Pastor James Winderlich, Principal – Australian Luther College
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.
As you think about the Augsberg Confession and what it might mean for you and what it actually is, I want you think back to your days of Sunday School and confirmation and what you might have been taught there about Lutheran faith and tradition. My Sunday School and confirmation were spent at Langmeil, just down the road. I went to Tanunda Lutheran Primary School as well, and the constant theme that I received, or I thought I received about Lutheranism and the Reformation was “We got it right!” “We were right!”. Is that your experience as well? It was all about being right … and “beating the Catholics”. We won.
In the Barossa Valley that is a pretty safe story to be telling because just by numbers we out-number the Catholics – so we are always going to win no matter what.
It’s a bit different globally, but that is what it seemed to be all about – being right!
When you come to a document like the Augsberg Confession, it’s very easy to receive that document as the document that proves that we’re right. A strong and convincing argument presented in a series of articles – short, punchy articles. Being right! Knowing that we’re right!
That’s not really how the Reformation began, and that is not really what the Reformation was all about – sure it was about being right, but, in a different sense. Not having the argument so much as being right. Not winning the argument – but being right with God. How can I know that I am right with God?
This starts to dive to a very deep personal level within us. Something that goes way beyond words on paper and men arguing over those words. I want to help you understand that a bit this morning by taking you a few years earlier, before the Augsberg Confession to the time of the 95 thesis – 1517.
If you are an avid ABC watcher you would have seen a show just recently called the “war on waste”. Very informative. I think it was episode three where I got a huge surprise when they looked at fabric waste. Now I have never thought of fabric waste before. The question they gave us was; how long do you think it takes in Australia to accumulate 6 tonnes of fashion and fabric waste? A year, six months, less than a week? The answer is 10 minutes! One of the biggest culprits to contribute to that is cheap clothing. A $5 tee shirt, a $10 pair of trousers. We don’t need to think about wearing them out any more. We just get rid of them when we are sick of them. In that episode on the “war on waste” they actually interviewed four people who were avid shoppers of cheap clothing. Part of that interview discovered that most of that clothing that these people bought on a daily basis, they didn’t even wear. The tags were still on it. They didn’t get around to wearing it and one of the other problems they discovered is that they didn’t know how to wear it. They would buy these fashion items and weren’t really too sure on how to wear them more than once. How to mix and match and combine different things. All they could do is wear it in the form they had seen it presented in the shop. And they believed that they couldn’t do that more than once.
You might expect that the response to this would be outrage – that the programme would somehow shame those four people and say “that is terrible” and have moral outrage over it. But they didn’t. They actually dealt quite gently and kindly with those four people and said “ok” “What can we do to help you stop wasting so much clothing?” and by implication, so much of your money as well. So they went through a process of showing those four people how they might wear those clothes differently or how between the four of them, they could share those clothing. If you don’t want to wear it again, there is three others in your friendship group that might want to. So share them around. By doing that we cut back on the waste. You don’t need to buy so much and throw so much away. Now that was a powerful story.
The problem for me with that story was that it still didn’t deal with one critical issue. Why do you need to in the first place? Why are those clothes so important to you that you are prepared to make them such a focus of your life? There is nothing wrong with wearing clothes. There is nothing wrong with wearing good clothes. There is nothing wrong with being well dressed, but there is a point where it had tipped over and become quite an obsession for those four people. For me, that was the real question. Sure, the TV show dealt with the shame and embarrassment side of it, but it didn’t really deal with the heart issue. What is going on for those four people? Why is it so important? Important beyond what we might think is reasonable -and it was left there.
For those four people dealing with a deep, deep heart question? How can I be right? How can I be right with the world in which I live? Clearly – to be well dressed. To be wearing new clothes all the time. How can I be right in the friendship circles that I share? Right at work? Clearly, to be well dressed. How can I be right in the world in which I live? … and the answer is always the same. That’s the deep, deep heart question that at least those four people were dealing with. A social question. A relationship question. An employment question. How can I be right?
The show, “The war on Waste”, all they dealt with was the threat of shame. That’s all they dealt with. They didn’t deal with those heart questions that were really driving those people.
If you can pick that up and connect with it and see how that story is unfolding, you can begin to understand what drove Martin Luther to write his 95 thesis. They were at an attack on the system called the indulgence system. The indulgence system was a complicated system that went a bit like this. When you knew that you had sinned you could go along to your priest and the priest would say that “God forgives your sins” but you still need to make satisfaction for them. You still need to make things right with the world, with God and with the church and we can help you with that. We can give you a whole lot of things to do, but that mightn’t be enough. Maybe we can have a cash transaction as well to help you make satisfaction for all of those sins. And what about the deceased relatives who haven’t had a chance to make satisfaction for their sins. You see if you don’t make adequate satisfaction for those sins, if you don’t keep bringing everything back into balance, you are going to spend ages in purgatory and not get into heaven.
How can we deal with that? With a cash transaction. You can pay your way out of purgatory. You can pay your relatives/family members way out of purgatory. There was a whole schedule of fees for different people and different types of sins.
That outraged Martin Luther. Why? Because it wasn’t dealing with the heart issue. Why do people come and confess their sins? Because their underlying question is this – How can I be right? Not right in an argument but how can I be right with God, with my church, with my family, with my community and with the wider society. That’s what takes a person to the point of confessing their sins. That wasn’t being dealt with at all through the indulgence system.
So, Martin Luther was absolutely outraged – he was white-hot with anger. Why? Because people weren’t being properly cared for. Not because an argument was being lost, but because people were being damaged. They were being harmed because they were being told a load of rubbish that had nothing to do with the core issue that they were struggling with, the deep, deep, fear and anxiety that they were feeling and experiencing but were just offered a superficial solution to their problem. Give us some money and everything should be fine. And people paid the money … and nothing was fine. They still struggled. How can I be right?
So have a listen to what Martin Luther wrote about that system. Fifth and worst of all, think how they have made these blasphemous lies into a terribly idolatry (something that leads people away from God, not to God). Many thousands of souls who have died relying on them as though they were God’s grace are lost, because of these murderers of men’s souls. Since whoever trusts and builds on lies is a servant of the devil.
That system wasn’t dodgy just because it was making money on the side. That system was dodgy because it was leading people away from faith and trust in God. As simple as that. And that is why Martin Luther was angry. That’s where the Reformation began in 1517, leading to the publication of the Augsberg Confession in 1530.
It began because of a concern for people. People being left in their fear. People being left uncertain about themselves and where they fitted and where they stood in God’s creation and before God himself. A horrible place to be left.
Martin Luther went through that same struggle himself. How can I be right with God? Where do I stand with God? All he ever heard about was this righteous God. Every time he heard about the righteous God he thought he had no chance at all. He kept bumping up against this righteous God, so much so that he is terrified of that righteous God. Not even prepared to pray to that righteous God. Because, when you feel guilty, and shamed and threatened the most important thing is to live an un-noticed life, to become invisible. Invisible to God. If you need to pray, pray to someone close to God but not to God himself. Pray to God’s mum, that makes sense – Mary. Pray to God’s friends, the Saints. Don’t pray to God, because God has to be feared. Martin Luther started his own work of discovery. As he listened to his own question – How can I be right with God? As he owned his own curiosity he began to study God’s word. He realized that God’s word doesn’t just talk about a righteous God but it goes on to talk about a righteous God who is earnestly working for yours and my righteousness as well. A God who sweated blood so that you and I could be right. Right with God and right with each other.
We receive that in faith. Not through a financial transaction. Not through impressive acts of obedience, but simply by faith.
The beginning of the whole Reformation for Martin Luther – the beginning of the 95 thesis which led on to the Augsberg Confession began with a simple passage of scripture. Romans chapter 1 verses 16 and 17 where St Paul writes … “For I am not ashamed”. In other words I am not wanting to cover myself up – hide, disguise or make myself invisible. I am not ashamed of the gospel. I am not ashamed to stand in the presence of that gospel … it is the power of God for salvation. For my life. To everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith, for faith, as it is written. The one who is righteous will live by faith, not by acts of obedience. Motivated by fear. Martin Luther, through God’s word, through the scriptures, was able to push past and overcome his own fear and realize that God, his God and our God was at work for him.
When Luther asked that penetrating, devastating question – How can I be right with God? How can I be right with the church? How can I be right with my family? How can I be right with my workmates? How can I be right with my friends and the strangers that I meet in the street? He was able to say that God is working that rightness continuously for me and I know that to be true through Jesus Christ.
As I see the cross of Jesus Christ and what it proclaims for my life for me. As I feel that cross penetrate into my life, I realize now that I am right – right with God. Which leaves no space for shame. Leaves no space for fear and it leaves no need to talk to someone else about this. I can talk directly to God and know that God talks directly to me. And I don’t need to fear that voice. That voice is now life for me. That voice is now wholeness.
So, why is it important to celebrate the anniversary of the Augsberg Confession? And also the 95 thesis and everything else, the small and the large catechism. Why is it important? Not because we beat the Catholics – because we didn’t. We didn’t beat them at all and I hope we never think that we could. It’s because it makes a difference to people. It means something to people. People who feel as though they have to go clothes shopping every day to be right. People who do other obsessive practices in their lives, (and we have all got them) and we can say “you don’t have to” “You don’t need to” “You can stop” and you will be right, right with God and right with me. I’m not here to judge you, I am here to celebrate with you. That is what my life is about now. To celebrate that rightness with you. So let’s do that! Amen.