Be Like Martin Luther

“Be Like Martin Luther” – October 25, 2020

Psalm 46:1-3 – Reformation Sunday

Here we are at Reformation Sunday, the week of the year when we remember Martin Luther posting his list of grievances against the church establishment of the Catholic Church, more than 500 years ago in 1517. These 95 grievances against the Church sparked a movement of protest that was felt around the world. And thus, the Protestant Church was born.

Father Martin Luther – for he was a Catholic priest – was a sincere, devout follower of Jesus Christ. He thought long and hard about sin and confession, faith and grace. He also thought a lot about God’s Word, and eventually translated the whole Bible – both Old and New Testaments – into German, the common tongue of his day and area of Germany.

The Catholic Church establishment certainly had it in for Martin Luther! After defending himself against strident criticism from scholars and theologians, and legal challenges for years, the official verdict was not in Luther’s favor. Because he would not recant his views on God, salvation by faith, and the Bible, Luther was officially on the run from the establishment.

Which brings us to our Scripture reading for today. Psalm 46. Martin had a very difficult time of it for a number of years, running in fear for his life. Is it any wonder that this marvelous psalm recounting God’s strength and refuge was Luther’s favorite psalm?

This is Reformation Sunday, after all. What could be more appropriate than to read Luther’s favorite psalm? Except – this was not only a favorite Scripture reading of Martin Luther. He also was a composer and poet. /Luther wrote the words and music for our opening hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He used this psalm of comfort and refuge as a basis for this marvelous hymn.

In German, this hymn is called “Ein Feste Burg,” “a fortification that holds fast against any assault, a castle that can withstand every onslaught, a citadel that keeps those on the inside safe and secure from all attacks.” [1] Is anyone surprised that Martin Luther considered this comforting psalm his favorite? Even though everything is falling apart on all sides, he can stand safe and secure in his Lord.

I know Luther regularly prayed to God for protection and care, both internally as well as externally. Is that similar to us, today? In this year of the pandemic, with all the extreme weather events, the political disruption, and the wildfires of the past several months – the present situation resembles Psalm 46. “though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Sure, with everything going on in the world today, we have reason to be scared half to death! Yet, we have “a God who has been time-tested and, over and over again, can be trusted upon to keep you secure in your time of trouble. Either way – and in all times and circumstances – you have a God who has got you covered. That is what Psalm 46 declares. And that is what Luther wanted to proclaim in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”” [2]

This precious hymn written by Luther was not only a refuge from earthly disasters, but is also personal in nature. Rev. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran minister, mentions that she hears it “as much more personal now, knowing as we do that ‘the old satanic foe’ threatened him with the sorts of ‘woes’ one could only begin to understand if one has been there. The heart-wrenching, life altering death of a child, to name but one. The days and nights of struggling to hold on to faith when the Church which had borne the faith to him no longer lived up to its promises. The fear which must have possessed Luther as his very life was threatened.” [3]

Thinking back to last week’s sermon, where Moses and the Lord were hanging out on top of the mountain, Moses wanted to see the Lord. God told Moses straight out that Moses would die if he beheld the Lord face to face. Isn’t that the God we have right here, in Psalm 46? Even though the all-powerful God could make the earth melt, and destroy us if we simply look at Him.

That is one mighty, all-powerful God! And to think, that is also the God who has chosen us, called us by name, and named us God’s beloved children. The Lord is a God who is Lord Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Plus, the Lord is also a safe refuge, a comfort, one we can run to in times of great need. Praise God, I do not need to control everything.

Can we – you and I – loosen our tight grip on all we are clutching to our chests, knowing that God indeed holds everything? Including us?

This Reformation Sunday, I am not focused on God as our Mighty Fortress. Instead, Psalm 46 talks of a refuge, and a help in our great need.

Yes, God is indeed our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. That’s something to truly celebrate. Alleluia, amen.


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=754

Commentary, Psalm 46, Hans Weirsma, Reformation Day, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is not the only English translation of Luther’s “Ein Feste Burg.” Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth century Scottish commentator, offered this version: “A safe stronghold our God is still, a trusty shield and weapon.” Carlyle’s contemporary, George MacDonald, rendered stanza one, verse one, in this way: “Our God he is a castle strong, a good mailcoat and weapon.”

[3] https://dancingwiththeword.com/being-still-letting-go/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Keeping the Faith

“Keeping the Faith”

2 Tim 4-7 kept faith, purple

2 Timothy 4:6-9 – October 27, 2019

Happy Reformation Sunday! Yes, we celebrate and commemorate the beginning of the Reformation on the last Sunday of October each year. It is that time of year when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther tacked up his 95 Theses, or complaints, against the Catholic Church. He put them up on the chapel door at the University of Wittenberg, where he was a professor of theology, on All Hallows Eve, 1517—or, Halloween, October 31st.

Among other things, Martin Luther wanted the Catholic Church to be faithful to God in many practices. Being faithful was really important to Martin Luther! You know who else being faithful was important to? The Apostle Paul. Eileen read the end of the second letter Paul wrote to Timothy, and Paul strongly stressed being faithful to God. Just like him. Just like Martin Luther. Just like countless saints throughout the centuries. Keeping the faith, through thick or thin, through good times or bad, no matter what.

I always get sad when I read the second letter to Timothy, and especially the fourth chapter. That is the part where Paul is being up front with Timothy. He realizes he does not have very much time left here in this world. Paul was in prison in Rome for the second time, and this time, Paul did not have much hope of being freed. This is one of the last letters he expects to write to his good friend and protégé Timothy. What kinds of important things does Paul say in these last few paragraphs?

When other people know they are going to die soon—because of illness or other tragedy, somehow time becomes much more precious. Their internal and external focus becomes more acute. I think this was happening with the Apostle Paul, right here, where he told Timothy what was most on his heart.

What did he want to communicate to Timothy? Looking at this last chapter, we find so much on Paul’s mind. I would like to focus on two verses in chapter 4: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Paul had been through the wringer, as we read when Paul wrote about many of his experiences in the second letter to the church at Corinth. He lists that he has been put in prison repeatedly, been whipped, beaten with rods, given thirty-nine lashes, shipwrecked, then adrift on the sea for a day and a night, not to mention being cold, starved and thirsty repeatedly, in danger and on the run from all manner of people, for years at a time. What is more, Paul said he would do it all again for the sake of preaching the Good News, and knowing Jesus Christ crucified.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear Paul describe everything he has been through, I am in awe. And yes, I feel so insignificant, so unworthy even to be in Paul’s presence. Paul’s whole life is one huge example of keeping the faith.

As we come forward through the centuries, and learn more about Martin Luther, we can see that for years Martin was on the run from a bunch of different groups and from people sent by the Catholic Church. These wily guys wanted to prosecute Luther before a church court, and he argued his case again and again. Martin Luther was put through the wringer repeatedly.

True story: 1521, Martin was put on trial yet again, and finally offered the “opportunity” to say he recanted what he said and had written. Luther knew his response would get him in even deeper trouble, but that did not stop him. He boldly told the emperor, his officers and some leaders of the Catholic Church that he would not move. Martin said he was captive to the Bible, the Word of God, and he could not go against God. Many people remember Martin’s famous words, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Martin kept the faith and stayed true to God.

Have you—have I—ever felt put through the wringer for the sake of Jesus Christ? Just thinking about what the Apostle Paul and what Martin Luther went through, being put through the wringer is definitely not fun. Standing up for what is right and Godly and the God-honoring thing to do, or a certain way to pray, or even a specific way to worship God? All over the world, for centuries, any of these things could get you imprisoned or perhaps even executed. I am serious. This is not a joke.

According to Professor Dirk Lange, “Faith is not faith in one’s own abilities but God’s faith planted within us that turns us, despite the upheavals and setbacks and failures of life, into faithful workers in the vineyard.” [1] God-given and God-planted faith helped Paul and Martin to keep on going, and to keep the faith. Can that God-given faith help us to continue on, as well?

Professor Michael Jackson had such an intriguing idea about this verse. Let me share it with you: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith… all three verbs are in the perfect [tense]. Even though Paul is still alive and writing these words, he views his life lived for Christ as complete… and as my Greek teacher, Roger Hahn always loved to point out for the perfect tense – completed action that has continuing and ongoing repercussions… I like that idea – our finished lives continue to speak, to influence, to make a difference in the lives of those we have served. That’s how we leave a legacy!” [2]

Whether we have been on this earth only a few years or are in the later decades of life, how have our lives been used for God? What kind of legacy are you and I leaving? Have we—as Paul commanded Timothy—fought the good fight? Finished the race? Kept the faith in Christ Jesus? These are not simple questions. They are reflection questions, questions to ponder, and questions that I hope and pray we all bring to God.

I would like to close with some words of reflection from Joseph, Cardinal Bernadin, Cardinal of this Chicago archdiocese for a number of years. He was diagnosed with a rapidly moving cancer, which took his life. In the months before he died, Cardinal Bernadin wrote a final, short book: The Gift of Peace. I’ve read it, and it is so poignant.

I would like to read from the last chapter. “As I conclude this book, I am both exhausted and exhilarated. Exhausted because the fatigue caused by the cancer is overwhelming. Exhilarated because I have finished a book that is very important to me. As I write these final words, my heart is filled with joy. I am at peace…. I will soon experience life in a different way. Although I do not know what to expect in the afterlife, I do know that just as God has called me to serve Him to the best of my ability throughout my life on earth, He is now calling me home.” [3]

So similar to what Cardinal Bernadin wrote, Paul tells us God is leading him home, in these verses we are considering today. Just like Martin Luther, Paul tells us to keep the faith, just as he did. Just as Martin Luther kept the faith, just as Cardinal Bernadin did, too.

What is Paul’s charge to all of us, on this Reformation Sunday? Keep the faith. Know the faith, preserve the faith and see that faith in God gets passed on.

God willing, I will follow Paul’s charge. Will you, too?

Alleluia, amen.

[1] Commentary, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Pentecost 22C, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=740

[2] Commentary, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 | Michael Jackson | Associate Professor of Homiletics, TNU | A Plain Account, 2016, http://www.aplainaccount.org/copy-of-proper-25c-psalm

[3] Bernadin, Cardinal Joseph, The Gift of Peace, (Image Book: New York NY, 1998) 151-52.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Saved by Grace through Faith

“Saved by Grace through Faith”

 

Rom 3-24 justified by grace

Romans 3:23-24 – October 28, 2018

I have been called for jury duty four times. Yes, one of those times I did serve on a jury, and I was one of that jury in a murder trial. I vividly remember the judge and his instructions to us as the jury. This particular judge had quite a presence. I could see everyone in that courtroom sitting up a little straighter, or paying more close attention when he spoke.

Is that your idea of a judge? Someone in black robes, sitting in judgment on a case with fairness and equity? A judge, someone evenhanded, listening to both sides of the legal question at hand before making a final decision on the case?

I am afraid that not all people think of judges in this way. In some parts of the world, judges can be less than fair, not exactly honest, and even mean or hurtful. I wanted to point out that this kind of flawed judge was certainly not what the Apostle Paul was thinking about here. Not here in Romans chapter 3.

We need to consider some background, if we are going to look at the book of Romans. This letter was written by Paul at a time when he was in prison. Paul had never been to Rome, even though he was born a Roman citizen. He knew a number of people who had over the years relocated to Rome. In fact, the small group of believers in Rome had probably written to Paul first, and they asked Paul to answer some theological and religious questions, and give them some of the Godly wisdom that comes from above.

The majority of Christ-followers at this time were Jewish, but not all of them. Paul started this section of the letter with a discussion of the Mosaic Law. I can just hear the responding comments by the Roman Christians who are also Gentiles: “Why are you talking about the Jewish Law Code?” In these beginning chapters of Romans, Paul is setting up an argument. He tells the Roman believers that ALL have sinned. Not just the Jews, under the Jewish or Mosaic Law Code. ALL have fallen short of God’s expectations.

Here in Romans 3 Paul highlighted the Law of Moses, and how difficult it is that anyone could be considered righteous. Another way of saying this is: The Law, in which the Jew boasted and the possession of which the Jew took for righteousness, is not able to make any one righteous but only to show them to be unrighteous. [1]

Sure, there is a whole lot of talk about unrighteousness in Romans. Paul comes right out and says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 is a verse countless Christians have used over the centuries to let people know what a rotten state we are all in. Notice that this verse does not say “For some have sinned,” or even “For most have sinned.” No. we ALL have sinned. We ALL have shown how unrighteous we are. We ALL fall short of the glory of God, that glory that goes so far beyond words.

Just between you and me, I am very glad we do not use the Mosaic Law to be our rulebook now for the believers’ faith. Paul even says so a couple of verses before, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In other words, ALL have fallen short of God’s expectations.

If that were the case, I do not know how anyone could pass through such strong judgment and find reconciliation with God. That is, without Jesus. He is the whole point of Romans, and Paul returns to Him again and again. Thank God we do not need to stop at Romans 3:23! Paul does not stop there, either, but instead goes on: “ 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

That is good news! I don’t know whether we fully understand it, but that’s good news!

Grace. That word is a simple enough word. However, I don’t want to put anyone on the spot and ask them what exactly “grace” means. I do remember an acrostic definition, from years ago. Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Notice, please, that these two verses of Romans 3 tell us the whole Gospel. The whole Good News. The first, Romans 3:23, tells us why we are sunk, separated from God for eternity. The second, Romans 3:24, tells us we are justified by grace. We are drawn back into God’s presence, and are redeemed by Christ Jesus our Lord.

I’ve related this before, I am proud to say that I was raised as a Lutheran on the northwest side of Chicago. I was baptized and confirmed at that Lutheran church. I was fascinated by Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran denomination. When I was in high school, I learned as much as I could about Martin and his soul-wrenching journey to better understand this blessed fact—that he was saved by grace through faith.

Martin was a learned theologian, yes. But Martin felt sinful and unlovable, too. What’s more, even after lots and lots of good works and all these years of reading and study, he still felt so inadequate. Martin felt God could not possibly love or forgive him. He knew lots of things about Jesus intellectually, but he still did not grasp this central understanding.

Remember Romans 3:23? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yes. Yes! That is true. But—that isn’t the whole story! Reading, starting from 3:21: “21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

I can almost see Martin falling off his chair, once he realizes how huge this is. Our sin is taken away through the redeeming that came through Jesus. We are made lovable through God’s grace. Our low self-worth and low self-esteem is now viewed by God through Jesus. God looks at all of us, each one of us, through Jesus-tinted lenses.

            We are all saved by grace, through faith. What tremendous Good News. No, it’s Great News! It’s the most marvelous News of all time!

We will not be tried in a court of law, with all of our sins playing out on a huge screen behind us as God the Judge bangs the gavel in some heavenly courtroom. Jesus took our sins upon Himself, so we do not have to carry them any longer.

That is the best of all possible Good News! Jesus died for our sins. Jesus showed us radical, God-sized grace, and radical, God-sized love.

As I proclaim each week after the Confession of Sin during the Assurance of Pardon, “Believe the Good News of the Gospel: in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!”

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/b-righteousness-it%E2%80%99s-not-what-you-know-or-who-you-are-romans-11-326

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

By Faith Alone

“By Faith Alone”

sola gratia, scriptura, fide - Lutheran

Romans 3:19-28 (3:28) – October 29, 2017

Today is a festive day in the church. Reformation Sunday, the last Sunday in October every year when we remember the bravery and determination of Father Martin Luther, Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany.

This year is not just an anniversary, it is a huge anniversary. October 31, 1517. This year, on All Hallow’s Eve, countless people throughout the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and his posting of the 95 Theses, or grievances against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, on the chapel door in Wittenberg.

As I have said during the past few weeks, I care very much about this celebration. I was baptized and confirmed a Lutheran and spent two full years studying Luther’s Small Catechism in confirmation preparation. I was a history and theology nerd throughout high school, learning as much as I could about the Reformation of the 1500’s, and Martin Luther in particular. I can tell you that Martin Luther had his ups and downs as he was traveling the religious road through life. He really, truly wanted to know exactly how to get right with God.

Our New Testament reading today comes from Romans 3, and it starts in a not-very-good place. The apostle Paul talks about the Law of Moses. All of its statutes and ordinances and restrictions would tie people up in knots as they tried to follow every single little rule. That’s the situation everyone finds themselves in, if we start with Romans 3:19-20. We are all in the same sinking boat. From Eugene Peterson’s wonderful translation The Message: “So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the other people? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:”

Martin started out as a monk, became a priest, and eventually earned his doctorate in theology. He was extremely intelligent, and knew lots of different kinds of stuff. Bible, theology, mathematics, rhetoric, Latin, Hebrew and Greek. However, he seemed to have an inferiority complex. Or, to say it in a different way, Martin was scared to death that he would never measure up to God’s standards and the way God wanted him to live.

Martin Luther tried really hard to get into God’s good graces, for years. He was quite earnest about it. He would try and try to pray and meditate, to do things that would get him on the plus side of God’s righteousness ledger. However, he never could measure up, not on his own. Not even because he was trying as hard as he could to get on God’s good side.

Does that sound familiar to anyone here, today? Is anyone here trying desperately to have God approve of them? Did we all hear the scripture reading from the book of Romans? We are all—all of us—in the same sinking boat. What is more, there is no one who can say they are living the right way, God’s way. Everyone falls short.

From time to time, I look at an online discussion board where ministers share their ideas and insights about scripture readings for sermons and bible studies. This was a few years ago, but Pastor Erik from Wisconsin shared the following comment in a discussion about these particular verses from Romans 3:

“This Sunday we celebrate confirmation. As a part of their confirmation requirements, students have to meet with me for a brief discussion/interview. I ask them about faith, life, God, etcetera – see if they learned anything during confirmation. One question I always ask is “How will you get into heaven? How are you saved?” Most often I get the answers – “Pray. Go to church. Do good deeds.[1]

Martin Luther went to the extreme, in this respect. That would have been his answer, for years and years. Martin spent hours every week on his knees, asking God for forgiveness and confessing his sins to God and to his own personal confessor and spiritual director. He fasted, depriving himself of food and drink, regularly. Martin even went on pilgrimages, to try to gain special favor with God and show himself to be extra specially deserving of coming into God’s presence.

And then, he would meticulously chalk up the good deeds he did. Not to be loving and giving, as our Lord had told us to do, but in order to be super-religious, and to show everyone just how religious Martin was being. Just in the same way that the Pharisees were super religious and meticulous in their rule-following in the first century, when our Lord Jesus walked the earth.

What does Romans 3:23 tell us? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

I don’t know whether anyone here has ever used a bow and arrow. Has anyone? (I would really like to know.) One of my daughters has, plus one of my close friends. The apostle Paul uses an expression here used for shooting arrows—falling short and missing the mark.  Not hitting the target. What’s more, we can never, ever hit the target that God has set for us to hit, no matter how hard we try, because of sin. All of us sin. That’s everyone. No exceptions.

One of my favorite commentators had this weighty insight about sin. Dr. David Lose tells us that “When we talk about sin, it’s almost always in the plural – sins – as in describing bad things we’ve done. But sin described in [Paul’s writings] is not so much a thing as it is a force – the power that seeks to rob the children of God of abundant life.” [2] How about that? We are all stopped from hitting the bull’s eye by this unstoppable force called sin.

But, wait! There’s more from Dr. Lose. Sin is also “a condition in which we are trapped. In this second sense, the condition of sin is very much a state of existential insecurity – being fearful or anxious that you are not safe, not sufficient, not worthy of love and respect.” [3]

Worse and worse! We not only are being stopped by a force that eternally keeps us from hitting this bull’s eye of living God’s way, but this same unstoppable force convinces us that we are not safe, not sufficient, not able even to use a Godly, heavenly bow and arrow—so to speak. It’s the ultimate feeling of insecurity, of feeling less-than, fearful and anxious that we will never get to heaven and never be in God’s presence.

But, who will save us from this wretched situation? From this unstoppable force and condition of sin? How can we come into God’s presence and live God’s way, the way our Lord meant us to live?

Martin Luther was also a diligent student of the Bible. He would pour over Scripture for hours each week. Finally, in 1513, he found this mind-blowing idea in Paul’s letter to the Roman believers.   Verse 3:28:” 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”   Thanks be to God.

“God also loves us, accepting and loving the insecure, wayward persons we are. Not the person we’ve tried to be or promised to but, but the person we really are. And so God not only forgives us those sins (plural) we commit, but also promises us God’s unconditional love, acceptance, and regard.” [4]

Again, thanks be to God for God’s unspeakable, marvelous, glorious gift!

This sermon is called “By Faith Alone:” Sola fide! Last Sunday’s sermon was “By Grace Alone:” Sola gratia! Last week we looked at Ephesians 2:8-9, which says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

We know from Paul’s straight account that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that no one can boast about their good works, “that none of us can brag that we earned some spiritual star a long time ago. If anyone will boast, we will not boast of our faith; we will not boast about our good works.  If anyone will boast, we will boast about God, the God who forgives us and loves us.  We will boast about Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for you and me. We will boast about the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin.” [5]

We are gathered here in this building because of Jesus Christ, because of what He did for us on the Cross, because He conquered death, and because we are now His followers. What more wonderful expression of our faith is there than to say Soli Deo Gloria! Or, to God alone be the glory. Praise God! Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://javacasa.ipower.com/resources/dps_form_results/roma3_19.htm

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/10/ref-day-pen-20-original-insecurity/  “Original Insecurity and the Power of Love,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2014.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mother Teresa, Good Works and Faith  Romans 3:19-28 – ·  Reformation Sermons, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)