Sermon, Reformation Day, 26 October 2014.
I think this is why I am happy to be named a “Lutheran”. Sure, I like to look good. It does not always work though! I am not “Lutheran” because I want to look good or show every other Christian that we have it all together or to wheel out a name and a story and theology to others in order to impress. I am not happy to be identified as “Lutheran” as if that name and that place and story was a big mask, covering up the real me, or the real us, lest other Christians of other traditions find out we are dodgy or scared or lame. I am not keen to be named among the Lutheran stream of the Christian community in order to be particularly “Lutheran”, but really because of two things; 1. I did not choose this name, this identity, this story and this community. I found myself placed here. That was God’s doing, I am sure. 2. What I have found in this community across this country and NZ, and in this long reformation story we share, is a freedom not always present in other places I have been, spiritually, Christian and not Christian. In reformation theology and practice in our church I find an honest appraisal of people. I find a truthful appraisal of who I am as a fallen human being – no sugar coating, no hiding, no pretending as if I really can love God enough, or do good enough of pray enough or believe the right things enough to get myself in God’s good books. In reformation theology and practice in our church I find an honest appraisal of people. I find a truthful appraisal of who I am as a fallen human being – no sugar coating, no hiding, no pretending as if I really can love God enough, or do good enough of pray enough or believe the right things enough to get myself in God’s good books. I find myself echoing the Apostle John. I have been told the truth, and by Jesus the Son gave up everything his Sonship of God gives him for me, I have been set free with him. I am now treated by the Lord as his own dearly loved son. That is astounding. Reformation Day tells me who I am – tells us who we are again…. I have the view these days that what God did through those years of massive change in Europe 500 years ago through various people, including Luther, was bring us his whole church back to the core of his identity and his mission. God took off the masks we try and hide behind and set us free from having to keep hiding away from him.
God used everyday people, including one rather rotund little German monk with a strange haircut, to reveal that he is good to the core and ‘til the last. He convinced us all again that he loves the world and is on a mission to love. His news in his Son is very good news for people hiding behind masks – too scared to be identified by God. Because I have been shown by the Lord through his people in this church that he is indeed “full of grace and truth”, as John says right at the start of his account of Jesus (John 1), I don’t have to pretend that I am holier than thou, always a winner, never a loser, always on top of things, never confused or hurt and just really sad. Neither do you. Are you scared of the word ‘Reformation’, ‘Christian” or “Lutheran” or “Church” or “Disciple”? Do they mean “just try harder” to you? If “Lutheran” or “Christian” for you is about bring very, very good you will always be in one of two places in your effort to get God to keep approving of you and blessing you – either prideful arrogance or hopeless despair. St Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthian Christians,
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings despair and death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
So, when being a disciple is firmly “all on me”, one place I would end up in would be arrogant self-pride. Instead of trusting that I have not got a leg to stand on before the Lord, and that everything good in me and around me is freely given by a gracious and loving heavenly Father in his holy Word, I will believe that I have set myself free by my own wonderful goodness, effort, history, family, personality, intellect or whatever other “mask” I might choose to wear.
The other place slaves-of-self get to is complete despair and a crushing sense of hopelessness. You know you are not good enough for a good God and you know that it would not matter how good you were for however long. As we heard before,
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:20)
Endlessly trying harder to please others and God will end in despair. You’ll just end up super aware of how bad you are – with no end in sight! And that is exactly where that little German monk found himself: Despairing of his embarrassing and annoying sin. And then he was interrupted in his arrogance and despair by pure underserved love and its joy! He met our gracious God in His word.
Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23-24)
Ah friend, meet him today on Reformation Day! Masks off. No need for them today or any day.
“Messes are His specialty”.
“It’s OK to not be OK around here”.
He loves us. Out of this love He calls us to be ourselves as we be his where he has placed us. The Son has set your free. You are free indeed!