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.
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 1/7
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