Sermons, Uncategorized

The One Truth in a World of Many “Truths”

comforting-lie-cartoonClick here to listen to this sermon.So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

At the dawn of the Reformation, the church in Germany was led by Joachim, an elector from Brandenburg, and his brother, Albert, who was bishop of Halberstadt and archbishop of both Magdeburg and Mainz. To get these jobs, these men contributed millions of dollars to the church in Rome. But because neither brother had this much money, they borrowed it from a family of bankers. Loans must be paid back, of course, and Pope Leo allowed Albert to raise money to pay this loan by selling indulgences. Half of the money they received from selling indulgences went to pay their debt to the bankers, and the rest went to Rome to help pay for the building of the Basilica of St. Peter.

With Pope Leo’s approval, Albert chose a monk named John Tetzel to sell the indulgences to the German people. This would give Albert the money he needed to repay his large debts. It would give the pope the money he needed to build his magnificent church in Rome. And in the mind of the people, it would give them the indulgences they thought they needed to buy forgiveness. It seemed like the perfect plan… except for one thing: it was not grounded in the truth!

Martin Luther preached against indulgences. Forgiveness cannot be bought or sold. The only way to avoid hell and go to heaven is through Christ, not through people’s own efforts, and certainly not through buying a piece of paper. Yet the selling of indulgences went on. Hoping to shine the light of truth on this unscriptural practice, Luther wrote a list of objections, called the Ninety-five Theses, and he posted it on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Little did people realize that these hammer blows on the door of the Castle Church would change Western Christianity as well as the course of history.

And we may rightly ask this Reformation Day: How could one man do it? Short answer: he couldn’t, and he didn’t. Looking at all the subsequent events of what we have come to call the Reformation of the Church, it’s not about Martin Luther. It’s not about the Ninety-five Theses. Rather, the Reformation is all about the one truth in Christ instead of the many “truths” around us.

When Luther issued his Ninety-five Theses to the Church—he was challenging Christians—no, not just the high and the mighty, like the pope and the bishops and the abbotts and the prelates—He was challenging all Christians to come back to the source of faith and hope: the Word of God, the Bible.

Admittedly, at the time, the Church was “doing fine”—if your standard is possessions, activity, people involvement, and influence. If you were to have considered the Collegiate Church of All Saints in Wittenberg, better known as the Castle Church, everyone would have been, perhaps was, full of admiration. A college of seven priests, subject to no local bishop but only to the pope in Rome, drew thousands of visitors a year. They conducted no less than nine thousand masses a year—you heard me right: nine thousand. That provided a sizable income for the clergy. But even more so, people received assurance for the quicker release from purgatory both for themselves and for their family members. A good deal all around, and of great economic benefit to the city. And here came this monk and said… Well, what did he say?

Father Luther did not say: Don’t listen to the Church; they don’t really have anything to say anyway. That would be the general Protestant idea: anybody can believe anything he wants to. Dr. Luther would be horrified. No, Luther said, preached, and wrote, “Retro ad fontes” (“Let’s get back to the source”). And the source of faith and therefore of the Church is the Word of God.

Jesus said: “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples” (v 31). And how did His listeners respond? “We are offspring of Abraham, they declared” (v 33). In other words, “We have no need to rely on the words of anyone else; we are proud of being descendants of this great prophet.” And at Luther’s time, the response of Church leaders was simply this: “You keep out of this, Luther; we know best.” And today? “I’ve been Lutheran all my life. I know how these things are supposed to work,” some would say.

That’s all good and fine. But dare I ask you about your faith in Christ or your faithfulness to God’s Word? Because that is what the Reformation events were all about. Not about a mythical German hero named Luther, but about God’s grace that helped us recover the hidden, the falsified, and glossed-over Word of God. And here (show the Bible) you have it. All of God’s mercy, packed in words, and the whole Christ, crucified and risen for you, speaking to you His full message of repentance and salvation in your own language.

But look around this day. There will be Reformation Day services elsewhere. There will be people who might claim the name “Lutheran,” with the same translated Bible for daily use and preaching in the Church, and yet their proclamation differs so much from ours that you might begin to wonder what “Lutheran” means these days. There seem to be—even in the Church—so many different views, opinions, philosophies, and convictions that others begin to ask: What does the Christian Church stand for? What does it mean to be Lutheran?

“If you abide in”—that is, listen to, stick to, remain with, hang on to—“My Word, you are truly My disciples,” says Jesus. The best medicine prescribed by the doctor will be of no use to you if you don’t take it! Abide in His Word.

And how do you “abide”? It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Christian education, catechism instruction, and regular worship for the survival of each Lutheran in his Christian faith.

It is nothing but life threatening, a threat to your spiritual survival, to disregard the Word of God or to separate from it. And churches and preachers who do that put the faith of their listeners in jeopardy. In the end, they must give an account for every soul lost. With the content of the Bible firm and clear, preachers have no right—and certainly the Church has no authority whatsoever—to “reinterpret” the proclamation contrary to the Bible so that it might better “fit” modern views.

Obviously, such an insistence on the one scriptural truth will not be appreciated everywhere by everyone, even in the realm of Christendom. There will be debate, disagreement, and contention. But then, was it that different at Jesus’ time? In our text and the verses immediately after, Jesus says to those who had believed in Him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin… I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill Me because My Word finds no place in you… You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning” (vv 34, 37, 44).

No sweet little Jesus here. Jesus minced no words when he spoke with those who relied on themselves, prided themselves in their condition, and rejected Him and His Word. Strong words. And let me add: Sermons that cover up all sorts of spiritual mess, that don’t uncover sin, that do not show us our fundamental need for spiritual healing and restoration, such sermons ought to go directly from the computer to the trash can, never coming near a pulpit.

Perhaps what I’ve said so far was all a bit too much for you. Perhaps you had hoped today to hear more praises of Martin Luther, hear other great men and women of the Reformation. Well, this is not a course in history. This service is not about the past. Our worship service is always a message for the here and now—and its content—Christ’s Holy Word and the blessed Sacrament of the Altar—strengthens us for the road to the Christian’s final goal.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (v 32). That truth we learned from men like Dr. Luther. And from those following him, including the teachers and preachers in our Church who expound the truth of Christ. And that truth says: You cannot free yourself from what you are. “The sinner,” says Jesus, “is a slave, bound, tied up, loaded down.” But Christ Jesus, God’s truth, is the truth that frees us.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), Jesus said. What a claim! And what a promise! For Christians, truth is not a theory nor a philosophy nor ideology. The truth embraced by Christians and expounded by the Church is incarnational. It centers in a person as God’s final and saving promise to each of us. The promise is nothing less than true life, life in eternity, life constant and joyous in God’s presence.

What do you have to do to realize that promise in your own life? Absolutely nothing! It’s already been done for you. In our text we hear: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). And the Son has set you free! By Jesus’ death on the cross for all your sins, you are free! Indeed!

So this day, we are gathered not to celebrate a man or a movement—though it is certainly fitting to thank the Lord of the Church for His servant Martin Luther. We do not put out a list of who does what in order to reach the Christian’s goal—even though there are Christian communities that do just that. This day’s worship bids us to praise and thank Christ our Redeemer for giving us all for nothing, leading us from a world of “truths” to the one Truth, for taking us from captivity to self into the glorious spiritual freedom of the children and heirs of God.

Without any merit on our part, we again hear Christ declaring us free and loose from sin through the words of absolution spoken here. We listen to the Gospel of eternal liberty worked for each of us by the sacrificial death of Jesus; and—awesome as it is!—we witness the power of the Savior’s words, making of ordinary bread and wine the bearers of nothing less than the body and blood of our holy Lord. Out of these simple earthly elements, the creative Word of God makes “a medicine of immortality” for our lifelong walk to the gates of paradise.

Now why would anyone want to miss that?

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

All the Preparations Are Ready: Sermon for the Funeral of Sarah Jane Morman

Morman-Sarah_oval-232x300Click here to listen to this sermon. 

In the sermon text, Jesus was Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Dear Patricia and Richard, members of Sarah’s family, friends, neighbors, and members of Our Saviour’s congregation,

At times like this, we are reminded of two days that are particularly and especially before us. One of those two days is the day of the funeral—today. As you well know, there have certainly been a great number of things to do and decisions to make since a week ago Friday when the Lord took Sarah to Himself in heaven. There have been numerous preparations in order that the grave site committal could take place and for this funeral service.

Fortunately, Sarah had been preparing for this day and service. She wrote most of her own obituary (although since she was much too modest, Patricia had to add a few things like the variety of sports she played: tennis, bowling, and an industrial baseball league just a step below the one like in “A League of Her Own.”) Sarah chose some of the pictures she wanted to share and indicated she wanted to be buried at Fort Snelling with her husband, Ray.

More importantly, Sarah helped to prepare for our worship service today. She selected the hymns she wanted us to sing, the readings that you have just heard. She wanted all this worship service to focus on Jesus Christ—Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. Though it is never easy to plan a service for a loved one, this certainly made it a lot easier for you to get all the preparations ready for this day.

The second day we all face is much more difficult to prepare for. In fact, it is an impossible day; and to make it even more frightening, no one can tell you what day it is. It is, in all likelihood, a different day for each one of us here. For Sarah, it was a week ago last Friday, the day of her death. What day will it be for you?

What is your death day? I can’t tell you. It might be today; it might be ten years from now. Left all alone, with only yourself and your death day ahead of you, … well … there is no way to prepare for that portal called death which leads to eternity. Indeed, without God there is only eternal destruction and condemnation on the other side of your death day. In the darkness of this day at hand and that day ahead of us, such thoughts are more than troubling … they are terrifying!

The preparations for the funeral service are easy when compared with the preparations for the day of death. Truly, not one of us here can prepare for the day of death. Those preparations must be made for you by God. That’s why, on this day, Sarah wanted you to hear a sermon based on a section from John 14:1-6, and to do so that you may know of the preparations that the Lord has undertaken and brought about for your death day. Please listen to the words of Jesus once again:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to Him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

We are not able to make the preparations necessary to enter into heaven and the eternal Paradise that God wants us to have in His presence. Each one of us is a sinful human being who daily sins much in thought, word, and deed … by what we do and by what we don’t do … by what we say and what we don’t say … by what we think and what we don’t think. Hour after hour, week after week, year after year the burden of sin builds and there is terror as we consider just what we deserve from the holy, just, righteous God. For those who take their sinfulness and their sins seriously, to say that our hearts are troubled is an understatement. If left to ourselves and our own devices, our outlook would be hopeless. The Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever.

The Good News to you this day, whoever you are, is this: God has done it. Let not your hearts be troubled. To accomplish your salvation, God the Father sent God the Son into this world to take your place by enduring the penalty for your sinfulness and for all your sins … every one of them. Jesus paid the debt that was yours. Listen to Jesus, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God; believe also in Me.”

Jesus is God, just as the Father is God. God prepared your redemption when He died on the cross. His words, “It is finished!” indicate a complete payment and accomplished salvation for you. Truly, truly, I say to you, Jesus is our Redeemer and He has made all the preparations for you to be with Him in Paradise.

God baptized Sarah into Christ’s death at Oak Grove United Presbyterian Church in 1930 and her death became His death and His death became her death. Sarah died that day of her Baptism. She was crucified with Christ and from that moment on, it was no longer she who lived but Christ living in her; and the life which she then lived in the flesh, she lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved her and gave Himself for her (Galatians 2:20). On the day of her Baptism, the Lord was preparing Sarah for a week ago Friday, the day when she entered Paradise.

Please remember, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever. The Good News to you this day, whoever you are, is this: God has done it. Let not your hearts be troubled. In order to accomplish your salvation, Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day … on what we call Easter morning. Neither death nor the devil nor the grave could hold Him. He has defeated them for you.

God granted Sarah her first resurrection when He baptized her with water and the Word. She was buried with Christ through Baptism into death, that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so she also walked in newness of life from that moment (Romans 6:4). On the day of her Baptism, the Lord was not only preparing Sarah for a week ago last Friday when she entered Paradise, in that first resurrection of Baptism, the Lord was also preparing Sarah for the Last Day and the resurrection of her body to live everlasting.

The Lord worked faith in Sarah’s heart in Holy Baptism. Attending worship regularly, she heard the proclamation of the Gospel and God granted her faith to believe in Him and His promises. The Lord, through His Word and Sacrament, sustained and strengthened the faith that He created in Sarah throughout her life. You need only look at one of Sarah’s Bibles to see how much she treasured the Word of God—there you will see evidence of how she prayed for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren each day in morning and evening devotions.

A few days before her death, Sarah partook of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for the last time here on this earth. A week ago Friday, the Lord who had prepared a place for her at His banqueting table in Paradise, received her unto Himself that where He is, there she is also now. So she and Ray are together once again and their voices hymn among the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven singing the never-ending liturgy of the Church Triumphant. Therefore, let not your heart be troubled.

preparing His followers for what was ahead for Him—for His awful suffering and His cursed death on the cross. He knew that His disciples would need hope in the days that followed. Therefore, He tells them about His ascension … about not only dying and about not only rising from the dead, but also for His ascension in and to heaven. Thus Jesus speaks to you and thus did Sarah want you, this day, to hear these words of hope and comfort.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.

But you know something: On the day when Jesus spoke these words, not everyone knew what He meant. At least one person among those hearing the Word that day did not know what Jesus meant. At least one person in the congregation did not know what was being said, did not understand, was not at all certain what this meant. Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to Him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

“No one comes to the Father except through Me.” That is neither threat nor law. It is a promise. That, dear people, is pure Gospel … pure Good News. Everything of God has its source in Christ and is reached through Christ. Jesus is the Way, the only Way to the Father. Jesus is the Truth. We can trust Jesus because all that is real and true is found in Him. He is God the Word, and through His Word He reveals His salvation. Jesus is the Life, the source of physical and spiritual life. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life.

The Son of God, in His becoming one of us, in His sinless life, in His sin-atoning death on the cross, in His victorious resurrection, in His majestic ascension and in His life-giving and sustaining Word, has made all preparations for you to be with Him in Paradise. Live in His Word and grace each day. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.