Luther: Awakening to the Glory of God
February 10 and 11, 2018
Sixth in a Series of Sermons – Luther: Awakening to the Glory of God
II Kings 2:1-12 / II Corinthians 3:12-1,4:1-6/ Mark 9:2-9
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this season of Epiphany, we have explored Luther’s awakening to the Gospel. In this sermon series, we have explored the big moments of Luther’s life and explored the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation- Faith Alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, Grace alone, and today the Glory of God alone.
In our devotional reading yesterday, Debi and I read a little story from one of our favorite Christian authors, Rich Bimler. Rich told of his daughter and her friend Sue who were writing “love notes” in connection with Valentines Day. They wrote to their Pastor, ““Dear Pastor, we really like you. We think you are neat. We love your sermons. We can’t wait until we’re old enough to understand them.”
Which reminds us of a line out of a scrap of paper found in Luther’s pocket as he breathed his last, “Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Scriptures sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years…” While it is true that on the one hand Luther had a way of stating truth unequivocally and with no room for compromise, it is also true that he saw himself as a life long student of Scripture, he often stated his willingness to be corrected by the clear testimony of Scripture, he in no way saw himself as having the final word on Biblical teachings.
In today’s sermon, I offer no fewer than seven snapshots of waking up to the glory of God and three Epiphany revelations.
Seven Snapshots of Waking up to the Glory of God
All seven snapshots are meant to help us wake up to one of the main controversies between Luther and the Church of his day – a controversy over how helpless we really are in our spiritual deadness and guilt. Are we justified before God by the grace of God plus our own good behavior, or grace alone? Are we saved through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross plus our own sacrificial living or in Christ alone? Do we receive the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ plus our own efforts, or by faith alone? Are we to be faithful both to the Scriptures and church tradition, or Scripture alone? And today, what does it mean to wake up to the simple truth that in all that we do, whether we eating or drinking or fasting, whether we are working or playing or resting, whether we are in the prime of life or in the declining years of life, it’s about God getting all of the glory all of the time!
Snapshot #1- What is there to be (afraid of?) Story of an elderly gentlemen named Ted on his deathbed 25 years ago. Ted was in his 80’s, his wife had died years before, no children, World War II veteran, a man’s man kind of a man, tougher than nails, hard of hearing. I visited him in the Hillcrest Nursing Home later in the evening, all was quiet, folks were sleeping. I asked him three times before he could actually hear my question, “Are you afraid of dying?” When he finally heard me, he grunted (and I have to clean up the language a bit), “mmmph, what the “heck” is there to be afraid of?
Over the years, God had drawn Ted close to him, beginning in the waters of Baptism, God had been sending his angels to guard over him in war time and in peace, the Lord’s Supper had nourished him, no doubt he had heard the words of page 5 and 15 liturgy hundreds of times, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, grant this Lord unto us all.” Which is another way of saying that as often as a sinner is saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #2 - “Why are you (crying?) Many of you know my mom through my stories about her. You know my opinion that she was about as kind and sweet and patient and grace-filled as a human being could be. She was as non scary of a person as I had ever met. When her loved ones were hurting, she was hurting. When loved ones stopped going to church, she worried herself sick and cried out into the darkness of night for God to have mercy on their souls. She was as easy to love as a human could be, and so as I sat at her bedside a few days before she died, she was sleeping. And so I held her hand and thought through life and death, you won’t be surprised to know I started crying. She opened her eyes and said, “Larry, why are you crying?” I said something like, “Why do you think, Mom?!
As was Ted, she was claimed by her Father in heaven as His child in the waters of Baptism, and over the years, God’s Spirit slowly but surely woke her up to the simple truth that as often as a sinner is saved by the grace of god alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #3 “That’s (enough)” Mom’s daily routines were as fixed on the reading and learning and marking and inwardly digesting of Scripture as they could be. I could go on and on and on, which is exactly what a hospice chaplain, her local pastor, and I were doing I were doing a few days before Mom passed away. We were going on and on and on with Bible readings, we were singing and praying world without end, until I noticed that Mom was very sleepy and perhaps just wanted to rest. And so I asked her if Pastor Daenzer and I should keep on reading and singing and praying or if that was enough for now. She mouthed the words, “that’s enough!”
In those days, as is the case with so many elderly and life long Christians, she just wanted to fall asleep and to wake up in the arms of her Savior. One of the final prayers we prayed included this sweet request, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Snapshot #4 - “Ja” As Martin Luther approached death at age 62 or so, his friends and colleagues knew that Luther’s death would soon be known all across Europe, and how he died was of much interest. In that day, for a person to die with all kinds of agony or restlessness would be a sign that the dead had gone not to his reward but to everlasting punishment. And so two of his friends shouted loudly one question for the historical record, “Reverend Father! Are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess to the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” They record that out of his mouth now came his last spoken word, a loud and distinct “Ja.” He then turned over onto his right side, slipped into a sleep, and 15 minutes later, took his final breath.
A snapshot of one more redeemed sinner being translated from the church militant to the church triumphant, going from living by grace to living in glory, and as always, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #5 – We find that while Luther’s last word spoken out loud was “Ja”, or to say it another way, “Amen, which is to say, yes, yes, this is most certainly true!” – his last written words may have been these, “We are (beggars), this is true.” Even though Luther had successfully challenged the spiritual and secular authorities of his day, even though Luther had successfully translated the Bible into the German language in less than a year, even though Luther had written and taught and thundered God’s Word in a way that literally changed the course of human history, he knew what we want to know again today, that salvation is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.” “We are beggars, this is true.”
Snapshot #6 comes from our Old Testament lesson appointed for this Transfiguration Sunday, where the prophet Elisha sees his father in the faith Elijah taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire, and cries out “My father, my father, The chariots and horsemen of Israel.” Elisha had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, but the answer came back – to paraphrase, “only God can grant that request.” In that day horses and chariots were emblems of a king’s strength, and so Elijah had been a spiritual warrior for the people of God. If Elisha hadn’t already been wakened to the amazing grace and the incomparable strength of Almighty God, not doubt this vision did just that.
Snapshot #7 - We fast forward from this vision to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah show up in their glorified bodies, where Jesus gives his inner circle a glimpse of his divine glory, and where we hear the voice of our Father in heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son; (listen) to him”. Here on the mount of transfiguration, we find Peter not really knowing what to say, which as usual doesn’t keep him from blurting out the possibility of building shelters and prolonging the moment. We find the man Jesus shining forth in the glory of his divine nature, we find Moses and Elijah in conversation with Jesus helping to get him ready for death by crucifixion, we find our Father in heaven repeating his declaration made at the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and we find ourselves with one more opportunity to think about what it means for us that God is always and in every circumstance of life to be getting 100% of the glory.
Three Epiphany Revelations
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who have been awakened to the realization that The glory of God is the goal of all (creation) Please repeat after me. They have heard from little on that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork. They are learning again that when sun, moon, and stars shine, they are doing what they are created to do, they are giving glory to God. When farmers, nurses, factory workers, teachers, and custodians do well what farmers, nurses, factory workers, teachers, and custodians are supposed to do, they are giving glory to God. When corn stalks produce corn, when dogs bark, when cats chase down mice, when parents change babies diapers, when grandpas hand out cookies and ice cream, when law enforcement officers enforce laws, when politicians do politics in honest fashion, they are giving glory to God. The glory of God is in fact, the goal of all creation.
Secondly, the kingdom of God is like people who have been awakened to the reality that Here and now, we glory in the (cross of Christ). (Repeat after me.) The world imagines that true glory is to be found in earning, saving up, spending, and investing money, but the Church knows that true glory is to be found in Jesus Christ suffering under Pontius Pilate, and crucified until he was dead and buried. The world imagines that true glory is found in position, power, and popularity, but the Church knows that it is all about serving, sacrificing, and selflessness.
Finally, the kingdom of God is like a congregation of believers who have been awakened to the promise that in Christ, The best is (yet to come) (Repeat after me). The older and the wiser they get, the more they agree with Ted, “What the heck is there to be afraid of.” They agree with mom and others who pray that they can just fall asleep and wake up in the arms of Jesus. They see the work of missions and witnessing as the work of one group of beggars telling another group of beggars where they can find bread. They agree with Paul on death row who declared, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” And again, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To God alone be glory both here and now, and into eternity.
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