Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon for Reformation and Confirmation Sunday (October 27, 2013)

Wordle: Untitled

“Here We Stand” (Psalm 119:46)

            “I will speak of your testimonies before kings, [O Lord,] and shall not be put to shame.”
            I’ve met and spoken to some fairly famous people in my life.  Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the Moon.  Bob Gibson, star pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960’s.  A handful of others.  But no kings.  Not even King Felix (of the Mariners).  As far as I know, the closest I ever came to meeting royalty was when I visited London over 20 years ago.  I stood across the street from the gates of Buckingham Palace and watched the changing of the guard.  But there was no sign of the queen.  No chance to shake her hand, much less say, “Howdy, Liz!”
            And what would you say if you had the chance to meet a king or a queen?  “Um, nice crown there, king.  How much is that thing worth?  So, what’s it like living in a palace?”  I’m afraid we’d be rather tongue-tied in the presence of someone of such significance.
            What would you say if you were called to confess your faith in the presence of a king?  Especially one that was hostile to what you believed?  Would you have the courage to stand firm in your conviction?  What if your life was on the line?
            That was the case for Martin Luther.
            Not at first, though.  Luther’s life wasn’t immediately threatened when he first began to question certain teachings of the church of his day.  On October 31, 1517 – almost 500 years ago – the up-to-then obscure monk and professor in Wittenberg, Germany posted a series of statements (95 to be exact) on a church door.  That was the community bulletin board of the day.  Medieval Facebook.  He just wanted to discuss things.  Talk about this business of selling indulgences, those little slips of paper that you could buy that gave you a free pass right into heaven when you died.  No stopping off in purgatory, the place where the Roman Church teaches you have to go in order to pay off any debts to God before you get to heaven.  And you could buy one for your dead relatives, too, just by making a few coins in the coffer ring so Grandpa Schmidt’s soul out of purgatory could spring.
            Four years later, Luther’s life was on the line.  He stood before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms.  This was the gathering of all the princes and leaders of the central European cities and states that banded together as the Holy Roman Empire.  Luther’s writings of the previous four years were gathered on a table in front of him.  The pope’s representative demanded that Luther recant.  Take back all that he had written.  If he didn’t, he would be branded a heretic, an outlaw, deserving of death.  Knowing the seriousness – and potential finality – of the charges, Luther asked for 24 hours to think and pray about it.  He came back the next day, and this is what he said:

“Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.  I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.” (LW 32.112)

            Luther was found guilty of being a heretic, but he was never punished because the ruler of his territory was sympathetic to his cause and gave him safe haven.  Luther was allowed to continue teaching and preaching and writing.  Christians across the centuries are indebted to him for focusing us on the truth of the infallible Scriptures that had been covered over by traditions and the words of fallible men.  And this was the truth that had been obscured: that we are justified by grace through faith alone in Christ Jesus apart from the works of the Law.
            “Here I stand.”  Those famous words have echoed down the chambers of time.  Luther stood before kings and princes and bishops and confessed the truth of God’s Word.  Luther stood like Peter before the Sanhedrin, who, when told to not to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus, said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 529).  In the face of opposition and the threat of death, the apostles, Luther, and many other faithful servants of the Lord lived and believed the words we chanted earlier, “I will speak of your testimonies before kings, [O Lord], and will not be put to shame … The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (Ps. 119:46; Ps. 34:22).  They knew that they had a Redeemer and that they were forgiven through his shed blood.  They took refuge in their Redeemer.  Therefore, no matter how many men condemned them, the Lord would never condemn them.  The Lord Jesus himself took their condemnation for their sins upon him at the cross, rose in victory, and promised resurrection and eternal life to them.
            [To the confirmands:]  Here you stand.  Well, you’re sitting down right now.  But in a few moments, you will stand here before the altar and publicly confess your faith, the faith that was given to you when you were baptized.  You were babies back then.  You weren’t able to speak for yourself.  Your parents and sponsors spoke on your behalf.  But God was still at work in the waters of Holy Baptism.  He marked you as his own.  He washed your sins away.  He gave you his Holy Spirit.  He gave you the Gospel which created faith in your heart.
            Here you stand after two summers of instruction in the Bible and the Small Catechism.  Here you stand confessing your faith with your own voice before family and friends.  In the days ahead, you can confess your faith before friends and classmates, teachers and coaches, and someday employers and co-workers.  Will God ever call you to confess your faith before kings?  You never know.  Only God knows what he has in store for you.  Hopefully, your life will not be on the line like it was for the disciples, or Luther, or for many Christians in other parts of the world today.  But no matter where the Lord takes you, no matter what joys and sorrows you may face in your life ahead, remember that you have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  You can always take refuge in the Lord.  You will never be put to shame (Rom. 9:33; Rom. 10:11; 1 Pet. 2:6).  Your Lord Jesus took the shame of your sins with him all the way to the cross (Heb. 12:2).  You are forgiven.
            Here we stand.  As a congregation.  As a body.  As a communion and a community.  A fellowship of like-minded individuals bound together by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.  [Like these young people before us today,] Each individual Christian believes for themself.  No one can believe for you.  At the same time, we are baptized into a body, the Body of Christ, the Holy Christian Church.
            Here we stand, confessing our sins together, repenting and turning away from our sins.  Here we stand, confessing our faith together, turning to Jesus in faith and trust.  Here we stand, confessing THE faith to the world … proclaiming Christ crucified and risen for the sins of the world … that people are justified by God’s grace as a gift, they receive that justification through faith, and through trusting that Christ Jesus has paid the price for their sins with his shed blood.
            At the end of today’s Epistle, Paul asks, “What becomes of our boasting?”  He is replying to Jews who boast in their heritage and Gentiles who boast in their wisdom and learning.  On Reformation Day, it’s tempting to boast about being Lutheran.  Instead, we ought to do all we can to avoid giving that perception.  All that we have is a gift from God himself and handed down to us from our forefathers in the faith.
            Paul reminds us where our boasting lies.  “What becomes of our boasting?” he asks.  “It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:27-28).  If we’re going to boast on a day like today, then we should do as Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:31, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31) … and in Galatians 6, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).  And we dare not let a Reformation celebration go by without mentioning this passage from Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
            You may never be called to confess your faith before kings, princes, or emperors.  But we are each called to confess our faith wherever we stand.  Here.  Out there.  Wherever God sends us.  For the sake of those who still need to hear God’s sure and certain promise of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus the Savior.
            That is a solid foundation on which to rest your hope and say, “Here I stand.”


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