Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this special day in which we celebrate Your blessings upon us and upon this congregation, instill in us a spirit of humility and gratitude. Cause us to see that all our blessings come from You alone and not via our own efforts. Let us give You all the glory. Yes, cause John the Baptist’s words: “Christ must increase and I must decrease” to be our living motto and guide. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO ALONE IS THE SOURCE OF GOD’S UNDESERVED LOVE AND FORGIVENESS BESTOWED UPON US!
TEXTS: Romans 1: 16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Fellow Redeemed Sinners Made Whole By The Blood of Christ:
As a little boy, I grew up knowing the name: Oscar Naumann. I never met the man, but I well knew who and what he was. For the uninitiated, Oscar Naumann was the sainted president of the Wisconsin Synod for many, many years. I can well recall reading his columns in the old “Northwestern Lutheran” magazine. A few years back a friend of mine told me a story about Pres. Naumann. It seems this young pastor had one of Oscar’s children in his congregation. And periodically Pres. Naumann would appear in attendance with his son at morning worship. My friend was always a bit nervous when that occurred and usually second-guessed himself on portions of his sermon.—Was it good enough? What would Pres. Naumann think? One day he got up enough courage to ask Pres. Naumann about this. It came up in the form of this question: “What is your favorite hymn?” My friend was a bit shocked when Pres. Naumann responded: “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, For the bible tells me so.” The simple is always the most profound when it comes to God.
Die-hard Lutherans love the Reformation. We love to sing “A Mighty Fortress.” We love to listen to the profound Biblical truths come alive. We love to glory in the heroic achievements of Godly men such as Dr. Luther, Philip Melanchton, and Martin Chemnitz. And although we like to repeat those words: Scripture alone, Grace alone, and faith alone; I fear that sometimes we lose sight of:
THE CHIEF TRUTH OF THE REFORMATION: NEVER FORGET THE GOSPEL!
So, exactly what is the gospel? Well, it’s the reason we’re saved. It’s the reason we can call heaven our home. It’s the reason we’re here today. For the gospel is the good news of salvation in Christ. It’s the profound message of God found throughout the entire Bible, that God sent His Son to live perfectly in place of our imperfect lives and to die on a cross to pay for our sins. It’s the message that God did it all when it came to our salvation. And that He gives us a clean conscience, a living hope of the future, and the knowledge that nothing in this life can diminish His loving forgiveness which He holds out to us.
The gospel is God’s creative work in action in our lives, too. For just as Christ is resurrected and lives, so, too, His living, loving message of peace and joy. St. Paul makes that very clear when he writes in Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.” The Greek word for “power” used there is “dynamis.” The English equivalent is: dynamite. Yes, when we preach and teach Jesus’ forgiveness hearts are changed, lives are transformed, and faith is created.
Congregations and synods exist for one reason: to preach the gospel thereby saving souls. Once again, St. Paul makes that very clear when he writes: “But we preach Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Likewise, congregations also exist to personally apply that living gospel to the lives of hurting souls. And God has given us a couple more fabulous tools to do so. Those “tools” are His sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In fact, they aren’t just visible reminders of what He has done for us, or sentimental, feel-good symbols, no, they are the gospel! For they both are God-given means whereby He pours His self-sacrificing love into our hearts and strengths us. They both work and strengthen faith. For as Peter writes: “baptism doth now also save us.” And as the apostles write of the Holy Supper: “it is for the forgiveness of sins.” The only reason God has enabled Pinewood to exist for 30 years here in Burlington and for 122 years in the Boston area, the only reason He has allowed any of our churches to exist or for our synods to exist is to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments, His living forgiveness among us. For it is only through them that blood-bought souls are transformed and saved.
In Godly terms both Reformation and church anniversaries have this in common: both founded and grounded in the gospel. Thus, instead of patting ourselves on the back for all our hard work over the years in keeping our congregations going, or feeling superior to those who have adulterated God’s gospel message with layers of human achievements and human pride, on this day we should be humble. For everything connected to this day: our congregational longevity, our synodical oneness, our linkage to the past, our individual soul’s salvation is all the result of God’s grace. Again, St. Paul makes that very point in our lesson when he writes: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by human works, so that no one can boast.” I have always liked that passage. That’s because it knocks human pride on its head and gives all glory to God alone.—That’s the heart and soul of Lutheranism, of Word and Sacrament theology, giving God all the glory.
A few weeks ago I had a phone call from a fellow asking me: “What do Lutherans believe?” I asked him if he was a Christian. He responded that, “Yes, I’m a born-again Christian.” Then I proceeded to quickly drill down our differences with the evangelicals that he was familiar with. I especially hit on this point: “God’s love for us isn’t subjective in that it is based on our feelings or emotions. His vehicles of forgiveness: the gospel, baptism, and the Holy Supper aren’t just symbolic things that we get an emotional lift from. No, they are real. God meets us and comes to us through them. He changes us through them. He gives us faith through them.” I then added: “When you do something rotten and feel awful about it, trusting in your emotions or feelings about God doesn’t comfort. You need something bigger and stronger than your feelings, you need to rely on something outside of you that won’t change. For your grip on the rock slips all the time, but the Rock of our salvation never moves.”
Well, my friends, that Rock is Christ. That rock is His gospel. That Rock is: Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so. The chief truth of the Reformation is: Never forget the gospel! And it is the only reason that today is so very special. Yes, to God alone be all the glory! Amen