Lessons: Revelation 14:6-7, Romans 3:19-28, Matthew 11:12-19
Hymns: TLH 260, LSB 942, 947, 656, 953, 960, 658, 555, 617, 582
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Should we really be surprised by all the misplaced priorities we see in the world? It’s fine to love baseball and be excited about the World Series. It’s generally fine to dress up our kids and let them get some candy. It’s fine to enroll our children in various sports.
But do people know what else is taking place this week? Do they know that Tuesday is Reformation Day and Wednesday is All Saints’ Day? Do they know how important these two days are for Christians? Do they know why they should be in Church on bended knee with repentance and thanksgiving for what God in Christ mercifully does in His Church?
Look at all the Halloween decorations! Compare that to the number of homes that are showing that Christians live there. Look at the hundreds of children who will be out this afternoon getting candy right here in Lexington! Compare that to the number of children who are brought into the Lord’s house on this day. Look at the hours our youth spend so they can be on a team. Compare that to the amount of time they spend in the Word of God through church attendance and family devotions.
As I see it, part of the problem is that people take the Gospel for granted. They assume everyone knows it, everyone has it, and everyone believes it. They want to go to Heaven, and they assume everyone they know is also going to Heaven. So, anything related to Christ and His Church (in their minds) can take a back seat to all the things that are supposed to bring meaning to life—like sports, trick or treating, or work.
When we go down this route, we quickly lose the very thing we thought we’d never lose. We lose the Gospel. Martin Luther described the Gospel like a passing shower. The shower comes upon one land, waters the land with the saving Gospel, and then moves on to another place. The Gospel moves on due to ingratitude. God withdraws His presence when people are unwilling to hear Him. Concerning all this, Luther wrote, “Buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast” (Luther’s Works 45:352).
If you think about it, the Church is always but one generation away from ceasing to exist. For if the faith is not passed down to the next generation, then it will be gone. Of course, God has promised to always preserve a remnant, but He has not guaranteed to preserve a remnant in all the places where the Gospel had once been preached. Places and lands that were once sanctified by the Word of God can become defiled as the Word leaves that area and the people return to paganism. But somewhere on Earth, the Word will still be preached to the joy and edification of God’s holy people.
What do we want in our place, right here in Lexington? What do we want for our children and our children’s children? We show what we want by the priorities we set and by the things we emphasize to our children. So if we want them to be Christian, we will teach them the way of Christ—making sacrifices so that we will be in presence of Christ through His Word. If we want them to love our Savior more than the fleeting things of the world, we will demonstrate our love toward Christ in their presence, especially by choosing church attendance over all the world’s vanities and temporary pleasures. If we want them to have a safe haven and a refuge in this crazy world, we will support generously the preaching of the Gospel in our congregation. We will not only be generous with our offerings, but also in charity toward our church and her members, and through our voices as we speak of the blessings we have in Christ.
I think a good question on Reformation Day for us to reflect on is will the Christian Church remain here? While we cannot see the future, we can look at the health of our congregation and our sister congregations. If we diagnose a congregation to be unhealthy, then work needs to be done to bring about improvement. Some would only look at the church’s attendance to gauge health—500 is healthy, 5,000 is super healthy, but 50 is unhealthy. However, that is not indicative of a congregation’s true health. Tiny churches can be healthy. Huge churches can have few who are actually faithful. Many large churches suffer from a stewardship problem—not that they’re struggling to make their budget, but their sheer size means many congregants can get away with giving very little. God loves cheerful givers who give sacrificially. Smaller churches rely on more members giving in this way. It is the good way. A congregation’s health can be gauged by attendance in this sense: how many are coming compared to the number on the church membership roster? If that percentage is low, then there’s clearly a health issue at hand.
Also, how well does the congregation sing? Do all participate? Do many cross their arms and stare off into space during the hymns, not even bothering to pay attention to the words? Those are indicators of poor health. Finally, how much do the church members want to adhere to pure doctrine as taught in Scripture and expounded in the Lutheran Confessions? Do they want to grow through listening intently at God’s Word during the sermon? Do many come to Bible Study? Are Bibles read at home? Will the congregation choose better practices guided by Scripture over that congregation’s own traditions? While our own congregation tolerates pure doctrine well—and many rejoice in it—I think there’s evidence that we have some room to grow and improve our health. More need to come to Bible study, especially among those who make decisions on behalf of our congregation (that is, the Voters). We need to strive for what is best so that our members of all ages grow in their knowledge and wisdom of Scripture. Training needs to be done for those of all ages in our congregation to become a better singing church—especially among the men. When children see dad or grandpa unwilling to sing, they are being trained that they should not sing either. Singing in church is not a performance. It is praying, praising, and giving thanks our loving Lord.
What I am saying in all this is that the work begun by Martin Luther at the Reformation is not over. It’s never over. There’s always work to be done. Teaching, preaching, and administering the sacraments cannot cease until our Lord comes. Passing on the faith must be a top priority. Sustaining the faith of those who have joined our church must also be ranked among the top. Same with reaching out to those in our community, in our families, and among our friends with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot assume they already know the Gospel of Christ and are going to Heaven.
Our reading from Romans tells us of the reality of our sin. In it, we heard, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20) and “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). If all have sinned, then all need a Savior. While Jesus died for the sins of the entire world, only those who believe in Jesus will receive salvation. Our reading from Romans declares, “now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:21-22) and we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:34-25) and “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28).
Salvation was earned for all by Jesus when He went to the cross bearing our sins in His Body, shedding His innocent Blood on our behalf, serving as the Sacrificial payment for our sin. While Jesus certainly paid for all sins of all people of all time, this does not mean forgiveness is automatically granted to all people. Instead, this forgiveness is received by grace through faith. Paul would later write in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Since this is how faith is obtained and sustained, then being in the Word needs to be of utmost importance for the Christian. It cannot be taken for granted, nor can it be assumed that everyone we know has it. If we really want our loved ones to join us in Heaven, we don’t assume their salvation; instead, we reach out to them in love with the Gospel, we do not stop encouraging them to come to church, and we pray for them and with them. This is loving them in Christ.
The Reformation begun by Luther continues. It began with a call to repentance. Our lives are to be that of continual repentance and returning to Christ our Savior. We are baptized into Christ. He feeds us His Body and Blood. In Him, we stand before God forgiven. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen