Luther: Awakening in Fear
Second in a Series of Six Sermons, “Luther: Awakening”
I Samuel 3:1-1- / I Corinthians 6:12-20 / John 1:43-51
Dear Friends in Christ,
Epiphany is a season of light. We lit candles in Advent and heard the voice of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, bearing witness to the light. In the 12 days of Christmas we lit the Christ candle and adjusted our eyes to the true light, which shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. In Epiphany, we travel with the Wise Men, we follow the star again and again to see with our own eyes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t just for the Jewish nation, it is to be revealed to the Gentile nations as well.
In this particular Epiphany season, we focus on the God of this universe has awakened His church of all times and in all places through his servants in every age. We trace the awakening of one of our brightest fathers in the faith, Martin Luther. We see which great events shaped his life, we see how the Word of God worked on his heart, and we focus on the Five Solas of the Reformation, Faith Alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, Grace Alone, and the Glory of God alone. Pastor Muther and I are drawing from two biographies of Luther by Eric Metaxas and James Kittelson. Last week we saw how God awakened Luther little by little. It started in the in the waters of Baptism before he knew what was happening to him, last week, and this week, we fix our eyes on God waking up the child and the young man Luther to what it means to have a true fear, love, and trust in the one true God. Awakening in Fear is our sermon theme for today.
Three stories from my childhood and youth about waking up.
As time went on, this free gift of God’s grace led Luther out of the monastic life into marriage, out of the priesthood and into the office of pastor and proclaimer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. More on that in the weeks to come.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, we find the grace of God awakening Samuel to what it means to have a true fear, love, and trust in God. You may remember that Samuel was the boy who was lent by his parents to the Lord. They were so grateful that God had heard his mother Hannah’s prayer for a child that they brought him back to the tabernacle and dedicated him to the Lord’s service. He may have been as young as five when he began to serve the aged priest Eli. His duties could best be described as custodial. He would be responsible for opening the doors of the house of the Lord, he would trim the wicks on the lamp just outside the Most Holy Place, he would make sure there was enough oil to last the hours of darkness.
Three meditations from I Samuel 3 I offer in closing today about the context in which God awakened Samuel into a proper fear of the one true God.
Lesson #1 comes from chapter 3 verse 1, “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. In Samuel’s day, as in Luther’s, “the word of the Lord was rare.” In those days people had little interest in hearing what God had to say. The five books of Moses were kept in the tabernacle, and even the priests of Samuel’s day neglected them. Not since the death of Moses had there been a great prophet in Israel. History teaches us that no greater judgment can fall upon a nation than when it suffers the loss of God’s Word. When people do not appreciate the Gospel, God often takes it from them.
The prophet Amos said it this way, “Behold the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, that of hearing the words of the Lord.
Lesson #1 is to recognize in our midst a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. It is an invitation to pray for this nation, to pray for this congregation, and to pray for our own families, that God would permit whatever He needs to permit to drive us to repentance and a fear of the Lord, which is in fact the beginning of true wisdom. More and more, it seems as though fewer and fewer folks are hearing and holding on tight to the Word of God. Church attendance nation wide isn’t what it used to be. Church attendance and Bible study participation in this congregation isn’t what it used to be. Only you can answer for your own marriages and families. The question is as important as ever- Are we faithfully keeping our confirmation vow to be diligent in the use of the means of grace?
Lesson #2 is closely related to lesson #1. It comes from verse 10, where Samuel responds to the voice of the Lord, “Speak, for your servant is hearing In our text for today, shortly before dawn, Samuel was awakened by the sound of his name. He had never heard the direct voice of God before, and so he thought it was Eli. And so he responded, “Here I am.” Eli dismissed him, saying he must have been dreaming. Samuel was perhaps about 12 years old and only after he had reported for duty three times did Eli realize it was the Lord who was calling. And so he instructs Samuel to go and lie down and the next time God calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
One commentator notes that when Luther first read the story of Samuel getting called into the office of prophet, “he wished he could be like Samuel and hear God’s voice.” Of course the great discovery of Luther’s life was that on the pages of the Bible God does speak to us as he once spoke to Samuel. If lesson #1 was to recognize in our midst a famine of hearing the words of the Lord, then lesson #2 is to be awakened as Luther was awakened to the simple truth that God speaks to us in the very pages of Scripture, God speaks to us in the preaching and teaching and remembering of His Word. The secret to Samuel’s success as a prophet was the same as Luther’s success as a reformer, it was not that they excelled in speaking, but in listening.
Lesson #3 comes from v. 19, And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. Even before he was anointed prophet, God told Samuel that he was about to do something in Israel that would make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. Samuel saw a vision in which God revealed that he would be judging Eli and his family, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. The vision was so terrifying that Samuel didn’t want to deliver it. Eli insisted that Samuel not hide anything from him that God had revealed, and Samuel went ahead and delivered the bad news word for word.
Lesson #3 is to recommit ourselves in this place to let none of God’s Words fall to the ground. Even those words of law which make people’s ears tingle. Especially those words of good news that move the broken hearted people of God to want to more and more gladly hear the Word of God and keep it.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who wake up in the mornings making the sign of the cross. In regular fashion their hearts are broken and once in a while they can even feel their ears tingling as the Lord their God thunders His disappointment, His dismay, and even His disgust with bad habits into which they have fallen. But praise be to God, they keep on hearing that the wrath of their righteous God has been satisfied, they keep on believing that they have been bought at a price, God keeps on awakening them to what it means to spend their days fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. In Jesus’ Name.
Luther: Awakening to Faith
First in a series of six
Genesis 1:1-5 // Romans 6:1-11 // Mark 1:4-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve reached the season of Epiphany, which means “Revealing, or “Light.” We lit candles in Advent in order to remember the coming of the Light of the World. We celebrate Christmas Eve in candlelit darkness to remember that on that Silent and Holy Night, “glory streamed from thy Holy Face, in the Dawn of redeeming Grace.” And in this week, as we move from the dawn of Christmas to the season of Epiphany, we remember that Epiphany means light. It means the revealing. It means the dawn -- it means, if we want to extend the metaphor, that we longed for the light in Advent. We saw the dawn of redeeming grace in the Christmas manger, and now in the six weeks of Epiphany, we see the awakening of God’s people.
In these six weeks, we see the God of Israel, the God of the universe and how he awakened His church of all times and all places through his servants in every age. This Epiphany, we trace the awakening of our Father in the Faith, Martin Luther. We dive into the great events that shaped his life as we see the Word of God work on him, and today we see him Awakening to Faith. For the description of Luther’s life and world, We draw from Eric Metaxas and James Kittelson’s biographies of Luther.
Awakening little by little. The Muther household wakes up pretty early these days, and some days are earlier than others. But these days most mornings start with a certain sequence of events. First, at about 5am, Amos will wake up. Then, Laura will wake up and start feeding Amos. Then, I’ll start to wake up because Laura is awake and Amos is awake, and then, Benjamin, I’m convinced, from the next room over senses that everyone is awake – they just seem to pick all kinds of things up, and then, and here’s the point, then before he’s really awake, he opens his door, he shambles his way to the edge of our bed. He gets in, and for the only minutes of the day that Benjamin sits still, we have 10 minutes of quiet snuggles. The point is, there’s a time when he’s awake, but he’s not really awake, when he’s waking up little by little.
That’s the moment we trace in Martin Luther’s life today, his baptism into the Christian faith. When all the assurances of and promises of baptism were his, yet he was not awakened to their full significance.
There is a richness and a busy-ness to the years around Luther’s life. The 15th and 16th centuries were days of innovation and opportunity. Michelangelo, Raphael, Thomas More, Copernicus, Machiavelli are only some of the giants that lived and published in Luther’s lifetime. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The new world was being discovered; whole continents were being found. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and for the first time, copies of books didn’t have to be handwritten, up to that point, if you wanted a copy of the Bible, you had to commission someone to write it for you. The world of Luther’s day was getting to be a lot bigger and a lot smaller.
But it was also a difficult time. In Florence, six out of ten infants did not live past 6 months old. In the city of Strasbourg, 16,000 people died to the Plague in one year. And people were hardened by this hardship and violence. One of Luther’s relatives was struck down in the street by a wandering soldier, for no apparent reason, and he was never brought to justice. Life, as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it a century later, was “nasty, brutish, and short.” Can you imagine life in that world?
Into this world Martin Luther was born. We don’t know which year Martin Luther was born – he thought 1484, but it could have been 82 or 83, but what we do know is that he was born on November 10th, because he tells that on the next day, just one day old, his father and mother, Hans and Margaretta, wrapped their little baby up, took him to the church and had him baptized and named for the saint of that feast day, St. Martin.
On that November 11th, Martin Luther participated in the sacrament that turned the disposition of his soul to receive the forgiveness of his sins, turned the disposition of his soul to the proclaimed grace and assurance that he would awaken to years after. And he participated in it before he understood what was happening.
That’s the Lutheran distinctive. In a way that no other denomination has done so well, we speak of the physical intermingling with the spiritual in the water and the Word. We speak of Baptism not so much as the declaration of our faith, but as the washing of rebirth and renewal instituted by Jesus, that makes us sons of the Father, with a water full of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians and as Lutherans, we believe that we enter into a story whose main point is Jesus. We find the promises of God center on him, on the man who did everything that was needed to be done. He was baptized, not for any sin that he had done, but to fulfill all that we are to do. He did teach. He resisted temptation. He depended on the Holy Spirit. He talked to his Father in heaven. He was man so that he could die for our sins, and he was God so that his sacrifice could be good for all, and he did all on our behalf.
You see, the Gospel – God’s work among us – began before we knew what was happening, before we even existed; it began at creation. The God who existed before the universe began is the same God who loved you before you opened your eyes, is the same God who came down into human history is the same God who delivered the goods of his grace to Martin Luther is the same God who delivered the goods of his grace to you in your baptism, is the same God who will call you on as your days draw to a close, and even as the universe draws to a close. We enter in by Holy Baptism, as St. Paul says, into the very center of the story, because we are united with Christ in his death so that we can be united with Christ in his resurrection.
C.S. Lewis writes of his conversion from atheism to Christianity as an adult rather than as an infant, but he writes in no less passive terms. In his book, Surprised by Hope Lewis recounts the very moments when he received in faith all the benefits that he had been guaranteed at his baptism: in the sidecar of his brother Warnie’s motorbike, which took place on September 22, 1931. And I quote, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.”
The story of our humanity began at birth, from a place too deep and too marvelous for words. This is the Lutheran distinctive. The story of our Christianity begins in a place too deep and too marvelous for any word besides the name of our God, in and with the water, the name of YHWH, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
And Paul goes further… You see, he isn’t answering questions about baptism out of a vacuum; he isn’t defining it for its own sake. He’s answering the question, the first question in our text, and he’s answering by reference to the very nature of baptism. He asks, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound?” Since we have the guarantee of God’s grace and favor, can we sin because we know we’ll be forgiven? His answer? “Certainly not! How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” And here he comes with the answer we repeat in every funeral liturgy, the promises of our birth from above that follow us past the point of death: “We were therefore buried with him by baptism into death [into CHRIST’S death], in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Or as Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians.”
The point is that the Christian life began in the promises of baptism, continues as we awaken little by little to the implications of that walk of faith in every avenue of our lives, every back alley of our being, every corridor, every nook and cranny of what it means to be a human surrounded by other humans, in a world awaiting Christ’s return.
To ask, in essence, how does this chapter of my life draw my eyes to see my savior? Or, in other words, to remind you of what I preached two weeks ago, that I’m a terrible softball player. I won’t go into the two sad little memories I had in fifth grade softball, but I want you to know: I will never have to seriously ask myself, “How do I play softball to the glory of God?” because my abilities do not lie in that arena of life. I will have to ask other questions: how do I play basketball in a God-pleasing way, how do I run races in a way that gives God glory? Because wherever my abilities lie, there my faith should expanding, looking, and asking questions.
And I tell you that to tell you this: this is the question, for the Christian, which we ask all the time. From the time that we teach our children to walk, we are asking and answering for them “How can you use your legs to the glory of God?” You might not have said it that way, but the answer is the same: We use our legs for walking to mom and dad, not for kicking or for running away. And as our abilities grow, so do our questions grow. These days I wonder more about my vocation as father, how to pass down my faith to my children, as pastor, how to draw others’ eyes from me to look instead at our savior, as neighbor, how to live my faith among all kinds of people. And every new place that we go, every new chapter of life, every new joy and sorrow, they beckon us to ask, “How does this chapter of my life draw my eyes to see my savior?”
For Luther, his baptism was a touchstone for his entire life. After his Gospel moment breakthrough of 1517, he looked back with great comfort on the day of his baptism. “[W]hat a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man, and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.”
Baptism is the awakening to faith, and it begins a life of opening little by little, to all that God is preparing for us. It connects us to the center of the story of how God is bringing salvation to all of creation. Baptism is the beginning of a journey to the end of all time.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town where brothers and sisters in Christ journey through every chapter of life drawing their eyes to their Savior. The troubles and joys change regularly but their children and their neighbors can sense that the question they ask and the answer they remember never changes. And so, as they continue to see their faith awaken in every chapter of life, they take the greatest delight in seeing that faith awaken from generation to generation.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther