Devotional Thought for our Days:
6 “This may seem impossible to those of the nation who are now left, but it’s not impossible for me. 7I will rescue my people from the lands where they have been taken, 8and will bring them back from east and west to live in Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, ruling over them faithfully and justly. Zechariah 8:6-8 TEV
96 Discover Our Lord behind each event and in every circumstance, and then, from everything that happens, you will be able to draw more love for God and a greater desire to respond to him. He is always waiting for us, offering us the possibility to fulfil at all times that resolution we made: Serviam! I will serve you!
One of the books I am presently reading is Metaxas biography of Martin Luther. It is more than a bit distressing, as constantly Metaxas points out that what happened was out of control of everyone involved, especially Luther.
Why couldn’t the church simply reform? Why did the leaders not listen and discuss things like the Church did at the Jerusalem council? Why was the division and later shattering of God’s family so unavoidable?
As I read Metaxas account, it seems like the reformation was a huge tidal wave, that consumed all in its path.
So where was God in it all? Can we, as another Catholic Priest/Reformer of the Church advised, “discover Our Lord behind each event and in every circumstance”?
Personally, I find this difficult, I get overwhelmed by what seemed impossible to stop, Much like the people of Israel in the time of Zechariah. It was impossible for them to even think of the restoration of the people (not the nation) Israel. The people of God who struggle with Him (that;s what Israel means), yet are His people, for He is their God. Yet the prophet assures them that for God this is not impossible, but it will happen.
God will restore His people, He will call them to His side,, He will call them home together. It is God’s plan, His desire, His will, that we shouldn’t perish, and that He will call all His people home, together.
So how to grow in faith, in confidence that what God has promised, God will deliver? Even when the darkness seems to overshadow life? How can I trust, as Joseph did, that God means all of this for good? From the reformation which shattered the Western Church to arguments which threaten my own denomination today, that God will use these storms to bless those who love Him?
I have to look to the cross, the place where God seems the most vulnerable, even more, vulnerable than when He was in utero in Mary. To look to the cross as Jesus, fully God and fully man, is murdered by those who found God’s inconvenient and bothersome. As He died for all of our sin. The sin of the Catholics, the Protestants, even the Orthodox. s He died to cover the sins for those who do not know Him yet, but will as we reveal Him to them. It is there- when even nature went dark and shook with fear, to realize even in the dark moment, God was at work. Using the greatest evil Satan could ever con man into doing, turned out to be the greatest of blessings.
As God proved He is Immanuel, God with us.
As I look at a broken and fractured church, on his the supposed anniversary of the Reformation, my hope is in God’s promise, that not one of those in Christ will be lost, that He will call all of us home, and that He will continue to make us a holy people.
Lord, have mercy on us! Help us to see You in everything we encounter, and in all of History!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 553-556). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Reformation Cry of a Broken Soul!
† In Jesus †
As God’s grace for us is revealed, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we find it easier to depend on Him completely, for we are His people and He is with us! AMEN!
Not a Battle cry!
As we’ve approached the 500th anniversary of Luther inviting people to discuss problems in the church, I have become more and more upset by what I’ve seen. I’ve seen some extremism creep in, as some have label Leather not a reformer, but a revolutionary. I’ve seen that said negatively by some, and some say the same thing with great pride as if we were celebrating something akin to the 4th of July.
As if Sola Fide (Faith alone) was a battle cry, a chant to get behind as we took on an evil enemy, and triumphed by the power of our will. For some Protestants, the 500th anniversary has become a chance for our touchdown dance. For some Catholics, we are still the impertinent upstarts who want to destroy the church for whom Christ has died.
But Sola Fide wasn’t a battle cry at first.
It was the cry of a priest named Fr. Martin, who had tried every way possible to be good enough for God, and yet remained broken and in great despair, tormented by the sin which had its talons buried deep into him, and wouldn’t let Him escape,
Until he listened to the words God spoke through the scriptures, the words of the mass, the worship service he led every day since his ordination, and found hope….
as he learned to depend, not on his on work, but on the work of Christ alone.
That is what Sola Fide, the great reformation cry of a broken soul means.
to depend on Christ, no other, to save us from our brokenness, the brokenness caused by sin.
That is why Sola Fide is a cry, a cry of a broken heart that has found hope, and will not let go of it.
The Brokenness of Those Who Trust in Rubbish
A couple of weeks ago, we heard that Paul tossed aside the rubbish he once depended on, what he thought proved he was a good man, what proved he was righteous, godly, holy.
We see that attitude in the people Jesus was talking to today. They claimed they didn’t’ need to be free from the sin, and the rubbish that they counted on to show them good enough for God.
We were never slaves!
They didn’t remember their own history that well, for scripture tells us these children of Abraham were enslaved by Egypt, (see Exodus), by Midian various Philistine groups (see Judges and the Books of Samuel), by Assyria and Babylon (see the Books of Kings, Chronicles, and the prophets) and eventually by Greece ( see Maccabees) and then, even in Jesus day, hey were the subjects, the slaves of Rome and Caesar.
But nah, they weren’t slaves.
Can you imagine someone who said they don’t struggle with sin at all? Or worse, that they never sin anymore?
That’s what we are claiming when we say we are good people, or when we say that person or this person is so good, surely they will get to heaven. When we say that – we are exactly like the people Jesus encountered, the people who thought they were okay with God, that their sin was insignificant.
The True Burden
In the Luther movie we watched last week, Luther’s mentor Staupitz confronted Luther, saying that of all the monks, his confessions were the least interesting! They were boring because none of the sins were interesting.
Yet Luther felt all too well the distance those sins led him from God. He despaired of the brokenness. A book I am reading on his life gave a little more detail. One of those times of private confession lasted over 5 hours, as Luther tried to account for every sin he committed in the last week. He walked away from that confession convinced that he wasn’t sorry enough, that he missed sins that wouldn’t be forgiven.
I get that. Part of me doesn’t want to look upon my own sin. I want to excuse it, find justifications for it, dismiss it as not as serious as it is. But when I am thinking seriously about my sin, for example when I am up here, and we have those brief moments of confessing, there are times I wonder why God has me up here, heck why He even let me in this place.
Like Luther, it would be easy to sink into despair, to believe that God wouldn’t accept someone a sinner like us.
How I wish we could take sin that seriously, for only one reason.
If we did, how much more would we be overwhelmed by the knowledge that He comes to us, picks us up, forgives of our sin and cleanses us of our unrighteousness.
Then we would know how much God loves us, as He embraces us, prodigals still smelling like the “rubbish” and pig slop we lived in, as He calls for us to be dressed in the best robes. As he tells everyone, my child is home.
hear again Jesus.
“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I’m going to rephrase that a little, for clarity
“You are truly my disciples if you depend on my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus, the Son of God came for one purpose, to free you and I, and every other person from the power of sin. Jesus dying on cross shattered the hold it has on us. His resurrection comforts us, as the promise is clearly seen.
You are free of that sin, you are cleansed of that unrighteousness,
Depend on that as you approach the altar, confidently as the Book of Hebrews tells us to do, knowing we are in the presence of God who loves us.
Depend on Jesus, trust in Jesus, believe in Jesus, for He alone is our Savior, our Lord, who brings us home to the Father.
And as you cry out, aware of your need, don’t be surprised that knowing He is God brings you peace that passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
It was an amazing opportunity, a blessing that would have been unheard of at the 450th anniversary of the Reformation. A chance for a Lutheran pastor to explain where we have come from over the last 500 years, and using writings of a Pope, Martin Luther, Vatican II and a leading Lutheran Theology professors, give us hope and urge us on to seek reconciliation.
here is a rough draft recording of the talk…..okay a really rough draft.
May we pray that the Church would be one and that it would be seen as one by us. AMEN.
499 Years Later
How is YOUR Re-formation Going?
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the mercy of God our Father, poured out on us as we were untied to Jesus in Baptism, be as real, as reforming our lives and God’s church.
Does History Guarantee our Reformation?
There was once a group of people who thought themselves good, who counted their spiritual heritage back across the generations, for they knew God had worked across those generations, and had often preserved His people. They did what they were told would make them holy, they regularly met and celebrated the promises of God. They ignored their sin, often while condemning the sins of others.
It sounds like the descendants of Abraham, doesn’t it?
Could it be said of Lutherans, even Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Lutherans, Even the people that gather here at Concordia Lutheran Church, even those here right now?
I think Jesus’ answer to us would be the same to those Jews who needed to be freed from sin, as He calls us all to be disciples, to remain in the truth He instills in us, to celebrate the truth that indeed sets us free!
To put it in another way, to be able to answer the question,
“499 years later, how is your re-formation going?”
Or do we know that the Holy Spirit is at work, reforming us!
Are we still enslaved to sin?
Jesus told them and told us, that if we are sin, we are enslaved to it, in bondage to it, that it set a trap and caught us in it, a trap we cannot easily escape. That’s why you can’t escape it at times, or the guilt and shame it can cause.
Ever lay awake at night, wondering why you said or did something, or have it come back to haunt you? Ever feel the suffocation of shame, as you think, if they only knew how bad I was, they would never forgive?
One article I read said that Luther had an over-active sense of guilt, a by-product of depression, and a burdened soul that created the Reformation to find comfort for his broken soul.
Would we all have souls so hungry to be found righteous, and haunted by our own unrighteousness! Would we all seek out the comfort God offers to those who are broken, and would we all point others, in need of us, to the comfort the cross offers!
For we need relief of being ensnared by sin, we need to hear that we’ve been freed from it, we need to know, in the midst of broken lives and a broken world, that there is peace!
That’s why Jesus points out that in their slavery, they may seem to be part of Abraham’s family, but they are slaves, people without rights, who aren’t part of the family. They lived in the illusion of it, while still in bondage. But if they would follow Jesus, if they would walk with Him, learn of Him, and find their place in Him, they would be free. They would be transformed.
We need to be transformed, which was the hope both the Reformation and the Restoration movements offered.
We need to see our reformation and restoration both personal, and permanent. To declared us free from the power of sin, freed to become the children of God!
We are part of that family
That was the freedom, the comfort, the relief Luther, and so many before and after found. In being a disciple, not just someone who learns by sitting in a classroom, but one who walks with Jesus in every aspect of life. Where we let God form us, even disciplining us as the Holy Spirit works to reform and transform us.
This is what happens at the Cross when we are united to Christ’s death and His resurrection, that is where our personal reformation begins, ever as Paul wrote to Titus.
3 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4 But—
That is us, back when before this happened>0
“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” 8 This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:3-8 (NLT)
This is the teaching a disciple of Jesus remains in, the fact that He saved us, baptizing us in water and the Spirit, cleansing us from all sin.
That is where our confidence in being part of God’s family comes from! Not from anywhere else! That is where our reformation happened, even as it is revealed throughout the rest of our lives, and completed on the day of Christ.
And knowing that leaves us in a place of peace, A peace that is found as we remain in Christ Jesus. In that peace, we find the stillness needed to know He is God, and we have not only been freed, but we’ve become part of the family. AMEN!
devotional/discussion thought of the day:
22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
James 2:22-24 (NLT)
7 This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace. 8 Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; 9 not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. 10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:7-10 (NJB)
It was one of the cries of the men who tried to reform, to re-focus the Catholic Church. Faith Alone, Sola Fide in Latin. It is still the point of contention between the Roman Catholic Church and a few of the protestant denominations. Even as I pray that the Church would be visibly one, hole, catholic, and apostolic; I struggle to see that this issue would be ever resolved.
There is a twist to this issue now, one that might be distinctly American, or perhaps it simply originated here. It cuts across all of the church, and it may be more destructive than anything the Great Schism or Reformation/Counter Reformation has spawned.
It is the addition of the little pronoun “my” to either “saved by faith”, or “saved by faith alone”. To add that skirts the border of heresy, and it bows to the idol of narcissus. It puts the glory and the credit for salvation, not in the God in whom we trust, but in the “me”. As if in some way, faith originated in me, by my own reason, by my own intellectual/spiritual/holy prowess.
Perhaps this is why we take every attack on Christianity so personally, as if ISIS, or the atheists, or whomever, is attacking us directly. Perhaps it is why we avoid martyrdom and suffering, instead finding our shields up, our notions of self defense well exercised. It is why we can justify missing church, despite what scripture says, because after all, this religion, this belief, this faith is mine. Such a personal faith focuses on our knowledge, or our work, on what we have gained or achieved. It can then grow into Gnosticism, or Agnosticism, for as long as faith is “my faith”, as long as it focuses one me, it will lead to emptiness, and more searching out for that arcane bit of knowledge that will justify me. At least it will justify me in my own sight.
Which is what really matters today, at least in the our own view.
Self-righteousness, self-justification, as if in “my faith” it is also “my judgement” that needs to be appeased.
I mentioned that this idea borders on heresy, but I didn’t say which side of the border. It is across the border, I believe, from both historic Catholic and Protestant perspectives. Because it ignites that faith is more than a doctrinal statement, more than a set of core beliefs. It is more than knowledge.
For you can’t have faith without having faith “in” someone/something. It is a verb, not a noun, and it requires an object. Going back to the Latin, we see the root of the word “confidence” (that is with faith) My confidence doesn’t save me, it is that we have confidence in the love and mercy of Christ which saves us. Not the confidence, but the love and mercy is what saves us. We see this in the Creeds, the “I believe IN”, I have faith IN”. Faith is simply the reception, the trust, the dependence upon the God who is revealed to us, revealed to be working in/on/upon and through us. That faith, trust, dependence radically changes us, not just how we think bu how we live. For that transformation is the promise.
That is why faith can never be “my” faith, it must focus on the object, the Lord whom we trust in to do what He promised, to do what He has done. To have faith in God means we abide in Him, we find refuge in Him, we recognize His work in making us His children, His people.
He has had mercy, He loves. Trust Him, have faith in Him, and know He saves you!
Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven:
Be Quiet Back There!
May we be so in awe of the glorious works of God in our lives, that we are found still, and quiet, enjoying the beauty of His Peace!
it was inevitable, on those family drives as children that a fight would ensue between my brother and sister, and sometimes, I would get involved.
Remember, back in the day before seatbelts and child seats? When there could be a real free-for all wrestling match as dad drove down the highway at seventy miles an hour?
As expected as the war of the backseat was, even more was another thing we heard just a few moments later.
Be still back there! Be quiet back there!
I could almost hear those words as I drove those same roads last week.
I think when we hear God urging us to be still, urging us to be quiet, it isn’t because he needs to concentrate to get us where we are going. It isn’t that he will somehow loose control of the journey when a pillow comes flying over the back seat. Or the sound of a siren on a video game makes him glance guiltily at the speedometer.
Even so, we as individuals, we as the church of God, need to spend some real time in quiet, some real time being still, some extensive time knowing that God is God, and that He is our refuge, our fortress.
For different reasons when we were children, we need to hear Jesus say, my friends, be quiet, be still back there.
In fact, they are the same reasons Martin Luther, and so many before and since him, need to hear those words as well….
What couldn’t we see? V. 8
In our world today, much like in Luther’s time, there were more than enough fights going on, just like in the backseat of our ’72 dodge dart.
Some of the fights are caused by external things, fights in the world that worry us, whether against enemies like ISIS, or that are more insidious, like Ebola. Some are fights within the church at large, just as Luther experienced in His day. Fights over doctrine, fights over traditions, fights over theology. And some are fights like St Paul noted, fights between our sinful nature and our new nature in Christ. Those internal fights between sin, and the desire to serve God. They are like David describes in the psalm, times where our lives are shaken like earthquakes, where everything seems to crumble, where we feel like we are being drowned in life. Where the world is in chaos, and the very strength of our country seems to crumble…
All these fights in the backseat on our journey towards heaven garner our attention, whether we are involved in the fight, or not. They cause us anxiety and fear, even if we aren’t involved, for like the kid in the middle between two siblings, we can’t help being involved.
And once involved, life overwhelms us.
It was at such a time, inspired by this very psalm, Luther found rest. Despite the hoards of Turks threatening to take over Europe, despite some religious leaders calling for his death, despite health issues, despite his own sin and psychological challenges… Luther found peace.
And so can we… if only we can manage to be still, to be quiet, to be in awe of the glorious works of the LORD.
Being Still… not about behavior…
As we were driving down roads in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, I saw things that I don’t remember seeing. Rivers and streams, small waterfalls, signs notifying us that moose and elk now wandered the woods. Even as William and I stood at the shore of Lake Ossipee, my senses were flooded with what I saw, what I heard. The wind rustling through thousands of trees, raindrops causing ripples on the stillest of waters.
What God creates in nature is so incredibly amazing! We need to see them, but even more we need to see God’s glorious works in our lives
Even before the psalm encourages stillness, it encourages us to look at the glorious works of God. Not the mountains and lakes, the forests and oceans, but what He does to bring peace to our world. To bring peace to our lives.
Promise after promise we’ve heard, we know that nothing can separate us from Him, that all things work for good, that even what is planned for evil, He defeats and causes it to be for our best interest.
When we trust Him, we know that we have a safe place, a fortress that cannot being overwhelmed, a sanctuary that will not be broken into, a refuge where the battles of the world can’t compare to the glory we know, to the peace that surrounds us.
We can’t know that peace when we are fighting, whether the fight is external, or internal. Whether we are being attacked by thousands of enemies, or we are like Peter, realizing we betrayed the Lord.
We need to hear Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!”
Even more grace – He is Here, among us!
That peace comes with something more incredible. We hear the words though out the service, but today we hear them a little differently…
11 The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.
Psalm 46:11 (NLT)
To hear this, to really hear this, results in the very same thing that we normally hear, that because He is hear among us, because God is our sanctuary, our refuge our fortress, we can have the rest from the wars that rage in the world, we can know the stillness and quietness that we need…
We can realize that He is our God…. The Lord God almighty is our God, and therefore we can rest in Him, and know the peace that passes all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!
Discussion and Devotional thought of the Day:
“Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 2 I praise you because you always remember me and follow the teachings that I have handed on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man…. 1 Corinthians 11:1-3 (TEV)
1 Finally, our friends, you learned from us how you should live in order to please God. This is, of course, the way you have been living. And now we beg and urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more. 2 For you know the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 (TEV)
203 Surely all those consolations I receive from the Master are given me so that I may think of him all the time and serve him in little things, and so be able to serve him in great things. A resolution: to please my good Jesus in the tiniest details of my daily life. (1)
It sits there, on the sign identifying the congregation I pastor, on our stationary, on business cards and polo shirts.
A Label, something that identifies our heritage, but also potentially divides us from the body of Christ.
I both love it, and hate it, even despise it.
I despise it because people assume it is something that sets us apart, something that identifies why we are different, as if being a lutheran was a license to condescension, to some higher level of purity or knowledge or perfection. Though not it’s intent in every place bearing its name, there can be pride associated with that label. Because of both assumptions, I despise it, just as I despise the fact that we are 3 years from “celebrating” a division in the church, that is contrary to the will of God. It is my regular prayers that something would happen, a miracle, that would allow the entire church to find healing together in Christ. That my small section of the church would have the humility to encourage this, even noting our own sin, our own failures, our own poor theology that prevents it.
I hate the label, because it is not specific. Many “wear” it, and have radically different beliefs. Some have departed the focus on grace and mercy and Christ’s delivering us into the presence of our Heavenly father, saving us from sin… our sin. They have neglected the treasuring of a relationship with God that brought such peace and joy to Luther. For this man realized God was our refuge from the brokenness of the world. Others have gone the other direction, forgetting the why’s and legislating the hows and whens. They look more to great theologians of different eras, taking even their errors as being right. They will even say their own teaching is beyond question. Extremisms define the label today, far more than the basic teachings of the catechism, and how it summarizes truth from scripture. In some ways, the extremes almost defeat the benefit of the label. Knowing this, I would actually think a better description of my church would be the old name, the Evangelical-catholic church. Historically and with a pragmatic view to our work, it suits us well.
I think the reasons above are why some toss aside the labels, or at least try to toss them aside. They label their church community church (though there are denominations with that moniker), or Christian Church or church of Christ (though I was originally ordained in that denominational family…err brotherhood of churches)
So why not just hang out a sign that says, “a church”, or “the church on the corner”. Get rid of all other identifying markings, all other labels.
After all of this, why do I like the title?
1. It reminds me that who I believe, and what I believe about Him, is bigger than just me. It was handed down to me, entrusted to me by a larger community of faith. My congregation and I don’t stand alone. In the same way my friends in the Roman Catholic Church find comfort in seeing how saints have endured persecution and troubled times, knowing that God would work through Luther, Melancthon, Chemnitz, Walther, Pieper, Piepkorn, that broken men found solace and hope in God’s is incredible to realize.
They pass us down, not just an academic belief system, but a sense of hope, a story of healing, the assurance that God is our refuge, our help in times of trouble. As Paul encouranged us to imitate him as he imitated Jesus, so these men (and women) provide some helpful tracks along the journey. The label reminds me of this, and those that went before. Their failures, their successes, and how they coped with both!
2. While it doesn’t reduce or eliminate extremism, it gives me a base to start from, a point to evaluate what I teach, and preach and how I administer the sacraments. While their words are only legitimate when in accord with scripture, they do help me, to ensure I don’t fall far astream. Creeds and catechisms are never end all, be alls, but they help. One doesn’t have to go far back in history to see those who claimed to base their understanding solely on scripture fail miserably, leading people astray. (Jim Jones is an example, as are denominations like the Jehovah Witnesses) Think of a amusement park, and the “car rides”, which have a steel or cement center rail. Having a heritage of faithful people running along the same rail before helps us stay the course. (see Hebrews 11)
I suppose the last reason I love my particular label, is that the irony keeps my humble. I know Luther would shake his head at us, wondering why in the world we would name our denomination after such a sinner as he was. The irony that we did, because he was a sinner that God would use to restore something the church had lost (he also messed up a lot – please understand this!) But if God could use a pastor as broken, as crazy, as powerfully as he did…despite his pride, his temper, then there is hope for me, as I ask my people to follow me, as I follow in footsteps of all of those who follow Christ.
Rejoice, we aren’t alone in this journey, God has sustained people beyond number who have handed down to us, what we hand down to others!
By the way, know this, if your label is different, that doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome… just the opposite – please, plese come let’s find out why the labels are blessings… not letting them divide us!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 901-904). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
“This Is Eternal Life!!”
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace, mercy and peace of God envelop you, for you have been entrusted into Christ’s care!
Regret the Necessity
In a novel about the formation of the Green Beret, the commandant of the Special Warfare Center says the following to an officer applying to the program. “That could be our motto here, that we do a lot of things we regret are necessary.”
I think it is a good description of the Reformation as well. Picture Luther, standing before a trial which called him to recant from that which he found so comforting, which brought so much peace to his tormented soul. His words are not so much bravado, he knew he was testifying before those who could take his life. Yet, without any contradiction from the scriptures and clear reason, he had to stand, there was nothing he could do otherwise.
It was something he regretted was necessary.
Not just for his own peace, but that the people of God could have revealed to them the love of God, the desire of God that not one should perish, but that all should come to repentance. For that, for the moment was hidden,
Hear again the words from Jesus high priestly prayer from our gospel reading:
17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:1-3 (ESV)
On this day, as we remember the faithfulness of God, who revealed to us the name by which we are saved – may we realize why we regret the reformation, and why it was necessary.
During this prayer of Jesus, what is known as the high priestly prayer, there are a number of recurring themes – recurring phrases that are incredibly powerful. As we hear one of them, we find our reason to regret the necessity of the reformation.
Jesus prayered, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:11-12 (ESV)
The saddest of the unforeseen consequences of the Reformation is that today the one holy church is fractured into some 40,000 pieces. The church isn’t one, and perhaps because of it, we’ve lost focus on what makes her holy, what makes her praises pure, what makes her orthodox.
As we battle, Lutherans against Catholics, Methodists against Presbyterians, Baptists against Baptists and everyone else while they are at it, we’ve become a spiritual football conference, all excited by the baptisms here, but not the baptisms next door. It has become to easy in this day, if we don’t like what the pastor says, if we don’t like how close the sermon comes to calling us to repentance, to move to the church down the street. Our faith is fractured, because we’ve lost sight of Christ, and that our unity is found in our baptism, our unity is found in the Name above all other names, not the name on the outside of our church.
And even as we hear the cry for unity, we understand that there is a time for a stand like Martin Luther’s, or like the families who left Germany to come to Misery in order to keep the focus on Jesus, and on His work. But we also acknowledge that many of our divisions are for lesser reasons, reasons that don’t bring comfort and peace to those horrified by the consequences of sin.
We regret that it was necessary, this reformation, for the division it causes. Even as we rejoice that God is with us, that His church will prevail against the very gates of Hell.
The reason that it was necessary to see the church reformed is also found in this same passage.
17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:1-3 (ESV)
We trust in God, we have faith alone in Christ for this very thing. That in Christ we have been given eternal life, which is that we know, intimately know the only true God, our Father. The one whom we live with forever and ever. Not just in heaven, but even now.
That nothing can separate us from Him and His love, shown to us in Christ. That it has been given to us, not conditionally, not with certain requirements for us to meet prior to our entrance. We don’t have to merit it, it is not our work that will get us there. It is Christ’s, it is the Father’s. Later in this prayer, Jesus prays
17:20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. John 17:20-24 (ESV)
That is the message that is so necessary to get out – so necessary for people to hear, because it changes everything. It gives us hope for today, and for eternity,
It is what we are about. It’s about eternal life. It’s about trusting in God, it’s about knowing Him, having a relationship with Him. Believing in Him for the impossible.
Even if that means we have to do what we regret is necessary.
In preparing for this sermon, I came across this quote, as you hear it think about what it says, and what church they pastor:
The upcoming Year of Faith is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world” (Porta Fidei 6). In other words, the Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics (the church) to experience a conversion – to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him. The “door of faith” is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year Catholics (the church is) are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew their relationship with Christ and his Church.
If a Lutheran wrote it, I wouldn’t be surprised – but it was written by another German – a Catholic one – Pope Benedict XVI. As I read this, I think I heard a smile and perhaps a giggle from Luther. The church, not just the Lutheran church, and not just Rome, but also among the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, even the Baptists, in these anxiety ridden days is being brought back to Jesus, is being reformed. We are starting to remember that this is about Jesus.
Maybe there is hope – but if wasn’t for a young pastor in Germany a half minute ago in God’s timing – it might not have happened.
He did what He regretted was necessary, and people found grace and peace because of it. A grace and peace we need to bring to the world, for they need to know this as well as we do – that we’ve been brought into the love of God, the love
That’s what it’s about – this eternal life in Christ.
For we are His…
And in Him we have peace, peace that passes all understanding, that guards our hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Tomorrow, Lutheran Churches around the world will sing “A Mighty Fortress”, the hymn written by Martin Luther.
I’ve heard it called the Battle Hymn of the Reformation, a rally cry to do battle…. As I look at the words, and at Psalm 46 which it is drawn from, and look at Luther’s life, I am not so sure.
I think it is a hymn of surrender, and let me use a medieval village (think like Robin Hood’s era) as a parabolic example.
The village is constantly raided by bandits. Those who would try to stand and fight, are instead overwhelmed, beaten and battered into submission. Those who are too weak simply give in, and compromise, and let the bandits steal what they want. The village is crushed, there is no joy left, no hope, nothing but the bondage thrust on them by the Until a messenger comes from a nearby castle, offering protection, and more importantly, a place in the King’s family. People struggle with the decision, for it means they have to give up what they know and what will it be like to be no longer free.
Such is the life that Luther knew, in bondage to his own sin, oppressed by Satan and by the thoughts of death. The church at his time didn’t help – it held hostage the very thing that would give any hope. Forgiveness, redemption, restoration, the hope received by those who believe and are baptised, hidden behind indulgences merited..by paying a hefty price.
It is as Luther realizes the breadth, the width, the height and depth of the Father’s love shown to us in Christ, that grace – the mercy and peace of God is revealed. Our freedom, which was but an illusion is traded in for security, protection, peace…forgiveness, adoption. Nothing, absolutely nothing, St Paul wrote – can seperate us from that love in Christ.
I picture then, using my parable, the people of the village, being pursued by their enemies, running to the Fortress, encouraged by the One who came to bring them to their real home. The hymn not a cry to do battle, but a realization that true safety is found there, in Christ, who brings us home. For He is not just a messenger, but the Lord God Almighty, come to bring His people home. A favorite Catholic priest/writer wrote:
“Doubts assail you, temptations, with that gloss of elegance about them. I love to hear you say how this shows that the devil considers you his enemy, and that God’s grace will never leave you unprotected. Keep up the struggle!” (1)
It is not our battle, this battle against sin, and satan and death… it is Jesus’ battle. One of the translations of A Mighty Fortress says this so well:
With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabbath Lord, and there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.
Indeed He does, as we scurry into His fortress, as we tend to those wounded and broken, as we go out, not to do battle, but on rescue missions, to bring home those who need the refuge we have found.
May we indeed live by faith, by trusting in the One who sets captives free, and then guards their hearts and minds, in the peace that abiding in Christ brings.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1247-1250). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
From the Large Catechism of Martin Luther:
But this is the meaning and substance of this addition: I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. I am also a part and member of the same a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it.
A week from now, I will preach at a combined services of congregations, as we gather to celebrate Reformation Day. Last night, the above passage was discussed in a group I am teaching. The juxtaposition of which confounds me, and to be honest, depresses and saddens me.
I comprehend the details of Luther’s departure from the Roman Catholic Church, and the pain his writings reveal as he went through very dark days. His reaction towards those who should have discussed the issues is often inexcusable, even as we realize the pain which caused the reaction.
But there is supposed to be one church, a holy, united/catholic, and apostolic/missional church which finds unity not by its own reasoning and strength, but instead in Christ, as they are gathered by the Holy Spirit. Remember Jesus’ call that His disciples may be one – even as the Father and Jesus were One? We are supposed to be without sects or schisms, yet there are 40,000 denominations and within those denominations (including the RCC) there are movements and sub-groups which are competitive and divisive and questioned and not trusted.
So do we abandon hope for a church united in Christ? Or do we justify a decisions with a reference to the visible and invisible church, noting that just because we can’t see our unity, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist? DO we mourn the lack of unity in the church, and the sin which causes it? Or do we triumphantly rise in our sects and schisms and proclaim that we are the true church, and all heterodox bodies are less loved, less effective, and therefore God is not in control?
I pray, even as we approach the five hundreth year since the divisions in the church manifested themselves, and we are eight hundred and sixty years since the Great Schism, that we all pray, as our Lord did – that we would be one. Not in compromising our trust in Christ, but instead, allowing the Holy Spirit to work through word and sacrament to do that which we confess He does… making us one, holy, catholic and apostolic gathering….
Lord have mercy on us!