking in a sea of sorrow.

 

Martin Luther lived in a very chaotic time. The Protestant Reformation set off the Thirty Years’ War. It was one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in human history, with over eight million people killed. As the psalmists writes “The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter” those words hit home for Martin Luther, as they do today.

 

The nations are in an uproar today. Just this week the Catalonia region of Spain has declared independence, which Spain contests. Kenyan elections this week were plagued with violence and a sense of illegitimacy. Relations between the US and North Korea are tense with the threat of nuclear war surrounding tough talk by our leaders. ISIS continues to terrorize people in the Middle East and inspire terrorist attacks around the world. The US is at war in Afghanistan is the longest running war in our nation’s history. Today, as in Luther’s day, we relate to the words of the psalmist “The nations are in an uproar.”

 

Through it all God invites us to put our faith in him. “Be still, and know that I am God!” Our faith in God’s loving care comforts us when our world is in an uproar. But it is more than just a comfort. Through faith we are saved from the ultimate enemy, death. Our Faith Alone saves us. And even that faith is not of our own doing, but is a gift from God. So have faith. Trust that no matter what we face “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

 

This key principle of the Reformation, Faith Alone, is closely tied to the next principle of Grace Alone. Think about that relationship between faith and grace as we hear the next scripture and sing the next hymn.

 

 

Romans 3:19-28 – Grace Alone/Faith Alone

 

Message 3

That principle of “justification by grace through faith” is at the heart of Lutheran theology. Martin Luther tried mightily to keep the 10 Commandments, because he believed that his salvation depended on doing so. Try as he might, he couldn’t keep them perfectly. He worried that meant he was doomed for all eternity.

 

Then he read this passage from Romans 3. A light went off in his soul. Paul’s words filled him with a new understanding of God’s grace.

 

The 10 Commandments are God’s instructions on how to live a life that is pleasing to him and good for us and our neighbors. At the heart of the 10 Commandments is love –  loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everybody just followed the 10 Commandments?!

 

Despite the wisdom in these commandments, people break them all the time. So, one of the purposes the commandments serve is to point out our sins. They show us the need for a Savior. When we realize our own sinfulness, and our inability to save ourselves, that gift of grace is so powerful. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God forgives us and saves us from our sin. That is a free gift given by God. It is free to us but it came at great cost, the suffering and death of his son, Jesus Christ. That life-giving gift is given out of God’s great love for us. That is the Amazing Grace that we love to sing about.

 

Grace Alone is the third key point of the Reformation, a central principle for Luther and for us. And it came from reading God’s word. It came from spending time in the scripture and hearing God’s promises as spoken in his Holy Word.

 

That leads us the fourth key principle, Word Alone. Listen for that as you hear this next scripture and sing this next hymn.

 

John 8:31-36 – Word Alone

 

Message 4

The hymn we just sang was written by Martin Luther. It speaks to the fourth key principle of the Reformation – Word Alone.

 

In Martin Luther’s day, God’s word was not readily available. Today we have easy access to Bibles, but in Martin Luther’s day, that was not the case. The Catholic Church didn’t want to put the powerful word of God in the hands of lay people. They wanted to be the ones who interpret the scriptures. The Bible was not written in the language of the people, so they couldn’t read God’s word for themselves.

 

Before the printing press, Bibles were written by hand. Monks meticulously copied the scriptures, one letter at a time. It was a very labor-intensive process. Consequently, there were not many Bibles available.

 

Martin Luther had never read a Bible before he was a monk. When he did read the Bible, Luther saw how powerful it was, so he wanted everyone to have that opportunity. Luther translated the Bible into the local language – German. Using the new technology of the printing press, Luther made copies of the Bible available to the people. Getting God’s word into people’s hands was a life changer. 

 

As we heard from our gospel of John, Jesus said “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Jesus is that Word of God, become flesh. Jesus is that Word of God that sets us free. So as we think of this fourth principle of the Reformation, Word Alone, it brings us back to our first principle of the Reformation, Christ Alone.

 

Although these principles all have the word “Alone” in their title, they are all interconnected – Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, and Word Alone. None of them are really alone, they are all interconnected. Christ gives us the reason for Faith. We are saved by Grace through Faith. That Faith comes to us from hearing the Word of God. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s Word. Christ, Faith, Grace, and God’s Word are all essential to our faith and our salvation.

 

Johanne Sebastian Bach added one more “Alone” to the mix. He signed all of his compositions with the words Soli Deo Gloria which means to God Alone be the Glory. That’s a nice one for us to end with. Everything comes from God - our lives, our talents,  our families, our faith. It is all pure gift from the God who loves us. That is the God we celebrate this Reformation Sunday, and every day.

 

To God alone be the Glory! Amen!