The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
October 29, 2017
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Some things are complicated. Relationships between people are complicated and sometimes they will leave you with a big headache. Family relationships, marriage relationships, relationships between folks at work – they can be complicated.
Remote controls on TV’s are complicated – all two or three, or more, of them. Computers when they don’t work, freeze, get viruses – that’s complicated.
The Broncos are complicated. I was in Phoenix last weekend watching the game in my son’s “Arizona Room” – and the Broncos looked bad. I hope they looked better on your TV’s in Denver. When listening to sports-talk this week everyone had a different idea of how to fix them. Seems complicated!!
But religion is not complicated. At least it should not be complicated. It shouldn’t leave us with headaches, or anxiety, or frustration. It should give us peace and certainty and confidence.
It should. But it doesn’t always do that. For some people religion is the worst remedy in life. It causes troubles and problems. Some stay away from it. But I am here today, on this recognition of the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, to tell you that having the right religion, one that doesn’t leave you befuddled, is as easy as going to “A” to “B”.
But some people never get to “B”, the answer, because they get stuck at “A”. Martin Luther, the guy who started this whole change in the Christian Church which at this moment claims 422 million Protestants in the world, was stuck.
On July 2, 1505, Martin Luther, then a 21 year-old student, was walking in the German woods and was in the midst of a terrible storm. He feared for his life as thunder and lightning was all around him. He thought he wouldn’t make it out alive, so he made a deal with God at that moment and cried out to the patron saint of the those who worked in the mines (his father was a miner) who was St. Anne, also considered by church tradition to be the mother of the virgin Mary, “St. Anne, save me, and I will become a monk.” She did, and so did he. Within two weeks he had been accepted as an Augustinian monk. Life wouldn’t be complicated there. He would spend his time in prayer and study. He would do much good for the world. He could be sure of his salvation and finally his soul would have peace. He told his parents that he could do much more good for them in the monastery than as the lawyer they wanted him to be.
But it wasn’t the first time that Martin Luther would be wrong and it wouldn’t be his last. He found no peace in the monastery. He took his religious duties to God seriously – he prayed for hours at a time, enumerated all of his sins, inspecting the deep recesses of his soul to his confessor – but he never knew if he had done enough. He got stuck at “A”. “A” was everything that He had to do – every action to do it perfectly in the sight of God. And when he did things, even religious things, he didn’t do them perfectly. When he sinned it destroyed his confidence in salvation. He had no peace.
Religion got complicated. There was no joy in God and in His word or trying to do the right things. In 1519, two years after the posting of the 95 Theses Luther had what is called “A Tower Experience” when he went from “A” to “B” – from misery to peace, from the affliction of religion to the peace of the Gospel.
This experience came at the Black Cloister Tower in Wittenberg and it happened as he studied our passage from today, Romans 1:16-17. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 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.’” (Romans 1:16-17) But Luther had trouble with the word “righteousness”. For years it was his understanding that he was the one who had to become righteous, holy, and godly, in order to please God. It was a further list of the things he had to do in life. He writes about this, “But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased with my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners.”
And he knew that God knew that Luther didn’t love God, as the Scriptures teach, but that he saw him as a judge, one that could never be pleased. Luther was stuck. And so is everybody who lives under the obligations of the law and doesn’t know the fulfillment of God’s design for us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But Luther didn’t stay in that pit!! God, by His Spirit, rescued him. Luther tells us how he got from “A” to “B”. “I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their content, ‘The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: The just person lives by faith.’ I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.’ All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open doors.”
You see, it is not that complicated, this religion thing. It actually is quite simple. Faith. Trusting Jesus. Believing that in Jesus all our sins have been paid for, all of God’s requirements for us have been met, believing that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead we will also rise from the dead and will live forever in heaven. Religion, God’s religion, is not “do, do, do”, it is “done, done, done”.
God’s religion is simply going from “A” to “B”, going from a sinful self or a self-righteous self to a simple faith in Jesus. Don’t complicate it. Don’t make it harder than it is. Here are some verses that you know. Listen to their simplicity and clarity:
- You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8)
- [We] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
- If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
- For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
I guess this is the Sunday for Lutherans to be proud. Luther is our guy and he had the guts to stand up to the Pope and the Emperor and tell them where they could go!! He had guts and brains and some moxie (whatever that is) and we’re proud of that.
I have something a little better and a little greater to be proud of. Be proud of the work of Jesus. Be even more confident of Him. Jesus takes us from death to life. Jesus takes us from unbelief to faith. Jesus takes us from bondage to freedom. Jesus takes us from misery to joy. We go from the pit of “A” to the surety of “B”. God has given us our own tower experience, one where we also are born again and we enter into paradise through open gates.
Today we boast. We are proud. We are sure and confident. As the Scriptures tell us, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:31)
This religion thing is not that complicated. It’s really quite simple. It is all about Jesus. It is all about faith!! Amen!!