Summary: Looking at Galatians, how it impacted Luther and how Paul’s message continue to apply to Christians today, regarding our lives, our values and our freedom (from sin) in Christ.
Reformation Sunday, October 29, 2006
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church
(1) For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (2) Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. (3) I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. (4) You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (5) For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. (6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Sermon Outline: How the truths of the Reformation continue to teach us today
I. Brief outline of Luther’s life and the events leading up to the posting of the 95 Theses in 1517.
II. Explanation of Law and Gospel and how Luther reformed the Church through his correct teaching of sola fide: grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
III. APPLICATION: How the truths of the Reformation continue to teach us and impact our lives every day as Christians.
As most of you know, I’m a final-year seminary student wrapping up work on my Master of Divinity. Now I like to tease the “other” Pastor Steve because it took him about seven years to finish his M.Div and I think I’m going to beat him…by about six months! Well the way my M.Div program works is that I travel back to the seminary about three times a year to start a group of classes, listen to the lecture, and then come back home to study, read the books, do the writing assignments, and then take the exam. So late last Spring I went back to Newburgh, Indiana, where the seminary is located to start another group of four classes. The seminary has an arrangement with a hotel really close by, and they shuttle us back and forth from the school to the hotel.
This one morning…it was a beautiful and clear Spring morning…I was heading out the door of the hotel to leave for school. The hotel’s stairway was totally enclosed in glass, kind of like a stairway inside of a greenhouse. As I was coming down the last flight of stairs, I heard a fluttering sound and a couple of thuds against the glass. (pause) Well as I got to the bottom of the stairs, I saw this young bird—probably a finch—scared to death because somehow he had walked inside the door into this stairway greenhouse and turned a corner, so he couldn’t see the door anymore and just knew there was this person—me—coming towards him. Poor little guy, he’d fly toward the window and slam into it, then turn around and fly into the other pane of glass. So being the animal lover that I am, I wanted to at least try to chase him around the corner to the open door or if anything else, trap him in a corner so I could pick him up and take him out of the door. (pause) Can you imagine me running back and forth after this scared little bird inside of this stairway...with the little guy slamming into the glass on one side, looking at me, and then slamming into the glass on the other side. He could see where he wanted to go and he knew where he wanted to go, but he just couldn’t get there; and he also could see where he didn’t want to go…anywhere near me. O.K. so long story short, he finally slammed against the glass so hard (pause) that he knocked himself out. Now I really felt bad because I wasn’t sure at first if I hadn’t just killed this little bird by trying to help him, but as I came up close, there he was, lying on his back, wings spread out and his chest going up and down while he was breathing. Phew, I knew he was alive, so I picked him up tenderly in my hand and took him outside and set him under a thick bush where I hoped a cat wouldn’t get him. I watched him for about another 30 seconds and he then flew off in safety, free from the entrapment of that stairway, and flying freely in the air where he knew he was supposed to be.
It’s a cute story; and it’s a true story. But how does the story of Steve chasing the bird relate to us here as we worship Jesus Christ together on this Reformation Sunday evening? Well about 500 years ago, there was this monk in the Catholic church; his name was Martin Luther. And Luther was troubled by a terrible problem. Like that little bird who felt trapped in the glass stairway, Luther felt trapped in a sinful world, a world where sin was all around him, a world that tempted him to sin but could offer him no escape and no solution to that sin. And what’s worse, as a Catholic priest, he had learned God’s Law very well. He knew, as the prophet Jeremiah had written (31:30) that “everyone will die for his sin.” You see Martin Luther lived in a time where the church held that regular people and maybe even regular priests just didn’t have the capability to understand Scripture; it was up to the bishops and cardinals and the Pope himself to interpret and tell the people what to believe. And that’s exactly what the church was doing then; and the problem was, in a way of controlling people, all these bishops and Popes were teaching was Law, Law, and then some more Law. That’s like me or one of the other pastors here telling you—week in and week out—week after week—“the Law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 7) and you have to be perfect in obeying God’s perfect Law. And if you can’t perfectly obey God’s Law, you will die and you will go to hell. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” In other words, the message of the church of the 16th century was “you must obey God’s Law perfectly or you’re going straight…to the hot place.” Luther, just like everybody else, knew that there is just NO WAY for anyone to perfectly obey God’s Law. Just like that little bird who realized that he had done something to trap himself into a helpless situation, he tried everything to correct it. But in the end all his efforts were for nothing because he kept flying into the glass windows. Like the bird trying to save himself, Luther spent hours and hours confessing his sins to his friend Johann (von Staupitz), almost wearing this poor guy out by trying to remember every sin that he had ever committed. On at least one occasion, he confessed for six hours straight! And what’s worse, the Catholic church of that time had a “perfect” solution, these same priests and bishops and cardinals and popes who were teaching this ongoing message of Law only, offered special dispensations—special forgiveness of sins—for a price. In a mockery to the priesthood of believers, they taught that you could buy your own way out of sins by purchasing it from these church leaders. You could even do so for your deceased relatives who were certainly already suffering in purgatory for their inability to fulfill God’s Law. So like that bird who couldn’t figure out how to get himself out the mess that he had gotten himself into, Luther lived in constant fear that this God who supposedly loved him, was going to condemn him for his sins. Luther once said, “I was myself more than once driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”