October 26, 2014
John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46
It was the year 1546 in Eisleben Germany.
Martin Luther preached a sermon that would turn out to be the very last one before he died.
Five people showed up to hear him. That’s it.
Afterwards, Luther wrote to a friend that he feared the reformation was a failure.
Most of us have been afraid of failure at some point in our lives…
Yet I doubt many of us have been afraid of failure in something as big as the Reformation!
…Probably because we haven’t been willing to risk as much as Luther did.
Jesus says to the believers in the gospel of John, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
For Luther, the truth he heard in the gospel set him free indeed!
Luther was pious…very pious…
When he became a monk, if he was expected to pray for two hours at a time,
he prayed for four.
If he was expected to confess his sins daily,
he confessed several times/day.
If he was given a penance for his sins to sleep on a hard bed,
he took it one step further and brought the bed outside and slept in the snow.
You get the picture…
Luther just couldn’t get the idea out of his head that God was angry with him.
And in the era of the black plaque – with bodies in the streets and
death all around him – he was scared.
What would happen to him, sinful man that he knew he was..?!
Luther couldn’t accept his humanity.
He wanted to rid himself of all unholy thoughts and actions…
but he couldn’t.
And if he couldn’t accept himself, he didn’t think that God could either.
Luther became depressed.
He despaired that he could ever be justified – made right – with God.
But then God spoke to Luther through Paul’s letters in Scripture…
As we heard this morning, Paul writes,
““For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
And it came to him: “A person is made right with God because of what Jesus did
and not because of what he or she does…”
Luther responded, “It was as though I had been born again.”
It was a revelation of grace.
He felt completely free to stand up to the religious authorities and confront them with their abuses.
He felt free even to risk his life.
Freedom meant that he was with Jesus no matter what happened,
so whether he lived or died,
whether the reforms took or not,
he had peace in Christ.
As I look at you….the Confirmands sitting in the front pew,
I wonder…will any of you become the next Martin Luther?
Maybe Russell or Amanda; or Jenna or Erin; or Owen or Sydney; or Katie or Sam; or Alicia or Phil or Addison.
Maybe one of you will become the next Martin Luther.
Because it’s getting close to the time for another one.
Theologian Phyllis Tickle says that every 500 years there is a great sea change, great transformation in the church.
The first of course was when the church was born.
The second was at the time of Constantine.
Then there was the great schism.
And most recently, about 500 years ago it was the Reformation.
We can see the signs of something new happening.
The church is changing rapidly.
What kind of risks will you take for the sake of your faith?
Will you help continue to reform the church?
Will you stand up and tell us where we are wrong and where we are right?
Will you be another Martin Luther?
I don’t know if you realized it when you chose the hymn we’ll sing after the sermon,
but it was a dangerous choice.
(And it’s too late to change it now!)
You chose, “Here I Am Lord.”
What were you thinking??!!
Do you know what you’re opening yourselves up to?
“Here I Am Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.”
Words like that have led people into dangerous places.
They’ve led some into soup kitchens and prisons;
some to Ebola centers and leper colonies;
others to nursing homes and homeless shelters.
Is that what you meant?
Let me tell you about our Confirmands…
I think it is what they meant.
If you haven’t had a chance yet,
look at their faith banners which are hanging in the hallway.
They’ve already answered God’s call
as they’ve served meals and provided toys and food to those in need.
They’ve done their own listening to Scripture
and found verses which resonate with them.
They’ve already experienced illness and death and divorce and other losses in their lives
and found ways in which their faith has strengthened them.
They’ve been inspired and influenced by family members and friends they describe as caring and supportive, non-judgmental, funny, understanding, and giving.
They have identified gifts in themselves that the world (and our church) need:
gifts of teaching and music and wisdom and athleticism and leadership.
And they don’t have all the answers…and we don’t expect them to.
They have questions similar to the ones we all have:
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“Why is the world the way it is?”
“Why is there disease?”
“Will there ever be true peace?”
“What should I do with my life?”
Yes, I think they fully understood what they were asking for
when they asked us to sing “Here I Am Lord.”
They’re ready to go and follow.
There’s another quote from Martin Luther I like.
It comes from his preface to the book of Romans…
He says: “Our faith is living, busy, active, mighty thing.”
Living, busy, active, and mighty.
Yes – that describes our Confirmands!
Thanks be to God!