Summary: This is a sermon for Reformation Sunday, 2020. This was also my Farewell Sermon, as I had accepted a call to another parish and this was my last Sunday at St. John's Lutheran Church-Vilmar of rural Greene, Iowa.
The first farewell sermon I remember hearing from a Pastor was Easter Sunday, 1996. Dr. James Lamb was preaching his last sermon as Senior Pastor of my home church, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Garner< Iowa, as he had accepted a call to become Executive Director for Lutherans for Life. I will never forget that sermon, watching as he stood in the pulpit to begin his sermon, he simply said this:
“Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Death has no hold on Him, and it has no hold on you, either! Your sins are forgiven and you have the promise of everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ! That’s all I need to say.”
And then he proceeded to step out of the pulpit for a brief moment, only to step back in, and said: “But, since this is the last sermon you will hear from me as your Senior Pastor, you all don’t get off the hook that easily!” and proceeded to continue with the rest of the sermon.
While yes, it made for a memorable final Sunday, and while over the years since, I’ve had the opportunity to hear Pastor Lamb preach several more times both at our home church in Garner when he returned as a guest speaker, or in other places, the point he made at the beginning of the sermon was right. When it comes to our faith, our lives of discipleship, our life together in this congregation, it’s really all about one thing: it’s all about Jesus! Jesus Christ has died for our sins, risen from the dead to defeat the power of sin and death, and He is our only source of forgiveness, life, and salvation! He is the way, the truth, and the life! Jesus is the only reason that this congregation has made it this far over the past 141 years, and He is your only hope as you look to your future beyond today as my call as your Pastor comes to an end. Thus, I cannot encourage you enough: stay centered in Christ, crucified and risen for you, in everything you say and do, and allow Him to make you through the power of the Holy Spirit into a new creation in Him! As Jesus Himself says in today’s Gospel reading on this Reformation Sunday: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (v.31-32, 34-36) Amen! That’s all I need to say, friends!
But, just as with Pastor Lamb on that Easter Sunday 24 years ago, since this is my final sermon as your Pastor at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church-Vilmar, you don’t get off the hook that easily, either. You see, today is Reformation Sunday. It’s the Sunday every year when we know the paraments are red, one of the hymns is going to be “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, you’re probably going to hear about Martin Luther at some point in the sermon, and the focus of the day is going to be the necessity to stay centered in the Word Alone, which points us to Christ Alone for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. When my family and I made the decision to accept the call to Hope and Glen Flora Lutheran Churches a few weeks ago, we didn’t intentionally plan that our last Sunday with you was going to be Reformation Sunday. Granted, Lindsay will be one of the first to tell you that Reformation is one of my favorite Sundays of the year because of its importance in the life of the Church and our ongoing witness in the world today. In some ways, it seems like an odd Sunday to choose for a Pastor to end a ministry with a congregation. But as I’ve thought about it, in particular over this past week, what better message is there for me to leave you with, than the message that the Reformation proclaims? That in our past, our present, and our future, we are called to be Christ-Centered, Mission-Driven, Traditionally Grounded disciples of Jesus Christ, who seek to abide in Him and in His Word all the days of our lives in every area of our lives.
I know in years past on Reformation Sunday, you’ve heard me say in the sermon something that Martin Luther himself once said: there is an ongoing need for reformation in the life of the Church, and in the life of the individual Christian. Indeed, in many ways, the life of discipleship is a life in which we are reformed for a purpose! That is very clear in this conversation that Jesus is having with some Jews who had been following Him for a while in our Gospel lesson for today from John 8. They have heard Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, speak His life-giving Word. Earlier in this chapter, they have heard Jesus say of Himself “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). And now, He is telling these Jews, and anyone else who would follow Him, what it truly means to be a disciple of His: abide in His Word. What does it mean to abide in His Word? To abide in something means to stay in it, not to stray from it. To live within it. To hold it as having authority in all matters of your faith and your everyday life. And why? Because it is only in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that we have hope of forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life.