In case you haven’t heard, Lutherans and other Christians- Catholics and Protestants all over the world are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this month. Legend has it that the Reformation began with Luther pounding 95 theses on the door of the church – the bulletin board of the day – arguing the need to reform the church and our lives to mirror Christ’s way rather than our own. The need for reform hasn’t ended. And so, today and for the next two Sundays, we will be focusing on the Reformation that Martin Luther began and that we need to continue so that people can continue to hear God’s Word, and receive God’s gifts of Faith and Grace.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, would you please pray with me?
God of Grace, give us faith to come to you, to hear your word and to act upon them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Martin Luther spoke simply and in the language of the people. He advocated: Word Alone. Faith Alone. Grace Alone. Now I know that this looks like three things – Word, Faith and Grace and not one thing – but they are bound together.
The Word Alone. As Lutherans, we understand “The Word of God” in three different ways. First, Jesus Christ is the Word of God. As we read in the beginning of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is revealed as the Word of God.
“The Word of God” is also understood as the preached and proclaimed Word of God. As Christians, we need to continue to read, hear and apply the Word of God to our daily lives.
Jesus, in our Gospel, challenges us to do this. He says, “Why do you call me “Lord, Lord” and do not do what I tell you?”
Jesus wants us to not only hear his words and but also to act on them. After all, if you are the body of Christ – and you are – then your words and your actions matter because you – your life and your words and your actions -- are a witness of and to Jesus, the Word of God.
The Word of God is Jesus and is proclaimed by our words and actions. But for most people, the first thing that they think of when they hear “The Word of God” is the Bible. And it is. The written Word of God is how faith is shared from generation to generation. And thanks to Martin Luther – and other reformers before him and since – the Bible, while it was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, has been translated into hundreds of languages and dialects.
Translation of the Bible provides access to God’s Word -- but translations always involve choices. For example, if you were trying to translate the word “snow” into Innuit, the language of one group of Eskimos, you would have to choose which of the 50 words for snow you meant. In the same way, Bible translators have to choose whether to translate the Hebrew word “hesed” as justice or as righteousness. We think of different things when we think of “justice” and when we think of “righteousness.” And yet, it is the same Hebrew word.
Another challenge is how words change over time. Confirmands often ask why the Catechism says we are to “Fear and love God.” I explain that it’s because the definitions of the words – and how we use them have changed. Originally, in Old English, “awesome” and “awful” both meant “fearful.” But over time, “awful” came to mean “frightful or exceedingly bad” and “awesome” meant “reverential wonder with a tinge of fear” but now “awesome” is described as “inspiring” or “mind-bogglingly amazing.” That’s quite a change. So now sometimes, in studying the catechism, instead of reading “we are to fear and love God” we read, “We are to be in awe of and love God.”
Yet, for all of its challenges, the Word of God provides a strong foundation. That’s what Jesus teaches in our Gospel lesson. Like the one who builds a house on the solid foundation of rock, the Word of God is our strong foundation. But just as not all of the materials that go into building a house are of the same strength, not all of the words of the scriptures are of the same strength either. Martin Luther describes the Bible as the manger in which Christ lies – and that all of the scripture that does not reveal Christ is “straw.” But… unlike Thomas Jefferson, he did not cut out the parts of the Bible that he did not like. Instead, he focuses on those words that reveal Christ to us – that reveal God and God’s way – and leaves the rest.
Have you ever been asked, “Are you a Bible Believing Christian?” As Lutherans, we can say, “Yes. We believe in the Word of God,” because we believe Jesus is the Word of God, the Word of God is proclaimed by us today and the Bible is the Word of God.
No one would have guessed that Martin Luther would be the witness to Christ that he became. After all, Martin Luther was the son of peasants – who did well enough in their business to send Luther to school. Their plan was for him to become a lawyer. But, as the story goes, in the middle of a severe lightning storm, Luther was afraid and out of concern for his soul he prayed to St. Ann that if he was spared, he would dedicate his life to God.
Luther survived the storm and ended up joining a monastery where he attempted to live a perfect life so as to make himself right with God. But, try as he might, Luther could not live up to what he thought that God demanded. Seeing Luther’s anguish, his spiritual advisor and superior, John Staupitz, sought to turn Luther from his negative inward searching to service. The religious order to which they belonged was not one of cloistered monks but rather friars whose mission to the church included service to the world. Wisely, Staupitz sent Luther to Wittenberg to study and teach at the university and to preach the Word at the Town Church.
It was in his study of the Word of God that Luther received what became the cornerstone of his theology, namely that it was the Word Alone – and not human teaching or understanding – that should guide him. No longer was he bound by what someone else taught. Trusting in and delving into God’s word, he discovered that God was not an angry God that demanded perfection. Instead, he discovered that God was gracious, forgiving and abounding in steadfast love. When Luther read passages like today’s reading from Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works,” his whole understanding of God’s relationship to people changed dramatically.” No longer did he have to prove himself to God – or reach as standard of perfection. Faith was a gift! And so was Grace! Instead of proving himself, he could confess his sins and shortfalls – and trust in God’s Grace.
The problem in Luther’s day was the corruption of the church selling access to God and making people feel unworthy of God’s love and grace. We don’t have this same problem today. And yet… people still suffer from feelings of unworthiness or despair or anger at God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we fall short – every day – of being the people that God would have us to be. We are not as gracious, loving and hospitable as God desires for us. We forget to love one another as Christ has loved us. We are still just as much in need of Grace Writer Anne Lamott described Grace this way: Today, Grace meets you exactly where you are, at your most pathetic and hopeless, and it loads you into its wheelbarrow, and tips you out somewhere else, in ever so slightly better shape, which feels like a miracle.”1
God is gracious, merciful and abounding in steadfast love. And for us this means that we have a God of second chances. We still strive to be better, but we can count on God’s grace to see us through. Brothers and sisters – this is Good News indeed! And for this, I give thanks. Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
October 15, 2017
1~ Anne Lamott, in Sharpen Up – Lowering the Weapon, an article