October 25, 2020 Reformation Sunday The text is Romans 3:19-28 / John 8:31-36
Romans 3:19-28. Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
John 8:31-36. Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Martin Luther didn’t set out to break away from the medieval Christian church to start what became Protestantism. In fact, he never even intended to make large changes to the basic tenets of the church. And his posting of his 95 Theses to the church door was not an act of defiance nor was it intended to disrupt the accepted theological dogma of the church of Rome. He merely found himself struggling with a number of the worldly actions of the church and strove to engage in academic discussion. But, the presence of a recently invented printing press in Wittenberg and the resultant widespread publication of the Theses ultimately led to the Reformation of the church that we celebrate today. Luther’s own self-doubt and his belief that he would never be able to live up to the demands of God’s Law; this was what drove him to search Scripture for the truth of the salvation to be obtained through the work of Christ on the cross.
He found this most specifically in Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially in the portion we read this morning. These verses convinced Luther that neither he, nor anyone would ever be able to earn a righteous relationship with God through their own efforts. He was overcome with relief through the understanding of Paul’s pronouncement that “we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works”. These few syllables convinced Brother Martin that faith, and its resulting justification cannot be earned; righteousness is a gift brought about through the unmerited grace of God.
Luther expressed this through the five “Solas”, that are the foundation of Lutheran theological belief. Sola is Latin for “Only”, (think “solo” or “alone”). Two of these are, “the glory of God alone” and “Scripture alone”. These were foundational for Luther. But the three that are grouped together to form the basis of Luther’s theology as he understood it from Romans are; “Sola Christus” – Christ alone, “Sola Fide” – faith alone, and “Sola Gratia” – grace alone. On this day as we commemorate the Reformation of the church, we proclaim these as our belief that we are justified by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. This is the expression of God’s love for God’s people.
Jesus himself confirms this for us in John’s Gospel, stating that through this combination of grace, faith, and Christ himself, that we are made free. “Who the Son sets free is free indeed!”, Jesus tells us. God’s people are freed from sin, freed from death, and freed from the evil forces that would seek to separate us from God and draw us away from the abundant life that is God’s will for us. This freedom from sin and the resultant promise of life abundant is the truth revealed to us by Christ, and through Luther’s “Solas”, which are the lynchpins of the Reformation; and by this we are “free indeed”.
Our Confirmands have completed two years of exploration of their faith, discovering the truth of this freedom revealed in Christ. They have spent many hours learning the basic tenets of Lutheran Christian theology, and along the way discovering this freedom that the Gospel promises us all. This second year centered on the Catechism; the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed. They have studied Luther’s insights of these confessions of our faith, while all along discerning how their own understanding of these theological precepts has developed. We spent a great deal of our learning time together delving into the impact that our faith has on how we live our lives at this moment. And it was agreed that as they move through the different phases of their lives that the way they view their faith will undoubtedly evolve.
In 1st Corinthians we read, “when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways”. Martin Luther would agree, “this is most certainly true”. Yet, we all transition through various phases in our lives; our Confirmands’ faith journey won’t remain stagnant; this morning’s Affirmation of their Faith is truly a significant milestone. Yet, as they travel the path that is set before them their understanding of their faith will likely evolve. They have advanced from a childlike understanding, just like Paul described to the church in Corinth. But it’s fair to say that as they experience the joys and challenges of this life, that their faith will develop in concert with their life story. We may rest assured that their faith journeys will mirror that the church. Each will likely undergo their individual “reformations”, the evolution of their faith.
Shortly they will affirm the baptismal promises that were initially made on their behalf and they now take these promises upon themselves as adult members of this congregation. And as they do so we collectively hope and pray that any future re-forming of their faith will bring them to an ever-closer relationship with the God who yearns for a righteous relationship with us all. We pray that they will always remember this central truth of our faith; that they are each so immeasurably valuable to God that God chose to sacrifice his Son in order to save them. That God will spend every moment of their lives striving to convince them of this ultimate truth, the unwavering expression of God’s grace. That in God’s eyes they are priceless!
And with a nod of thanks to an upstart German monk who dared to nail to the church door, his desire to have God’s children know their true worth, we pray that they will always cling to this; that they are justified by God’s grace, through their faith in Christ. “Sola Christus”, “Sola Fide”, “Sola Gratia”. Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.