Sunday of the Reformation October 29-30, 2022
“What’s In Your Pocket?” Romans 3:19-28
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
What do you know about Abraham Lincoln? Let’s see. Our sixteenth President. The President during the Civil War of 161 years ago. He freed the slaves. He was killed in a theatre. Any history buffs out there might be able to fill in some more of the details. Today I’d like to tell you something that maybe you didn’t know about Abraham Lincoln.
In the Library of Congress there is a little box that carries the label: “CONTENTS OF THE PRESIDENT’S POCKETS ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL14, 1865” April 14, 1865 was the day that Lincoln was assassinated. What would this hero, carrying the responsibilities of the American Presidency, have in his pockets the night he died? That night he had these five things in his pocket:
- A handkerchief embroidered “A. Lincoln”
- A country boy’s pen knife
- A glass case repaired with some string
- A purse containing a $5.00 bill (in Confederate currency!)
- Some old, yellowed newspaper clippings
Those newspaper clippings interested me the most. The other items tell us what most of us already know about Lincoln – he had a common, everyday side to him. The news clippings, though, reveal something else. The clippings in Lincoln’s pocket the night he died were articles written about him that spoke about his great deeds. One of them carried the words of a man named John Bright who said that Lincoln was one of the greatest men of all times.
There is something very sad about those clippings. They suggest a Lincoln who apparently had to find a place of solace, self-worth and comfort in a handful of news clippings. Perhaps he read and reread the good words that were said about him.
It is amazing what you will find in someone’s pocket! What’s in yours? What would you carry around to tell the world, “This is who I am”; “This is what I treasure”? This is the Reformation Sunday, on October 31 in 1517, Martin Luther asked the world to look into their pockets and find what they treasured, what they held to for their security before God and for their salvation. And what he found for far too many people were pockets that were empty or pockets that were filled with stuff that wouldn’t bring them peace and lasting security.
Before the days of the Reformation Martin Luther tried to put good deeds into his pocket, planning on the day that he would stand before God, on the Day of Judgment, to bring them out and show God, impress Him and be welcomed into heaven. Luther wasn’t the only person putting the wrong stuff into his pockets. The German people were actually buying indulgences, pieces of paper, that someone said would bring them forgiveness of sins. In the thirty-second of the 95 Theses that Luther posted 505 years this coming Monday he said, “Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.”
What do you put in your pocket to bring before God, to bring peace to your soul, to know who you are in the sight of God? Let me offer you an answer – Christ, alone! How do you know that your sins are forgiven, that you will spend your eternal days in the joy of heaven? Only one way – Christ alone. Grace alone. Faith Alone. Paul says in Ephesians 2, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Jesus said of all this, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Luther had a dream in which he stood on the Day of Judgment before God Himself – and Satan was there to accuse him. When Satan opened his books full of accusations, he pointed to transgression after transgression of which Luther was guilty. As the proceedings went on, Luther’s heart sunk in despair. Then he remembered the cross of Christ – and turning toward Satan he said, “There is one entry which you have not made.” “What is that”, the devil retorted. And Luther is full confidence replied, “It is this – the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sins.”
Being all alone to face life, death, sin, hell and the devil is overwhelming. When Paul writes to the Ephesians he presents our dilemma, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions.” (2:1) The pockets are not just empty, they are also filled with our failings before God who demands of us our life and our heart and our holiness.
Instead of being all alone to face what we cannot face, we stand in Christ alone. That is what God has put into our pocket. He’s all we need. Last Sunday at the 8:00 service Holy Communion went faster than I expected. We were completed by the end of the first hymn. Usually when that happens, I go right into the Post Communion Benediction – “And now may the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….” But I knew that we had not sung one of my favorite hymns and I determined we weren’t going to be done with communion without singing it. (Sometimes it pays to be the pastor). I told Mike Zehnder, our organist, that we would sing verses 1, 2 and 6 of “Just as I am Without One Plea”. “Just as I am and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
We stand in Christ alone. Our eternal salvation is not based upon our works but upon the work of Jesus Christ, alone. In the Epistle today Paul focuses upon the work of Christ alone to bring us peace with God and the assurance that our eternity is secure. In Romans 3 he says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law, rather through the law we become conscious of sin…This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all believe…for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (3:20,22,28)
Only one thing was needed and that was Christ Himself. Luther wrote, “Faith is the unceasing and constant looking which turns the eyes upon nothing but Christ, the Victor over sin and death and the Giver of righteousness, salvation and life eternal.” What brings the heart and soul and mind confidence in life and at death is Christ alone. Christ alone. Faith alone. Grace alone. The Bible, the source of God’s great Word, will direct you alone to Jesus.
With great, exclusive words, which turn our hearts toward the Only One who brings us forgiveness and eternal life Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
For the whole world that could easily go the wrong way, thinking that their own deeds would bring to them eternal salvation in heaven, the word from the church of the Reformation is that Christ alone has brought us rescue and eternal life. The right way is knowing with every part of our heart and soul that Jesus is our only Savior, our only confidence for forgiveness, peace and everlasting life. Elsewhere Paul would say, [I desire] to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)
When I was putting together this sermon and titled it, “What’s in your pocket?”, I couldn’t help but mess up and ask “What’s in your wallet?”, the Capital One ad that is all over the TV. But what’s in your pocket is much more important than what’s in your wallet.
What’s in your pocket? Good works? Promises made to God? A whole bunch of sin? For a believer in Christ we find the merits of Jesus. We reach in and find His promises of life, His assurance that we are His, His blood shed for our sins, His resurrection from death, His victory over all enemies. We see Him alone. He is our Savior, our Lord, Our God. A believer has pockets just plain full of what God has put there. Amen!!