The Risky Business Of Reform


Text: Matthew 11:12-19

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

It’s a good thing we can’t see into the future or count certain costs before it’s demanded of us.  Otherwise, today might just be October 31st.

But today, we celebrate the beginning of the Reformation.  How God brought the Good News -- that we are forgiven of our sins by faith in Christ alone, and not by what we do -- once again to the heart and center of His Holy Church.

It was on this very day in 1517, (some 500 years ago), that a 34-year-old monk named Martin Luther walked across the courtyard to the castle church and posted his 95 Theses -- statements about errors and heresies in the Roman Church.

A match was lit that day that set the Church and, eventually, the whole world, for a time, on fire.  And with that fire of the Reformation came a glorious battle, charged with great suffering and sacrifice.

The Reformers were thrown together against all odds into a fight for the truth of the Gospel and the Scriptures' purity.  They lived under the threat of death, were deprived, and were forced to sacrifice by obligation rather than choice.  Despite the threat to life, the loss of “goods, fame, child, and wife,” the Reformers did not quit when the heat was turned up.  None gave up or said,

“Nah, I don’t want the freedom of the Gospel anymore; I like being a slave to the law.”

Instead, they gave their lives for the Kingdom so that the Gospel in its truth and purity would be proclaimed.

It should not be any surprise that this is how it all happened.  Jesus said in today’s Gospel lesson,

“The Kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” 

And so, the Church is not a retreat for wimps; it is a hospital for sinners injured in a battle with satan.  The church is a place for the wounded who are willing to fight for and defend the Gospel at all costs.

The German Princes learned what that meant when they were forced to stand up to Emperor Charles V and declared

“Before we would deny our God and His Gospel, we would sooner kneel before Your Majesty and lose our heads.”

The Church is a Kingdom filled with great risk. Being a Christian was never meant to be a life of ease and comfort in this world.  Her history is filled with suffering and death, sacrifice and steadfastness; first by Christ and then those whom He has called to follow Him.  

If you want to find the Church of Christ, follow the trail of blood through the history of the world, and there she will be: locked in a defensive battle with her enemies.  Defending, sacrificing, and even giving her children to preserve the Gospel from those who would take it by threat and force. 

The Reformers welcomed the risk; they saluted the sacrifice their faith asked of them for the sake of their wives and their children.  They heroically shed their sweat and tears, gave of their blood and their lives so that their children, and even you today would know the comfort and peace that your sins are forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ alone, and that you don’t have to earn His gift of grace.  They gave that others might receive and retain the Gospel of Christ crucified.

That was 500 years ago.  How have we fared in the time since?

Perhaps a good question for us to consider is this: instead of being vigilant in the battle to preserve the gifts of Word and Sacrament we have received, have we instead become content to dwell on past days of glory and coast on the personal sacrifice of others before us?

It seems that today the Church is dangerously more willing to lay down and give up with a whimper than to fight and defend and preserve the treasures of life and forgiveness that are given to us by faith in Jesus Christ and proclaimed here in this Church.

Why is there no fight?  Perhaps in a word - Fear.  To fight means to sacrifice.  And we are afraid of sacrifice; that is why we get defensive and grumpy when it's set before us.  Whenever we are asked to give of ourselves, our time, or our treasure, we get worried.  We say to ourselves,

“Will I have to give up anything?  Will I have to give up more than someone else?  What if I might have to go without ________?”

Maybe it’s not really fear after all that has Christ’s Church.  Maybe it’s the same thing Jesus speaks of in the reading from Matthew. 

“But to what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces…We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” 

Maybe the problem we see in the Church today is one of apathy.  A passivity that doesn’t care.  Our Lord plays the flute of His forgiveness, bestowing life and salvation upon all who hear, and they remain unmoved.  He sings the depths and the dirge of His law and the condemnation of our sin, which He has taken into Himself because of it, and we are indifferent.

Think about it for a moment.  Do we sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel?  I mean, do we give of ourselves, our time, and yes, even our treasure so that the message of Christ crucified might be proclaimed to our children and to all those who will come after us? 

Tragically we must all answer no to this question.  As men, husbands, and fathers, we don’t really sacrifice.  Neither do our wives, and neither do our children. There is no real need that we go without, and few wants that aren’t met.  To be sure, there is an allocation of time, treasure, talent, and there is a faithfulness to hearing the Word of God, but too often only in so far as it does not demand or expect too much of us.  As a whole, there is little sacrifice by us today.

So are you ready to sacrifice for the sake of the faith and to see to it that it is proclaimed and taught here until the Lord returns?  Are you inspired yet to risk fame and fortune and maybe even life?  No, I don’t suppose you are, no more than I am. 

Thanks be to God we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works that we do, or more often leave undone.  Despite our fear and apathy, Christ went to the cross and offered Himself as the sacrifice for all your failures and the fears that paralyze you – and especially me.  Christ did not give in to fear or apathy but hurled Himself to the sacrifice of the cross for you and for me. Jesus gave His obedience in place of our apathy.  Jesus gave his love in place of our fear.  And to you – personally - He gives His body and blood into your ears and His His pardon and peace into your ear,

“You are forgiven; go in peace.  I have done what you could not.”

That my dear saints, is the eternal Gospel spoken of in the reading from Revelation, which is to be proclaimed to all who dwell on the earth, including you and your loved ones who follow you.

The dynamite power of the Gospel is that which frees you from your sin and death itself.  It is what the Church was returned to through the Reformation.  It is what grabbed the Reformers. 

Those Reformers discovered in the dusty basement of late medievalism, the powerful-dynamite-Gospel that God saves us single-handedly.  After centuries of false theology, those Reformers heard the message of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins – that it all hinges on Jesus and nothing else.  All the religious trinkets, silly philosophical systems, religious clich├ęs, and stupid works righteousness were garbage – skubala – compared to the surpassing richness of Jesus. 

And as that Gospel seized these Reformers, there was no turning back.  God chose to use the Reformers, and the powerful-dynamite-Gospel made them willing to fight and sacrifice to be sure all those who followed would know the unadulterated, pure, and simple message that God’s saves you and me single-handedly by grace through faith in Christ alone. 

It is Christ alone.  It is grace alone.  It is by faith alone.  And this is something worth fighting for at any cost. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen

This sermon is indebted to and adapted from a Reformation Sermon by Rev. Joshua Reimche. 

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