Luther: Awakening to Grace
Fourth in a series of six, Luther: Awakening 1/28
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 // 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 // Mark 1:21-28
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
We’ve reached the season of Epiphany, which means “Revealing, or “Light.” We repented in the growing darkness of the Advent season. We’ve seen the Light shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it in the Christmas story. And now see the meaning of the word Epiphany as the way God’s people are awakening to the dawn of Christ.
Three weeks ago, we traced Martin Luther’s awakening to faith in his baptism. Two weeks ago, we saw him awaken in fear as he hears the call of God. Last week, we see him awaken to Christ. Today, our theme is Awakening to Grace. For the description of Luther’s life and world, we draw from Eric Metaxas and James Kittelson’s biographies of Luther.
Awakening to a new normal. Three thoughts that frame our discussion. Thought number one is that in these days, I have, more than ever, had to think about what is important in life and align my hours with my values. That means, if I want to exercise, I need to get up earlier than I’ve ever gotten up before willingly, because that’s what I value. That’s my new normal.
Thought number two. You’ve heard me say before that, in my mind, some of the scariest words that a doctor can say are “I don’t know what’s wrong with your son.” The Muther household is two for two on baby boys that needed to go up to the Cities to Children’s Hospital, and although, as far as crises go, these were minor and amounted to little, still they remind me that a body should live life in the best and in the worst of times, one day at a time, trusting in God’s good news, that was my new normal.
Thought number three. It’s all fine and dandy for me to tell of my life, but I think what more it means when you hear it from someone who has gone through trauma. Thought number three is of a young woman during WWII, in the Netherlandsnamed Corrie Ten Boom tells of hiding Jews on the run from the Nazis. During the war, she spent three months in solitary confinement, watched her sister die in a concentration camp, and was the only woman in her age group to avoid the gas chamber, according to a clerical error. What would you expect her to say? Well, her sister said before she died, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” Corrie ten Boom later wrote, “Let God’s promises shine on your problems.” “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” The tragedies and the trials of life did not overcome her. She lived one day at a time, trusting in God. That was her new normal.
One event that I want to draw your attention toward in the life of Martin Luther. He posted the 95 theses in 1517, and wrote furiously, debating theologians for four years, but it all comes to a head in 1521, because in 1521 the Holy Roman Emperor calls an imperial meeting in a city called Worms. Now note this – Luther had been asking for a church council, one where he could debate and write, but what he is given is an imperial meeting, what’s now know as the Diet of Worms. It was his final chance to save his life. It was his final chance to avoid judgment.
So, he’s given Imperial protection on the road. He’s summoned to the city of Worms. He goes in front of the most powerful men in the world, and without a word in edgewise, he’s told to burn his books and recant.
He’s given one day to form a response – and can you imagine what a day that would be? -- and these are the measured words that he spoke, first in German and then in Latin: “Since then your serene majesties and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scriptures or clear reason, for I do not trust in the Pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.”
Luther says, in essence, what our Old Testament reading says: let the prophet of God be judged by the Word of God. Let God’s Word be his judge.
But let me get back to this phrase: My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Metaxas: “The word he used, usually translated as conscience, cannot perfectly be translated as what we today mean by that word [a very subjective idea]. The German word he used, Gewissen, really means “knowing.” And the Latin word, conscientia, means ”With knowing…” And Luther, in saying that he could not go against conscience, was simply saying that if his own understanding, his own knowledge, as guided by plain logic and clear arguments, showed him that Scripture said one thing and anyone else – even the church – said another, he had no choice but to go with what the Scriptures said. The word of God trumped all else.”
Lesson number one flows from this point… it’s from our epistle reading as well: knowledge alone doesn’t save us -- knowledge is a means and love is an end: In the epistle reading, Paul’s main point is that “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. Note that in your text knowledge is in quotes – “Knowledge.” It doesn’t mean that “knowing stuff” about our Christianity is bad – that’s one of the goals of confirmation, that kids would know more stuff by the end than they did in the beginning.
But the heart of the matter is this: knowledge is a means and love is an end. We would know what we know in a certain way, and that certain way is to the end that we would love our neighbor, and by love, we mean to act like Christ to them. Like Christ. What would it look like if our new normal was to preface everything we said with “I love you, and that’s why…” How would it change what we said?
From this moment on, his days were numbered. After his imperial protections wore out, he would be branded an outlaw, meaning that he could be killed by anyone without repercussions and anyone who helped him would get the same. The emperor would most likely send assassins to deal with him and he would be ambushed, attacked, and killed. And yet, in the new normal, as his stand of faith was over at Worms, he “threw up his hands as German soldiers did to proclaim a victory and smiling he shouted, “I’ve come through! I’ve come through!” That was his new normal.
From our Gospel reading, lesson number two is Jesus would invite us to get lost in the life of our savior…. More than one theologian compares this to the training that certain federal agents have. “[Those] Federal agents [trained to catch counterfeit bills] don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money they recognize it. (MacArthur)” Let us study the real thing. Let us master the look of the real thing. Let us get lost in the life of our savior.
The genius of Luther was that his understanding of grace lifts us out of wondering if we are being repentant enough, of wondering if we are loving enough, of looking at ourselves, and instead invites us to get lost in the life of our Savior.
The genius of Luther was to encounter Jesus on his own terms, to look at his Savior with eyes that were fresh, to see him as a new teacher and with authority. To look at his words as his new normal, the steady place when all other ground was shifting sand, to know that as he made a stand in the Gospel, he had come through. He had come through!
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that knows, beyond a doubt, that the promises of God shine on our problems. Their share of trials, and sometimes more than their share, come, but they live their lives by the Word of God, not getting lost in the world, but getting lost in the life of the Savior, the one who will bring all things to right.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther