Sermon preached by Pastor Ken Pfitzner at St Petri Lutheran Church, Nuriootpa
Sunday 29th October, 2017 – 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with each one of you as we celebrate God’s grace and the gift of the Gospel again today.
The text I take for this special day of celebration is Romans ch 1, verses 16 & 17 . . . where the apostle Paul declares:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . . For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Prayer: Lord, let the message of your grace and new life in Christ Jesus fill us with rejoicing and praise – and give us boldness to live in your Gospel and share it! Amen.
Today we’re joining with Lutheran Christians across Australia and around the world to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation – a movement that began when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses for debate on a church door notice board in Wittenberg, Germany, on the 31st October, 1517. Here in our LCA, we’re doing this under the caption: faith.freedom.future.
But why are we bothering to observe this anniversary?
And what’s the ‘big deal’ with Martin Luther?
Is it because the Reformation movement across Europe sparked off by Luther has profoundly influenced the shape of Western civilisation? . . . and because of the social and political changes that followed?
Is it because he was such a prolific writer on a wide range of issues? – the American edition of Luther’s Works in English numbers 54 volumes! Is it because he was a brilliant theologian and Bible scholar, whose German translation of the Bible for ordinary people is still admired today as an excellent translation?
What significance does Luther have for us today? And would it make any difference if there weren’t any Lutherans today?
To answer such questions, I want to pick up very briefly what was at the very heart and core of the Reformation movement . . . what is really at the heart and core of God’s Word, and the foundation of the Christian faith.
Martin Luther lived at a time when the church was in bad shape. For years it had been plagued by corrupt leaders, who exerted enormous authority in both church and state. There was religious ignorance and superstition everywhere. Few church members knew much about the Bible, or even had access to it.
Luther was brought up to think of God as an angry judge, waiting to punish him for his sins. With constant torment because of his sins, he agonised and despaired over how he could find a gracious God. Perhaps it’s not so different for many people today, when they reflect on their imperfect lives and fractured relationships and failures!
But then, Luther suddenly discovered in Scripture the incredible Good News that God alone puts sinners right with Himself! Luther realised that when the apostle Paul wrote, “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed,” this righteousness is not something God demands of us but something He gives to us! Because of the perfect life of Jesus and His innocent suffering and death for all mankind, God justifies the ungodly and declares them righteous: “Not Guilty!” – He forgives us completely . . . for Christ’s sake alone!
So when Luther put up those 95 statements for debate, he wanted to counter the whole concept of buying God’s pardon and forgiveness through what was called ‘indulgences’ . . . and uphold the Gospel of God’s grace! That’s why on Reformation Day, we don’t focus so much on Luther but boldly declare what Luther and his fellow-reformers emphasised:
“Scripture alone,” “grace alone,” “Christ alone,” “faith alone.”
This is at the very heart and core of our Christian faith – and our Lutheran heritage.
People today still need to hear this Gospel news. Our nation and the world certainly need the ‘good news’ of the Gospel and the hope it brings! . . . especially as we see so many evil things happening and hear so much ‘bad news.’ Even though we have the benefits of mind-boggling advances in medicine and science – like creating brain-like tissue & neurones with a 3D printer, to treat brain injury or Parkinson’s – they can’t deal with the deep inner needs of our spirits.
We still have the same age-old questions: ‘How can we find hope and peace when we’re fearful about the future and feel anxious?’ ‘How can I be happy in my life and find real meaning?’ ‘What can end the suffering and misery in the world?’ ‘How can I be freed from a bad conscience about my failures and broken relationships, and the mistakes I made with my family?’
And people today still need to hear the Gospel news when it comes to dying. There’s the popular view that people will be alright with God when they die, because they’ve tried to do good things for others or they’ve led a respectable life. Many think they’re as good as the next bloke – often better – and what counts is that they tried their best!
But it doesn’t matter who it is – whether young or old, religious or pagan, good or bad – no one is perfect before God! We all need forgiveness from God. It’s always this way – as today’s Reading from Romans ch 3 reminds us:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
In Ephesians ch 2, we’re also reminded: – we can reflect on what the apostle says, as I slowly read –
“In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins. . . . In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God’s anger.
But God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. . . .
It is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are.”
Through Christ, God has freed us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil – because we can never free ourselves. He’s rescued us from this ‘slavery’ and brought us to live in freedom under Him, in His kingdom – where we live under Him as a caring Lord! And in my baptism, He brought me to share in the rich blessings of Jesus’ death and resurrection!! He forgives and accepts me – and inspires the faith by which I trust all His promises! It’s not that I chose Christ as Lord, but He’s become my ‘Lord’ . . . because He’s the One who rescued and saved me from sin and death, to belong to Him forever!
This is the ‘good news’ of the Gospel!!
The text that transformed Luther declares to us, too:
“the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . . For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
This is the awesome ‘good news’ we’re privileged to celebrate again today! And not only to celebrate, but also share with the people and the world around us . . . so they will come to believe it, too! We live in the joyful hope and freedom of the Gospel. It assures us that God uses ordinary people like you and me – who make so many mistakes – to do His work and help others start again.
And so I hope that, as Lutheran Christians, we’ll be bold enough “to make a stand for the Gospel!” It’s our Reformation heritage of ‘faith, freedom, and future’! In Christ – and for His sake alone – may we continue to say: “I am not ashamed of the gospel . . . !”
Who knows what incredible changes that might spark off . . . !!?