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.
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