Sunday October 28, 2018, St Petri
Bishop David Altus
Romans 1:16-17For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Every year at this time we get a reminder about what a Lutheran congregation stands for.
Do you know what you stand for and do you value it?
In life generally we’d rather know than not know what people stand for, even if it is only so we can shoot them down! We look at our political parties and leaders and ask “what do you stand for?” – that I should trust you and vote for you? When our AFL team doesn’t do so well fans lament that “We don’t know what our club stands for anymore.”
Someone said: “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything”
So what do you stand for St Petri?
Why you here?
What matters, and matters most to you?
What are you known for and want to be known for?
What is worth “going to the wall over together?” Is it the walls of the church and which way round they are? Or what happens here inside them, or outside them?
People often want me to make more of a stand on moral or political issues to set society straight or to take stand on issues in the church – as long as I stand on their side!
Martin Luther was known for three words: “Here I stand”
He said those words to the face of an emperor, and to his church. An emperor and church who had put on the table the books Luther had written and demanded a retraction. But Luther said “I can’t and I won’t recant!”
He stood there and would not budge because of what he had discovered in the gospel – the good news of God’s grace, God’s undeserved kindness and love for him and everyone in Jesus Christ. Grace that justified the unrighteous Luther.
He had first discovered that good news in passages like Romans 1:16-17 and it led him to say with St Paul “I am not ashamed of the gospel”. He devoted the rest of his life and put his life on the line for that Gospel.
All of us have numerous experiences in life where we have felt ashamed. We can be ashamed of our thoughts words and actions and ashamed of our bodies. Ashamed of ourselves and each other. Ashamed of our public persona and our inner private world.
Some feel ashamed of our church right now, divided as we seem to be on some things. Some have left because of that. Some would have left if the recent decision went the other way a few weeks ago at Synod.
Luther felt ashamed before God and he feared God.
He retreated to monastery to live a “religious life”
He tried doing good things 24 hrs a day
He tried confessing his sins until he was blue in face and exhausted
Nothing set him free from doubt about himself and his goodness and doubt about God and what God thought of him. Nothing worked, except Romans 1:16-17
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
The good news of Christ is the power that blew away his shame and guilt, any uncertainty about where he stood with God, any uncertainty about entry to heaven when he died.
The Gospel of what Jesus did when he lived and died for him blew away like dynamite (that’s the Greek word for power here) – it blew up and blew away any self-doubt, any self-righteousness, any pride in his own goodness and standing before God.
Being set right, being able to stand and walk and run and live in God’s presence freely now and forever is a gift, he discovered.
God gives what he expects and wants for, and in us.
God gives his own rightness so we don’t need to be “self”-righteous.
We see it and I believe it when we look at the cross and Jesus dying for me.
To the proud that good news says “you can’t earn or deserve it”
To the crushed and broken it says “you don’t have to earn or deserve it”
The gospel of being saved by God’s grace alone, received by faith alone, in Christ alone.
Lutherans live and breathe that Gospel.
We stand and we walk in its power.
We die in its grace and hope.
That’s what enabled Luther to stand in front of his church and state when they challenged and condemned him. He was willing to go to the wall and die for it just as St Paul was.
“Here I stand” – what else can I do, he said.
Our Lutheran confessional writings, the teachings we believe express the gospel clearly tell us that the church stands or falls on the gospel, on what we teach and believe about Jesus and God’s justifying grace to us in him. Full stop. Nothing else
The danger existed in Paul’s day and Luther’s day and in our day right now in our LCA to add a law to the gospel, thinking:
“We will only be a genuine church of Jesus if we ordain women”
Or “We will cease to be true church of Jesus if we ordain women”
As important an issue as this has been and will continue to be,
Don’t let this issue become either a new law or a new gospel.
Don’t let it overshadow Christ, as convicted and conflicted about this and other issues as we are.
Don’t make it the unforgivable sin – either way.
Don’t let it be what defines the church.
Don’t break the church that Christ died for any further than it already is.
Luther had many issues with his church but never thought of leaving it. He thought a lot about reforming it from the inside out – and he endured the pain for that until he was kicked out… for proclaiming the gospel.
What we go to the wall over, argue over, leave the church over even, says a lot about what we stand for. What might those things be for you?
Buildings? (I know you have a meeting about buildings today)
Music and songs?
They are all important, but one day we will “hit the wall” when we all go to our graves.
What will we stand on then, what will matter most or at all as we are about to meet God who gave us life and to whom we are accountable?
On Tuesday I will stand at a graveside. You won’t be there, but you will, because I will be representing you at the funeral of NSW bishop James Haak who died suddenly last weekend in North Adelaide aged 59.
What we stand for and what he stood for will be made crystal clear at his funeral. I expect to hear from Bishop Henderson the gospel. Our confidence and hope in the face of death is not that James was male nor female, a pastor, a bishop even a family man or all round nice guy.
James died a righteous man because he died in Christ, and that’s all.
Our confidence is in Christ alone, who gives us God’s grace alone, and we will stand there at his grave with faith alone in God’s word alone.
That’s what I expect to here on Tuesday or I will be posting some theses of my own on the front door of LCA HQ at 197 Archer St on Wed morning!
The power of God will be at work in grieving hearts in the face of sin and death as Bishop John proclaims what Lutherans expect him to proclaim. There is nothing else that will be able to cut it on Tuesday than the gospel.
At the recent synod after the debate and vote and after reflection by delegates expressing sadness at division in church, it was Bishop James Haak who proposed a motion, which Synod passed almost unanimously and without debate: ‘that Synod acknowledges the deep hurt and harm to individuals and groups that has been occasioned over the past years in the course of the debate regarding ordination; repents of the hurt, and seeks forgiveness and reconciliation with one another’.
Repentance – that’s the call in the first of Luther’s 95 theses that started the Reformation.
Standing begins on our knees, in repentance, looking for and depending on God’s grace to us individually and together. Recognising our own need for the gospel and receiving the gospel, as has happened here today.
And standing on the gospel is not standing still. You can’t stand still when you experience the power of the gospel. You have to live it and express it and share it. It has its inbuilt power to want others to enjoy it too.
At same time as Martin Luther made his discovery and went to the wall and world over it, another Martin (of Basle) also discovered the gospel and he wrote: “O most merciful Christ I know that I can only be saved by your blood. Holy Jesus I acknowledge thy sufferings for me, I love you, I love you”. Then he took his witness to Jesus and hid it in a cavity of his cell wall in the monastery where it stayed for 100 years, while others around him were striving to find their own way to God. He enjoyed it himself but hid the dynamite of the gospel.
By all means say with Martin Luther “here we stand” by grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone.
Stand firm, but don’t stand still, and don’t be ashamed of the gospel, it is God’s power to save you and all who believe it. Our privilege is not only to live in that Gospel but to share it.