Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from October 31, 2021
Manuscript of Pastor’s sermon.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
This Sunday marks the 504th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 theses by Martin Luther to the chapel door at the collegiate church in Wittenberg, Germany on the eve of All Saints Day.
The Church commemorates many individuals and events each year.. For example in October alone, special days are set aside to remember St. Francis of Assisi, St. Luke the Evangelist, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, St. Ignatius, Philippi Nicolai, James the brother of Jesus and St. Simon and St. Jude. The calendar is filled with dates and names and places that have made a significant contribution to the Christian faith.
So two questions immediately come to mind. Why does the church make such a point of remembering and commemorating so many events and people? Why have Lutherans for 504 years so assiduously celebrated the Reformation on the anniversary of the nailing of the 95 theses to that chapel door.
First, consider why the Church places such emphasis on remembering. The other day I happened to be thumbing through a book by Andre Comte-Sponville titled A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues. The author spoke about the relationship of remembering to the virtue of fidelity. Fidelity has to do with faithfulness. He called fidelity the virtue of memory. In other words, how can we be faithful, if we do not remember? By remembering we remain true to the values to the values and traditions and truth of our faith.
If nothing else, the Christianity emphasizes faithfulness. Maybe that’s why we call it the Christian faith. We are faithful to God and faithful to scripture and faith and to the example set for us by Jesus Christ. Here faithfulness means remembering what God has done for us, what scripture teaches us, what Christ means for discipleship. Faith is an act of remembering.
Interestingly, modern American Christianity has fallen into forgetfulness, a sort of modern amnesia. Have you ever listened to the message of the modern television evangelist? You would never know Christianity has existed for two thousand years. They pick-up the Bible and pull a verse from here and a verse from there. There is no structure of memory to interpret scripture. The Bible becomes whatever they want it to be today.
Reformation Sunday is day for remembering. Through remembrance we proclaim again faithfulness to God and Christ. We recall once more the distinctive and determinative features of our faith. We ought to recall those principles.
When Luther nailed his theses to the chapel door, he argued Christ must command the life and mission of the Church. The Church grows from and reflects the Word of God made visible in Jesus Christ. Any attempt to hijack the Gospel for individual or institutional or political reasons is wrong. The Church leaders, the politicians and even the ordinary folks of Luther’s time turned Jesus Christ into a water boy for self-serving purposes. Christ became a cover for the political manipulation of both the church and state. The common folks turned Jesus into a magic potion or talisman. Luther’s action called the self-serving agendas into question by arguing Christ alone is Lord of all.
On Reformation Sunday we reaffirm for ourselves that Christ is Lord of all and that self-serving agendas have no place. Last week in the church newsletter I spoke about how political parties and conservative and liberal media pundits, both Republicans and Democrats, and even the religious communities to mask their politics as God’s politics. That’s the same slight of hand trick Luther argued against. Anymore I refuse to call myself a Republican or a Democrat or even conservative or liberal. The labels always distort the issues and side track the issues.
The restoration of Holy Scripture to the center of Christian life stands as the second great accomplishment of Luther on Reformation Day. Some years after Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the Castle Church door he was called before a conference in the city of Worms to defend his actions before the Emperor and leaders of the Church. Luther stood before that assembly and said that he had top be convinced from Holy Scripture before he would recant his conviction.
Luther believed scripture alone revealed Jesus Christ to the Church. Holy Scripture commands the human conscience. The government can legislate laws. Society and culture can allure us. We can deceive ourselves. But only the Christ who lies at the heart of scripture can command us. Once again this great principle of the Reformation lays before us. Unfortunately, modern Christians are almost as ignorant of scripture as the peasants who wondered at a Bible written in Latin. Today Luther calls the church back to the Bible to find the Christ who is Lord.
Finally, we recall when Luther mounted the Castle Church steps he did so trusting only in God. Luther had no money, no armies and no followers, but he willingly carried an invisible cross upon his shoulders. He suffered for his action, but trusted in the wisdom and power of God to guide and sustain him through his great ordeal.
Do we have the faith of a Martin Luther? How often in our life do we feel bereft of all support? Inevitably, we face times when the assurances of friends or family, the magic of modern technology, the guarantees of government programs or laws fail us. Suddenly, we feel stripped of the layers of protection wrapped around us. We are alone by reason of health or old age. We feel vulnerable. No amount of money can help us. At that moment we stand before our God with nothing more than our faith to offer. He affirms, comforts and leads us.
Let me conclude with this thought. Reformation Sunday is not about waving time worn banners. Reformation Sunday has to do with living our faith today. Our Reformation worship is an act of remembering. We called to faithfulness to the great principles which undergird our faith. Without remember, there is no fidelity to the faith handed down to us.When Luther nailed the ninety-five these to the Castle Church, he affirmed Christ as Lord, restored the authority of Scripture and placed all his trust in God. Let us do the same. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.