The Festival of the Reformation (October 31)
October 25-26, 2008
Text: Matthew 11:12-19
Dear Friends in Christ,
Throughout the history of the world there have been wars and rumors of war. Rarely are the causes of war pure. Yet rulers of all stripes must weigh the interests and needs of their nations. They must consider the defense of their nation. They must weigh the dangers in the world around them. And sometimes rulers lead counties to war based upon bad information or poor judgement, though with the best of intentions. In our age we find ourselves in a religious war we did not choose and would prefer not to fight. We can protest all that we wish that we did not go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan for religious reasons. Yet, we are fighting there because they are Muslims and we are not. Yes we can say that the causes of the conflict are wrapped up in their religion, not ours. Nevertheless it is a religious war. Most wars throughout history have had a religious component.
In 1618, Ferdinand II became Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. The staunchly protestant Bohemians rejected their new Romanist king. They seized two of his representatives when they came to Prague and tossed them out a window in what is known as the Defenestration of Prague. Ferdinand’s representatives survived the fifty foot fall by having the good luck of landing in a pile of horse manure. Ferdinand felt that the Bohemian treatment of his representatives stunk. Thus began the bloodiest religious war among Christians, in the history of world. Thirty years later when the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Germany had lost half of it population. Central Europe lay in ruins. Lutheranism came within an eyelash of complete destruction. Only the heroic Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus saved the Lutheran cause. Gustavus himself was killed in battle at Lützen in 1632. For his great heroism Gustavus is the only king ever honored by the Swedish parliament with the title “the Great.” He was also called “Der Löwe von Mitternacht” - the Lion from Midnight.
Why are there religious wars? It would seem that religion of all things would not be a thing to fight wars over. Indeed from a Christian perspective, war cannot, of itself, advance the Church. It should be noted, however, that war can be the occasion of the Church advancing, as in the Korean War. The first missionaries to Korea were U.S. military chaplains. Today South Korea is the most Christian nation on earth. Nevertheless, war cannot ever be fought for the purpose of advancing the Church. This does not work. Faith does not come at sword point. Faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ. Religious wars are fought because truth divides. Falsehood always tries to swallow up truth. This forces truth to defend itself. Nor can we assume this to be the nonsense of an earlier age. We may well see more religious wars in the future, perhaps even between Christians. All we can do is know the truth and stand for the truth.
This is what the Reformation was all about. It was people, like Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz and Gustavus Adolphus standing up for the truth of God’s Word. They were willing risk a great deal, even their lives, to advance the truth of God’s Word. Indeed we understand that the Bible is truth. Our confessions teach us that the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures are the only source, rule and norm, by which all teachers and all teachings are to be judged. And also that God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity.
Our text warns about this age, and all the ages of sinful men. Christ warns of those who would attack the Church by force. This would include heathen, such as the Roman authorities and later the Muslims. It would include false teachers who would use rules and legal right to drive the faithful preachers from their pulpits. It would include those officials in our own supposedly Christian nation who would restrict the voice of the Church. Against all of these we must stand, as did our forefather’s of old.
The second half of our text compares people to children calling back and forth to each other, but one acts as though they did not hear the other. This describes this generation in America to a T. The Word of God is preached but people don’t listen. They go on their merry way and ignore what God is telling them. Even within the Church this is all too often the case. A recent survey showed that over half of American Catholics are pro-abortion. This is a shameful disregard for the Word of God. Nor can the Church be held accountable. While we have many disagreements with Rome, this is not one of them. Rome as been most stalwart in teaching the value and dignity of human life. The Church plays the flute, but the people don’t dance. The Church sings a dirge and the people don’t morn.
What price do we pay for not listening to the Word of God. The truth is lost. This is not some academic matter. For without the truth of God’s Word, salvation is lost. We are lost and damned. Christ says that you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. (John 8:32) It is in the Words of Holy Scripture that God lays out for us His plan of salvation. If we reject God’s Word we reject His Salvation.
What then is the truth of God’s Word? What is it that Luther recovered for us at the time of the Reformation? First, Luther taught us a greater understanding of sin and its damning power. Sometimes it is said that Luther discovered that God is not angry with man. That is not correct. Luther understood, more than any of his contemporaries and more than almost anyone before or since, just how angry God is with man on account of sin. Sin is no trifling matter. It is the very power of death itself. Because sin is so very serious, only the most serious solution is workable. Good works, special prayers, intervention of saints and like are of no account against sin. It’s even worse than this, but it makes the point. It is as if a person owed a million dollars and said to the bank, well I have a buck and a quarter. Such is the magnitude of sin. So Luther’s first discovery was man’s futility in the face of sin. Then he was ready to read the great words of St. Paul: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... (Romans 3:23-24) So the truth is that we are sinners, lost and damned by our own power. But Jesus Christ has died for our sins and gives us faith, life and salvation as free gifts. Christ has overcome the powers of darkness and rendered them powerless. So now we can laugh in Satan’s face and stick our tongue out at him and say, Satan, you cannot touch me. Yes, I am a poor miserable sinner. But I am baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, who died for my sins and unites me to Him. Where He is, there I am also, because He has saved me. This is the truth of God’s Word. This is the truth to which we must cling, even at the cost of our lives. For only in this truth are we free from sin and death.