Walker, MN

October 28, 2018      Honest To God        Luke 15:20
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When Lutherans think of the Reformation, they think of Martin Luther ~our church father. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, of Germany around the year 1500, is well known for his many writings, His sermons, letters, & Bible commentaries, which fill over 55 volumes & are used or referenced by every denomination of Christians {even Catholics}. In the last 500 years, thousands of books, {& some plays & movies}, have been written about him. I’ve heard that more books & articles have been written about Luther than any other historical figure =… except Jesus.
He was a humble Augustinian monk who faced the power of the royal dukes, arch-bishops & kings, even the Pope & Roman Emperor; armed only with Scripture, and with a conscience that would accept nothing less than The Truth.
He was not trying to change the world; he began with no intention except to have a serious discussion with his fellow priests & theologians about how sinners are forgiven by a gracious God in Christ. One author describes it like this: ‘Luther was like a man in the darkness, climbing a winding staircase in the steeple of a cathedral. In the blackness, he reached out to steady himself, and his hand laid hold of a rope. In grabbing that rope, he was startled to hear the clanging of bell;’ … a bell that woke up a lot of people.
Martin Luther was a man who translated the Bible from the original Hebrew & Greek into German, so that the people could have the Bible in their own language. His zeal for this also led him to begin a rebirth in universal public education, and a standardization of the whole German language, so that the peasants & laymen could learn to read the new German Bible.
Luther’s simple understanding of the clear Gospel message ignited the hearts of a whole continent; and this reform of the church then heavily influenced the politics of Europe to affect the whole world. More locally, he re-introduced congregational singing, esp. as a means of instruction; and thereby made musicians & poets a huge part of the church.
And even after all of this, he was still a humble parish pastor, a devoted husband & father, and a sinner-made-a-saint thru faith in Jesus Christ; just as the Ap.Paul identified ALL believers in Christ as ‘saints’. This sounds like the praising of a mere man. BUT in pointing out these good things, we are acknowledging that a mere man could not do all these things to God’s Church.
God used this man as a renewing of the NT & Apostolic Faith, & our spiritual heritage; and we are certainly not ashamed of our Lutheran Confession of the clear Biblical Faith. Whether by prophets, apostles, or church fathers, we can celebrate how God & His Church has always overcome the crafty deceptions of the devil, and the ignorant errors of sinful men throughout history.
In any reading of the life of Martin Luther, we learn of a question that constantly troubled him; and in searching for the answer, he did all those things I listed. This question drove him to deep despair & fear. It was this: How can I, a mere mortal, & a terribly sinful one at that, have fellowship with the majestic, high & holy God of the universe?
It’s a very honest & realistic question. Luther rightly feared God, and rightly measured himself. Honestly, *what would God want with him? He knew he deserved nothing but God’s wrath & punishment. …… *Have WE ever wondered ~ why would God befriend us?
It would be like you befriending Adolf Hitler, /or having Osama bin-Ladin over for family dinners, / or inviting a known sex-offender to your family gathering. *How is it that Holy-God would ever connect with sinners like us? Now, we know the ‘gospel answer’, {thanks to God thru Luther} but at the time, Luther didn’t know it. I think it’s interesting that the Reformation started within a man who only wanted mercy & hope & peace with God. And when it found him, he changed the whole world by sharing it with others.
The OT prophet Isaiah was confronted with the majestic presence of God thru a vision.
It was a terrifying thing. In his honesty & fear, Isaiah cries out: ‘Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; Woe is me, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!’ In that vision, Isaiah felt the full holiness of God as compared to his sinful emptiness as a human. He was nothing, & he felt totally bare before God, unable to hide the sinner he was, and the condemnation he deserved.
The same with Luther. Even becoming a monk in the strictest Augustinian Order gave him no relief from the Holy God, whose presence He did not deserve to approach. All the strict discipline, /with numerous daily prayers, /fasting, /study, /confession, /& punishing the body,
did not remove the roadblock to God of his own sinful nature. To be ‘honest with God’, Luther could see no hope.
Much of the time, the modern Christian mind doesn’t feel this kind of fear of Isaiah or Luther; because it’s imagined that God is not so fussy, or that we are not so bad. It could be that much of Christianity today is shallow & immature, thinking that /God is more ‘human’ than holy; /that He only wants us to ‘try our best’ & that’s good enough; / that His rules are flexible; /or that He just wants us to feel good about whatever we do. {I’ve heard all of those}
A careless or lazy attitude toward spiritual truth and pure holiness is not reality = it’s a fantasy. This is one reason why God has let /trouble, /pain, /sorrow /& death remain in the world and affect our lives. For a sinful creature not to fear the holy Creator is dishonest & delusional. So, for our eternal good, God uses the real effects of sin to shake us awake.
In the time of sickness, pain, or loss, *do we wonder why we feel afraid &hopeless, desperate, and start asking questions of God? The nature of our fallen condition is so tough, that only our darkest hour will force us look to God for light.
An author, Pastor Kretzmann, once wrote, ‘The hour of the husks has come…the prodigal will return only when the application of the divine law has brought him to the realization that he and the swine are eating the same food.’ The ‘hour of the husks’ is an image of the Reformation. It’s that ‘rock bottom’, a low time of honesty of seeing our true condition as compared to God’s holy expectation.
Pr.Kretzmann was talking about the Prodigal son who turned away from his father, rebelled, disobeyed; and now his sin had made him equal to the pigs. He was longing to eat pig food, and only then did he come to his senses. The ‘hour of the husks’ is the reality of sin as compared to holiness. It’s an image of how far away from God we are.
Just as death is a separation from life, so sin is separation from God. Sinners are criminals against God’s laws for life. The penalty of our crimes is death & hell. The soul that sins against the Holy God will die. God’s Word says that we have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. This honesty brings fear & desperation.
The ‘hour of the husks’ is the reality of the punishment of God’s Law against sinners. BUT, it has an eternal purpose: So that the sinner will despair & turn away from sin, and seek any possible mercy from God; which sinners know we don’t deserve, but mercy is our only hope. Luther knew the terror of this spiritual reality. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
We say that the start of the Reformation was Oct.31,1517; it was the day before All Saint’s Day. Martin Luther posted on the doors of the Castle Church at Wittenberg 95 theses {or sentences} intended for scholarly debate. These 95 theses focused on the sinful & shameful behavior of the Roman Church, which affected his own parishioners. A priest named John Tetzel was selling indulgences with the approval of his archbishop & Pope Leo X. Indulgences were special certificates which promised the buyer {or their relatives} an official release from sins, from purgatory, and entrance into heaven. In other words, salvation was up for sale = for money.
BUT, the Reformation had begun earlier than this. For years Luther was living with his distressing question, searching for the answer of hope & peace. In the meantime, he studied, earned his doctorate, and became a professor at the university in Wittenberg and a parish pastor in town.
4 yrs earlier, in the spring of 1513, while studying for a classroom lecture on Psalm 72, certain words grabbed him, ‘In thy righteousness deliver me’. He couldn’t understand how God in His righteousness could ever deliver him. *How could the righteous & holy God desire to put-up-with someone like Luther or any sinful human? And Martin also read Romans 1:17, which says, ‘The just shall live by faith.’
It was then that something clicked. Like a key opening a door, letting the light of heavenly hope in. ‘How can I, a mere mortal, and a sinful one at that, have peace with the holy Lord of the universe?’ ‘Faith’. You see, faith is not something we do to make God like us. Faith is a spiritual gift brought to us because of God’s work for us = the work of forgiveness by Jesus on the cross. God speaks to us promises of His mercy to believe; and believing His words is faith. This gift of Faith is the link of peace & hope between God and us.
By these words, Luther’s image of God made a change. God was not standing far off with arms folded in holy anger. Instead, as in the parable of the Prodigal Son, God is the ‘running father.’ This is another Reformation picture. In the parable, Jesus pictures God /seeing ‘the sinner’ in the distance, /hears the cry of repentance, /cares with all of his heart, /& so runs down the road to meet the son, & hugs him in the arms of mercy & forgiveness.
The Gospel’s good news is that, at the right time =at the ‘time of the husks’= when we realize how dirty & low & doomed we are in sin, the news of Jesus Christ comes. In the person of Jesus, the holy God runs to us to cover us up with the forgiving robe of His crucified Son. This is ‘grace.’
In the unseen, spiritual realm, the blood of Jesus has cleansed us from all sins. This cannot be earned or purchased by us with anything earthly; God simply declares it freely to all people. The price is paid, it is finished; it is done; it is ours, and belongs to everyone who hears, believes & is baptized into God’s Word of promise. God has declared us righteous & holy, and -therefore- we are in fellowship with Him for the sake of Jesus Christ, thru faith.
Luther realized that this was not A truth, but was THE truth. This truth finally set him free from his fear & despair; even tho it made him a hated criminal in the eyes of the Roman Church. He was excommunicated which, at that time, was a death sentence. But the truth of God’s love gave him more life than anything else could. +++++++++++++++++++++
With ‘the hour of the husks’ and ‘the running God’ there is one more image of the Reformation for today.{which reminds me of my daughter Eve} A man was a florist, who made beautiful arrangements from some of the most exquisite flowers. One day, his small son came into the flower shop, and bashfully handed him a fistful of wilted dandelions that he had picked in a nearby field.
The father gladly accepted them, saying they were beautiful. He put them in a small vase and placed it on the middle of the counter so that everybody who came in that day could see the gift that his boy had given. As a Reformation image, *what was the real gift, and who gave it?
The Reformation answer is this: the chief gift was a loving acceptance; the giver was the father. It is only because our heavenly Father is gracious toward us that we could ever think of approaching him with our pitiful wilted life; and it’s only because of Jesus & His cross that we can believe that our Father is gracious. This is the gospel’s good news for all sinners.
As it was with the parable of the Prodigal, the son came back empty & repentant, with nothing to offer but a wilted life; when he realized that, then the true gift of the father could be seen. The wonder of it is not that we bring our gifts to Him, but that God so graciously accepts us, forgives & renews us, and is able to use our lives for good.
Honestly, at times our lives don’t even compare to wilted dandelions. But the God who gave us life, and re-creates us to be alive by faith in Christ Jesus, He graciously accepts our lives brought back to Him. He bears with our weakness, covers & forgives our sins, and guides & trains us to live as His holy & obedient children. That’s the gift we receive.
So, Martin Luther asked: ‘How can I, a mere mortal, & a terribly sinful one at that, have fellowship with the majestic, high and holy God of the universe?’ The answer he found in Christ alone & faith alone reformed & restored Christianity.
So, these are 3 pictures of the Reformation, brought to light by a humble but persistant Augustinian monk; and these truths restored the NT Church:
#1 = God allows the weight of sin to trouble us so that we experience ‘the hour of the husks’,
with the honest realization of our lost condition without Him.
#2 = God then has set Himself up ~here~ in a place where, by His Word & Sacrament, He is
always running to meet us to give us His promise of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
And #3 = because of that Law and Gospel, we are now able to live under grace & by faith.
We bring our humble life to our Father, like a handful of wilted dandelions; which He accepts and arranges, as only a Perfect Florist could do. Amen