O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
October 31, 2010
Reformation Sunday. Quite the celebration for us Lutherans, isn't it? Remembering the heroic story of Martin Luther standing up to tyrannical Rome and changing the course of world history forever. However, the spiritual story that lies behind these events is what really matters. The spiritual story is much darker, much more terrifying, yet much more liberating. This is the story that Luther was truly concerned with. Because the truth is, there is a monster prowling around in the Church, and kids, it isn't the big hairy pastor. No, this monster is much older, much wiser, and has only one goal. He seeks to hinder the Gospel. Shackle it, confuse it, and bind it. During the time of Luther, this monster, Satan, had successfully changed the teaching of forgiveness into a fee-for-service business. A wage earned for work completed.
In the days before the reformation, the Divine service was not a place for receiving God's gifts, but had been changed into a holy work done by the priest, where the body and blood of Christ was re-sacrificed to God each Sunday. Vows were taken by monks and nuns as 'superwork' whose value could be distributed to other sinners to cover over their sins. Repentant sinners were ordered to carry out penance, whereby they would satisfy God's wrath through their prayers, generosity and compassion. People were forced to buy indulgences to free their loved ones from purgatory. Purgatory: a 'Pope-invented' prison of suffering, that was suspended between heaven and earth. As the popular expression of that day went, "As soon as coin in coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." Everybody quick, buy these pieces of paper to free your loved ones from their suffering. God will free them if you pay us. And where was Christ in all of this? Where were the Scriptures? (PAUSE) Satan's infiltration was complete. He had created prisons and pits to enslave people, even when they thought they were doing the right thing.
However, we know the Gospel of Jesus Christ continued to be proclaimed. God raised men like Luther to speak out against the heresy that was burdening His people and proclaim the free forgiveness of sins. So the story goes. So why is it still happening today? Why, in the year 2000, did Pope Jean Paul II issue a special indulgence to all those who visited Rome? Are there still false teachers today? Do we face similar challenges? So on this Reformation morning, let us prudently ask, why is the Reformation important today?
In order to understand its importance, let us use a simple illustration. Picture a nice, flat straight road. Should be pretty easy to do around here - just go south of the city and you'll capture the image I'm trying to generate. Ok, so let's pretend this road is Jesus, after all, he said, "I am the way." You are driving along the road, focused on Jesus. Now the devil has only two options. He can try to guide you off the road on the right side, or he can try to guide you off the road on the left side.
For example, in Luther's time when most people couldn't read, Satan made up His own teachings that could not be verified. Teachings such as purgatory or indulgences. Now that the people have the Scriptures and can verify teachings, Satan uses a new bag of tricks to trap and enslave. He teaches that the Scriptures are not reliable. He teaches that they are not the Word of God, that they merely contain the Word of God. Or he teaches that they are too old and we have progressed beyond them. We must reinterpret them to fit today. Right side, left side. He is always distracting the drivers. Always trying his hardest to drive people off the road, away from their comfort and peace that is only found Christ Jesus. So we see that Satan tempts you to question God's source.
Nowadays, Satan also tempts you to question God's truth. In Luther's time, Satan burdened people with the law, teaching it as their only way to heaven. Now he teaches people to ignore the law. That sin isn't important. Right side, left side. Save yourself, you don't need to be saved. Satan perverts the Church, and teaches that God doesn't judge those involved in sexual immorality, abortion, living together outside marriage and idolatry. Jesus however speaks openly about the gravity of these sins, and offers to freely forgive anyone weighed down by them. He reveals the pit we are in, and puts Himself in it with us, so we can climb out of it, off of his back. But we must leave the pit. As St. Paul said, "through the law comes knowledge of sin."
Perhaps his most ancient trick, Satan tempts you to question who is actually your master. Just like the Jews in Jesus day who said, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'you will become free.'" Apparently they forgot they had been slaves in Egypt. And in Babylon. And that they were currently under Roman rule. Satan deceives us today also. He tempts us to think, "I'm a good person," "I'm not a slave to sin." "I can do it." However, Jesus answers, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever."
Aware of our sin, we look around for the road again. Here Satan has implemented another new trick. Satan has even tempted you to question if this is the only road. Forget right side, left side. Nowadays, the devil teaches that there are many roads. Many ways that take us to our goal. Many religions, many truths that all lead to perfection. However, when you examine the matter, these different roads do not even claim to be going to the same place, and this deception only leaves us in slavery. As Jesus said, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." A slave cannot free himself. The only way to be set free from slavery is by the Son.
All of Satan's techniques are designed to do one thing. Make you afraid. They are intended to scare you. They are intended to focus you on things that are not certain. Make you feel endangered, alone, uncared for, weak and out of control. He is much more powerful than us, and his attacks bring us to tears, they bring us great frustration, and they can bring us to despair.
Where, O where, can we find protection against such vicious attacks? Dear friends, 'A mighty fortress is our God'. He is our refuge and our strength. The Lord of hosts is at our side to shelter us from fear. In him, we are safe. In him, we have certainty. In him, we are secure. And this is why the reformation is important today, because the Church still faces the ever-changing attacks of the devil. He is still trying to hinder the Gospel. He is still trying to introduce heresy.
However, God did not leave His Church without weapon or shield. We have His strong Word, against which not even Satan can stand. Jesus is our shield. Jesus is our weapon. As St. John wrote, the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." He is saying to you, because it is my Word that you take refuge in, you know ME, and I will set you free from your master, that is sin. I will teach you the correct path for your life, the one that keeps you safely fixed on me, and frees you from the snares of sin. I will protect you from the evil one. I will guide your steps and teach you to trust me. I will keep you on the straight road. I will gently show you your errors. I will keep you coming back to me to receive forgiveness. I will give you my body and blood. I will wash you clean every time, and will remember nothing of what you have done. You are my disciple. You are my child, my sister, my brother. (Pause)
The devil stands no chance against such power and promise. As we just sang in our hymn of the day, he is felled by a single word. For it is written! Your name is written in the book of life in your baptism. You are baptized. The Son has set you free, and you belong in His house. You have a permanent place at His table. You have a mansion waiting in His kingdom. And although the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, compared to God he is like a skinny, wet cat. He can do nothing to the Mighty Fortress that is your God. For it is written! In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr