Jesus baptized and tempted
First in a series, “Jesus On The Way To Cross” 2/18
Genesis 22:1-18 // James 1:12-18 // Mark 1:9-15
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the season of Lent and beyond, we are turning toward our Gospel readings and understanding the way that we are on the Road with Jesus, on the way to the cross, seeing Jesus in all of his hiddenness and in all of his glory, even as we travel the road to his death and resurrection.
We are seeing Jesus on the way. I don’t do as much traveling nowadays as I did before, but I remember the days when I hit the road pretty often. There are a few waypoints that I’ll always remember: mile marker 72 on Highway 41 near Allenton always marked the last miles home from Green Bay. The Horicon Marsh with its Great Blue Herons always marked halfway to Grandma and Grandpa Utech’s house, and Ames, Iowa marked halfway from my vicarage in Nebraska to Laura up in the Cities.
But what I remember the most today is the way that my little town of West Bend Wisconsin looked every time I left it. Every time I went to college, or to camp, or to Seminary school, every time I left my childhood home, I can see in my mind’s eye the route out of town, past the Public High school that I took swim lessons at, past the Egbert and Guido’s Citgo gas station, take a right at what’s now a roundabout, a left on county road P, and then you’ll be past the County fair Grounds before getting on the highway and off you go.
There was nostalgia even in the moment of leaving, of going off on a journey, and it makes every familiar thing have a newer meaning – perhaps not newer, but a deeper meaning.
This is the first Sunday in Lent, after Ash Wednesday. We push ashes on our head to remember our sin and our fate and the hope we have in Jesus alone. And this is the first Sunday IN Lent. Note that it is a Sunday IN Lent, not of Lent. It is meant to be a little Easter within a season of repentance. Today, we begin a journey, one that many of you have gone through many times, some of you none at all, a particularly and peculiarly Christian journey, six weeks of tracing the moments of Jesus on the way to the cross.
Today, we start at the beginning, with this really interesting beginning of the Gospel of Mark. After his introduction, we see Jesus splash onto the scene in two fascinating events. He is baptized, to fulfill all righteousness, revealing that he is the eternal son of the Father, the second person of the Trinity, revealing the glory of our God who is three in one and one in three, just try to wrap your mind around that, and then as he is led and directed by the spirit, he’s flung out into the wilderness immediately – cast out (that’s the same word used when he casts out demons) there by the will of the Holy Spirit – to be tempted by Satan. How could that happen? Why did that happen?
We see here side by side the height of his Godhood and the fullness of his manhood. We see here that he is absolutely divine and that he is completely human.
Jesus, the one in whom the Father is well-pleased, is tempted by Satan, by the accuser, whose desires are disordered and who seeks to disorder Jesus’s desires. Disordered. That’s a word I lift from a 4th Century kind of a guy, St. Augustine of Hippo. Sin isn’t just doing stuff wrong, even though that’s one way of saying it. Sin is desiring things – even good things – out of order, desiring a thing without caring about the consequences.
First, we turn to the Gospel reading and our Epistle reading. James tells us, Desiring gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown leads to death. This is a strong warning against desire, against sin, against the dis-ordering of what God has ordered and called good in its time.
What do we desire the most? I would imagine most of us desire good things. To be free from decline. To have the freedom to make our own choices. To have pleasure without consequence. To have a happy family. To live a life of consequence. Those are good desires.
But what does it mean to desire God above all things? In other words, for the Christian, what does it mean to have rightly ordered desires?
That's a good question. And, I’ll tell you, there’s no answer in our text. Or, at least Jesus doesn’t turn to us and look us in the eye and tell us straightaway. No, the answer is just like the answer to almost every big question in life; it is far more subtle; it is more simple, and because of that, it is more difficult to explain than it is to show.
Let me give you a silly, small example. My son Benjamin wakes up with disordered desires. He wants to eat breakfast without changing his clothes. He wants to play without changing his diaper. He wants to have his shoes on but doesn’t want to put on socks. And it is my task as a parent to order him rightly. To help him with his PJ’s so that we can change his diaper. To change his diaper so that we can put on clothes and socks. To put on clothes so that we can get on shoes. To get all ready so that we can go downstairs.
To have your desires rightly ordered means to have the purpose in mind. To know in the difficult days of raising your children that your every action isn’t supposed to keep them happy; it’s supposed to raise them up as men and women of God and that’s going to be difficult and frustrating at times. To find in the days when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, days when you don’t know the significance of your actions, that God’s calling is both far-reaching and immediate; he has a plan to form you into something that you are not now even as his calling is for you to serve whomever is immediately around you. To know that in days of declining health that your roost is ruled by the one who promises forgiveness of sins, resurrection from the dead, and life everlasting.
Second, we turn to the Gospel and the Old Testament reading. Jesus was tempted. Abraham was tested. Did you catch that difference in wording from the Old Testament to the Gospel? One was tempted but the other was tested. Is there a difference there? Why, yes, there is!
The first difference is that Jesus is being tempted by Satan and Abraham is being tested by God. But the real temptation we have – see what I did there? – the real temptation we have is to think that they are totally separable things. No, the second difference – and the one that matters – between tempting and testing is in the – and here’s that word again – it’s in the purpose.
Consider this. You see a man surrounded by boys. He’s yelling at them, telling them to get on the ground, telling them to run, telling them to do this over and over again. Is he a bully or is he a coach? The difference is in the purpose. The bully’s purpose is to humiliate you. The coach’s purpose is different. The coach isn’t there to humiliate you but to put you through the trials that shape you into a different person.
And, when we apply this at the cosmic scale, we find that these happen all at once. God is testing, and the devil is tempting. One is scheming for our failure, and the other is refining us by fire.
In all things, the devil would tempt you with the purpose that you fail, that you fall, that you are humiliated, that you are pushed down. In all things God would test you with the purpose that you would look at him, that you would order your desires correctly, that you would find comfort in his other worldly grace, that you would hold the good things and the bad things of life with open hands.
So, whom would you believe? How will you order your desires?
As we stand at the precipice, looking on at this familiar journey in Lent, we see Jesus on the way. We see him beginning the beginning of the end. We see that he is True God because his life is a sufficient ransom for all mankind. In him, our God is well-pleased to overcome death. He is True Man, tempted in every way that we are tempted, suffering and dying our death for us.
His way gets harder, not easier, from this point on. And even though his life ends in the death that the devil planned for him, it continues on into the empty tomb and the eternal purpose of his Father in heaven.
The kingdom of God is like a young man, often frustrated, often petty, often distracted. It’s easy for him to look down, it’s easy for him to wander. But the Spirit in his baptism has taken ahold of him and has made it a habit to lead him through testing, to remind him often of the eternal purpose that his God has for him, and to lift his eyes to the cross of his Savior.
Amen and Amen.
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.
Luther: Awakening to the Scriptures
Fifth in a series of six 2/4
Isaiah 40:21-31 // 1 Corinthians 9:16-27 // Mark 1:29-39
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today traces the themes of 1 Corinthians 9… hear these words, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” Our text thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are nearing the end of the six-week season of Epiphany, the season after Christmas, named for the Greek word, epiphanos, which means “that which is revealed in the light. That which the light shines upon.
In this particular season of Epiphany, we’re seeing the light of the gospel shine upon Luther awakening him to the five solas of his faith. We’ve been seeing the big events of his life, as he knows salvation through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, by grace alone, and now today, revealed in Scripture alone.
Awakening to the heart language.Let me read to you a familiar verse, from the Gospel of John. Houtos gar, agapesen ho theos ton kosmon, hoste ton huion ton monogena edoken, hina pas ho pisteuon eis auton mei apolytai all’ echai zoan aionion.… that didn’t make sense, right? Those were the words of John 3:16, words that you know very well. But you didn’t understand. That’s because those words were in Greek. In order to understand the meaning behind the words, you have to have them translated for you, spoken in words you can grasp: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.
When I was in college, I didn’t always want to become a pastor. There was a time where I thought and prayed seriously about being a missionary and Bible translator. I read books, I talked with recruiters, and I went to retreats, to do some soul-searching. Eventually, I concluded that the Lord was not leading me to Bible translation… yet… But there was one concept that struck a particular chord with me as I went through the orientation for Bible translation. Lutheran Bible Translator’s mission is to translate the Bible into the heart language of the people. The heart language of the people.
This means, the Bible should be translated into the language that the people laugh in, that they cry in, that they get angry in and that they think in. This is the language with which we need to tell them that Jesus loves them. In a way where there are no barriers, where there is no misunderstanding. The language of the heart. Their heart language.
We turn to Martin Luther. After leaving the Diet of Worms with his imperial protections revoked, Luther knew that it was only a matter of time before he was branded an outlaw, and the smart money of the time would have been on the Emperor sending assassins to ambush, attack, and kill him in short order.
But that’s not what happened. You see, Frederick the Wise, his ruler, arranged for some of Luther’s friends to kidnap him. They stood up his wagon. They took him and threw him on a horse, and after a terrifying night ride, they told him the whole story.
He spent the next year in the Castle Wartburg, under the name Junker George, Knight George. And there, in the Castle Wartburg, under this name, the whole world thinking him dead, his only books a Hebrew Bible and a copy of the Greek New Testament, he translated the New Testament into German.
1500 words a day for three months, doing something that hadn’t been done before, something that couldn’t have been done before. You see, they had only reclaimed the Greek New Testament in the years before Luther. Luther had to make up new words in German to complete his translation, and his translation literally changed the language, forming it into something it wasn’t before.
This was, without a doubt, the most lasting contribution that Luther made. Germans could read the word of God in their heart language. It’s so deeply held that it’s hard for us to imagine a world without the Scriptures in our language. It’s almost morally reprehensible to think of the Scriptures un-translated, or available in Latin, it’s that far into our DNA.
You see this in our Gospel reading – Jesus, the one who taught and acted with authority, is teaching and preaching and healing and casting out demons and retreating and praying and advancing and doing everything else that goes along with his teaching. Which leads us to lesson number one, that our Gospel is a Word from God that transforms every area of our life. It isn’t just an intellectual word, even though knowledge is a part of it. It isn’t just an emotional word, even though emotion will almost certainly come because of it. It isn’t just a physical word, even though God makes a habit of incarnating his greatest miracles. It isn’t just a reasonable word, even though in the deepest sense, the conscience and the natural world witness to it. It is a Word from God that transforms every area of our life, even as it forms us as one community under our God.
Our Scriptures give us a common language. The words of our Scriptures form us – and note that I used the word “us”…. That’s plural. The Scriptures form us. They give us a common language to laugh and to cry, to love and to hurt, and they give it not by blood, not by our interests, not by our likes or dislikes, but instead they bind us together by the experience of our God and the language we receive to describe that experience.
Point number two is that this Gospel, it transforms every area of our life as it turns our hearts toward our God. Listen to Isaiah…. How do you imagine he would have spoken this? Do you think he would have thundered it? Would he have said it with a gentle smile? You hear all of his rhetorical questions – Have you not seen? Have you not heard? You hear his evocative language. Our God is the one who sits above the circle of the earth. He makes princes to be like nothing. How comforting that would have been to Luther!
To be a Christian, to turn toward our God, to be formed by the Scriptures, it leads us inevitably to this point, the one that Isaiah makes, the one that we see in the life of Luther, and that’s this: our lives will go more differently than we’ve ever planned. Reality is far bigger and wilder than we could ever imagine. Our God is greater than we will ever know. And – not but – and the God who sits above the circle of the earth is the one who came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
Point number three is that this Gospel, it transforms every area of our life to turn our hearts toward our neighbor. Luther’s phrase as he was translating was “German nightingales can sing as sweetly as Roman finches.” That is to say, the Gospel can sound just as sweet in this language as in that. Or, to go a step further, the Gospel that we speak is a Gospel that we act, is a Gospel that we think, is a Gospel that we share. Paul says it even better. To the Jew I translate the Gospel into Jewish terms. To the Greek I translate it into Greek terms. To the weak I am as the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might save some.
Our God incarnates his Word in his people. He gives us his Word to form us in every way, and it has a lasting effect on us for the length of our days.
A few months ago, I shared with our high school youth on the tragic death in our congregation… taken too early… the family gathered around the hospital bed… And we took the Lord’s Supper. I’ll tell you this, that the Lord’s Supper means something all on its own. It offers life and forgiveness and salvation, for all who believe, as often as we would take it. And for the one who has faithfully taken it for year after year, it means something more. Every time you imagine eating the feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, it prepares you to find comfort there in the days of mourning and loneliness. Every time you find peace and strength in a regular way where God has promised to give you peace and strength, it prepares you to find peace and strength there when all other ground is shifting sand. Every time, you cry out to your God for strength, he absolutely hears your prayer, and – not but – and every time you do, it forms you by the Scriptures to look a little more closely and see a little better and listen a little closer and hear a little deeper, how your God in Jesus Christ loves you so.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man who can be distracted by so many things. Life could take so many different turns. Still through it all the calm and caring voice of his Father in heaven calls out to him in the Scriptures. The storms of life blow on, but as he grows older, he learns to listen for the comfort in the midst of the storm, and for the cry of his neighbor in need. And the more he listens, the more he hears.
Amen and amen.
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.
Luther: Awakening to Christ
Third in a series of six, Luther: Awakening 1/14
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 // 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 // Mark 1:14-20
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon today includes these words from Romans 1:16-17. Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For, in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith, for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We’ve reached the season of Epiphany, which means “Revealing, or “Light.” We repented in Advent candlelight to prepare for Christ. We celebrated Christmas Eve as “the Dawn of redeeming Grace.” And now we move onto the full day of the Epiphany season and the awakening of God’s people to the full significance of their faith.
Two weeks ago, we traced Martin Luther’s awakening to faith in his baptism. Last week, we saw him awaken in fear as he hears the call of God. Today we see him Awakening to Christ. For the description of Luther’s life and world, we draw from Eric Metaxas and James Kittelson’s biographies of Luther.
Awakening to one little thing that changes everything. Three little stories as we begin, to frame our discussion for today. Story number one, when you are in a relationship, and you have a little puppy love, and you think everything is going well, but after you break up, your friends point out to you all of the annoying habits, all of the little things that you never saw. Awakening changes everything.
Story number two, when you’re a teenager, it’s easy to take your parents for granted, and when you’re in college, your parents seem to get smarter, but it’s really in your middle twenties, when the furnace goes out for the first time, and you call your dad in the middle of the night, and he’s able to walk you through the fix, over the phone, from memory. You start to look back and see how much you missed, all of the little things you never saw. Awakening changes everything.
This changes everything. Have you ever read a book that kept you on your toes so much that you read until the very end, and in the last chapter, the author lets something out that changes everything else that you’ve read? You have to go back and read the book again, from back to front, to see how it changes everything.
C.S. Lewis wrote a book – the Pilgrim’s Regress, where the protagonist, as he reaches his goal, sweeps back through and sees how his vantage point changes every trial and test up to that point. Awakening changed everything.
Two stories from Luther’s life in 1517, two places where he awakened to Christ. Story number one comes while Luther was on the toilet. Diese Kunst hat mir der Spiritus Sanctus auf diss Cloaca eingeben. The Holy Spirit gave me this art while I was on the Cloaca. While I was on the toilet. While I was on the john.
You see, the only copy of the Bible that he could access was in the library of the Cloaca tower, and Cloaca meant Latrine, or bathroom. Now, we don’t know if he was in the tower or if he was actually sitting on the porcelain throne, but this we know by his own writings: (and I’m going to quote him at length here)
“At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, [this is Romans 1:17] “In it [in the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed,” as it is written [the righteous shall live by faith]. There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith… Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Thus a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Hereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.
And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘Righteousness of God.’ Thus that place in Paul for me truly the gate to paradise.”
This 34 year old man was 24 when he was ordained as a monk. He got his doctorate when he was 29, and he had been getting up to lecture at 6am, lecturing his way through Psalms, Galatians, Hebrews and Romans, and it was as he searched the Scriptures – and can you imagine searching the Scriptures for hours a day, for five years, listening and listening and listening to God until you found his answer?
It was this moment – a moment on the john or in the tower – whereupon Luther looked back on his entire life and saw it in a different light… he looked forward and saw his worth as an entirely different and unearthly worth. He saw his present as a place full of hope and peace because the God of the universe had put his righteousness like a cloak around his shoulders.
And then we get to story number two, the posting of the ninety-five theses. There was nothing particularly dramatic about him posting them for debate, except that they were the first step of the rest of his life. There may have gone the way of many others’ attempts to reform the practice of the church except that John Tetzel, the indulgence seller was in the area and became enraged by it. It may have stopped there if the Archbishop Albrecht hadn’t had incredible debt and needed the sales of indulgences so that he didn’t have to pay up to the mafia of the time. It wouldn’t have lasted long if all kinds of printing presses hadn’t thought it would be a best-seller (and it was). It would’ve been done if Frederick the Wise, the ruler of Luther’s Saxony, hadn’t been against indulgences from the beginning, because he had a relic collection that made him a lot of money. It would’ve stopped with Luther being handed over to the Pope – the church just would’ve asked the holy roman empire to invade Saxony -- if it hadn’t been in the days when Frederick the Wise was one of Seven electors to choose the next emperor.
Here’s the point. His survival amid the great powers and happenstance that meted out the rest of his days was through Christ alone. Everything about his future changed, it took on different worth, in Christ alone. And with these stories in mind, we turn to our texts.
First, we see how the gospel changes our past. It’s remarkable in our text that the Assyrians repent. Without going into too much detail, the Assyrians were nasty enemies of Israel and they had done real damage to the people of God. What reason do they have for listening to a prophet from little Israel? What reason do they have for believing him? And yet they do. You see the Assyrians in their capital Nineveh repent in our Old Testament reading, but the most remarkable response of the whole narrative was the action of God. You see, with the mountain of sin that the Assyrians have racked up against Israel, still it is true that “He who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Or as I say it to my 7th and 8th graders, if Hitler himself had dropped to his knees in the bunker before his life ended and asked forgiveness, forgiveness would be his. The Gospel changes our past.
Second, our epistle reading would remind us of how the free gift of the Gospel changes the way we think about the future. We view all in terms of eternity and salvation. We think through our marital differences in terms of God’s forgiveness and sacrifice. We act toward people we like and people we don’t like, not giving others what we think they deserve but giving them what they need, because the hour is short and the time is quickly approaching.
Some people ask the question, “What do I want my obituary to say?” and I appreciate that, but I wonder, how much more we could remember the cosmic view. “How does this give glory to the God of the universe?”
Third, our Gospel lesson bids us do as Luther did: after searching the Scriptures, after honestly struggling, it bids us hear the call of Jesus and act. The call of Jesus calls us out of our passive Christianity. It calls us to act on the knowledge that we’ve had from our mother’s knee. It calls us to leave behind good things, so that we can see the remarkable forgiveness of our God.
Now, let me be clear: the more you act, the more you’ll get it wrong. You’ll mess up. You’ll love people in the wrong way. But look at the Gospels – they are full of people getting it wrong, realizing it, and returning to the forgiveness, the salvation, as Luther would say it, to the righteousness of God.
They are full of the cross of Christ triumphing over everything that seems to be winning, the cross of Christ loving when all seems to be hate, the cross of Christ causing us to look back, to look forward, and to see that this one thing changes everything.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that believes with all their heart that their salvation is won through Christ alone, that they look at their lives through the lens of Christ alone and that their future and their past is in the hands of Christ alone.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther