Reformation: Present Blessings

Luther Rose
Martin Luther’s seal began to be printed on the cover page of Martin Luther’s books beginning in the 1520s and it summarizes the Gospel. The cross reminds us that it is faith in the Crucified One that saves us.

Lessons: Revelation 14:6-7, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36
Hymns: LSB 645, 942, 947, 656, 953, 960, 865, 555, 617, 582

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Many talk about doing things together as families so they can “make memories.” I’ve seen the phrase “making memories” quite a bit in RV groups on social media, since we own a camper. Living in the present, doing things together in a family can build many memories for families to cherish. That’s why we take pictures and why many make photo books or scrap books. We want to preserve our memories.

      God has endowed us with the ability to remember, to call up memories, and to see events from our past. Our ability to remember is not limited to family events, but God especially wants us to remember Him and His Word. That is why Jesus begins our Gospel, saying, “If you abide in My Word” (John 8:31-32).

      We like to fill our minds with all sorts of interesting facts. Some are so good at it they become contestants on Jeopardy. Some learn facts to know their trade well, others love to know all the latest statistics in sports, others remember the small nuances between makes and models of vehicles—you get the point—we remember those things that interest us.

      Of great importance to all of us ought to be the Word of God. What is more interesting than hearing how we can come into the presence of God, be saved from our sin, and receive the gift of eternal life? There’s nothing more important, nor is there anything more relevant to our lives than Jesus justifies (forgives) sinners through His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross—and this is received by faith. And so, Jesus says that when we know the truth of His Word, the truth shall set us free.

      We are not certain on how the events were passed on from generation to generation before Moses wrote Genesis. That single book covers a span of thousands of years. While it is possible Adam wrote some of the events he experienced, Noah wrote some, Abraham some, and so on to serve as the basis for the book of Genesis, it is also possible that these events were passed on from generation to generation through oral tradition—people speaking the wonderful works of God—recounting time and time again the events that had happened in the past.

      That is an important aspect of who we are—not only as humans, but as God’s children. As we recount the awesome events God accomplished throughout the Scriptures, these historic events reveal salvation history. Even more significant, they reveal to us our Lord and Savior, Jesus who was sent to pay for the sins of the entire world. The Law and the Prophets bore witness to the righteousness of God that is credited to us Christians through faith in Jesus. The very righteousness of Christ is applied to us because Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law and He took our sins away through His bitter sufferings and death on the cross. We use our memories to recount these realities—as we tell and retell Biblical events.

      It is not only given for us to speak of God’s testimonies of the Scriptures, but it is also fitting for us to recount the work of God throughout Church history. Two years ago, we celebrated our centennial. We published an updated history book. Its pages not only give a brief history of our congregation, but many pages cover our Christian beliefs as they are imprinted into the glass of our sanctuary and narthex. It is a book filled with the Gospel.

      Of course, on this day as we observe the Reformation, we love to speak of the man God raised up to nail the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg to recover the saving Gospel, which had been hidden in darkness and false belief. We rejoice that Martin Luther translated the Bible into his own native language. We rejoice that the focus of salvation by grace through faith in Christ was recovered. We give thanks to God that bad practices and false beliefs were stopped, and the pure Gospel was once again proclaimed.

      At the same time, we must not kid ourselves into thinking that what happened in the past makes everything perfect in the present. Many churches were founded by Christians who held to pure doctrine but, as time went by, their members no longer cared about the truth of God’s Word or, like sheep, were led astray by church leadership or the winds of public opinion. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Lutheran churches across America that once shared the same beliefs and practices that we do. But in time, their focus shifted away from Christ and the truth found in the Bible. Today, they no longer look or sound Lutheran.

      When we do not know history, we often don’t see how the decisions made today can shape tomorrow. For when we know history, then we will see how decisions made in the past have affected future generations, including ours. For example, in the 1930s, there was a growing trend among exegetes in the LCMS (that is, those who interpret the Bible in the Missouri Synod) to get a little more creative with their interpretation of Scripture. This led to a great decline in regard for the Biblical narrative, ultimately leading to the Walkout and Seminex in the 1970s. This was a dark time in our church body’s past. Most professors and a large portion of the St. Louis student body at Concordia Seminary denied many miracles recorded in the Bible. They were higher critics. They no longer abided in God’s Word and so they no longer knew the truth.

      Thankfully our Synod’s history doesn’t end there. But what if no one resisted their false teachings? What if everyone just said, “I’ll believe what I’ve been taught and won’t get involved?” What if everyone just blindly accepted their false teachings? Our Synod would be destroyed by her lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). But instead, people fought. Laity and clergy fought together. They resisted the false teachings. They promoted the truth. And we are beneficiaries of this. Some of you may remember those days. They were dark, but the light of the Gospel prevailed.

      In our day, we must keep on contending for the truth. We do this not only for ourselves, but also for our children and the future generations. That way they, too, can sing “God’s Word is our Great Heritage.” A temptation, though, is to live in the past. We certainly have a great heritage, and we must recount the great works of God throughout history. But our past heritage is not what saves us today. Remember, Jesus said, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed and you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.” He begins with an “If.” This shows that many won’t abide in the Word of Christ. So, if you meet someone who says, “Yeah, I grew up in the church, but I don’t go anywhere today. I’m still a Christian, though,” most likely that person no longer possesses saving faith. Most likely that person has little or no trust in Christ. Growing up in the Church is not the same as sustaining saving faith throughout one’s adult life. Getting baptized and confirmed in our youth does not mean we can put our Christian walk and conversation in the rearview mirror for the rest of our lives. That type of life is certainly not abiding in God’s Word, and our faith will eventually shrivel up and die.

      In the same way, having a congregation in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod does not mean it will always be a faithful congregation. If you visit other LCMS churches across the country, you will quickly learn that we are not all the same. Some continue to adhere to pure doctrine and keep their focus on Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins. Others have mixed truth with lies. Bad practices abound. Many do what is right in their own eyes. Our Synod does not do enough to combat error. In fact, many things get covered up by talking about how calm things are in our Synod. It’s easy to go along with the flow and watch things gradually decline. If we are not diligent to contend for the truth, our Synod could suffer a worse and darker period than it did during the 1970s.

      As much as we love making memories and as good as it is to recount the past, we must be on guard so that our personal Christian identities or congregational identities are not based just on the past. We live in the here and now. In the Divine Service, Jesus meets us today with His gifts. God the Holy Spirit is present right here and right now through the means of grace to work faith us. The Word always needs to be preached into our ears. Since we keep on sinning, we continually need to hear the Absolution. We need to frequently present ourselves before the altar of our Lord to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus.

      And we must not forget how important it is to keep on contending for the faith, telling the next generation. Asaph wrote in Psalm 78:1-7, “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”

      We are blessed to have memories. Let’s live in the present, receiving the pure milk of the Word, recalling our past, and contending for the truth of Christ, that future generations here may know Christ. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen