Thursday, June 26, 2014

"This isn't your grandpa's church" - A Homily for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

I was recently driving by a church in Wausau. Their church sign quite proudly described themselves with a slogan that perhaps you too have seen. The sign said “This is not your grandpa’s church.” I don’t know exactly what they mean by that but I can take a guess. Grandpa was old fashioned. He was old. He was traditional, maybe a little old fashioned – stuck in his ways perhaps. 

“This isn’t your grandpa’s church” they boasted. I do remember my grandpa’s church up in Northern Wisconsin and frankly it was a lot like this one in Wittenberg. Brick walls, a bell in the steeple, a big cross, an altar, a pulpit, and a baptismal font. The preacher wore vestments. He preached about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. The folks sat together in pews, they bowed their heads, they prayed, they sang the liturgy, they sang hymns. They sang A Mighty Fortress and Church’s One Foundation – hymns that we are still singing tonight. 

My grandpa’s preacher said “all your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Grandpa’s Lutheran preacher said that bread was the Lord’s body and wine was his blood. Body and blood which forgives and cleanses from all sin. Heavenly food and drink which nourishes and strengthens to life everlasting - communion with God, eternal life, and all the gifts of heaven - this was the message of Grandpa’s church.

I don’t know exactly what that church sign was getting at but the idea is that grandpa’s church is outdated so out with the old and in with the new. While the world expects the church to change and accept whatever cultural shift comes along, the church remains the same because Jesus remains the same. The church has her own language, her own culture, and her own rituals.     

We don’t have to apologize for being Lutheran. We don’t have to apologize for having something in common with our grandparents.

In a way, this is what provoked the Lutheran Reformers to defy the Roman Catholic church. New and false teachings had crept into the Roman Church such as the teachings of works righteousness – that we merit salvation by our own works, with the sale of indulgences to buy loved ones out of purgatory for the right price. The power of the papacy had placed itself above and beyond the authority of God’s Word found in Holy Scripture, and the clear Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Poor Christians were going on pilgrimages, forsaking marriage, family, work, and life in the real world, making man-man vows never commanded nor even suggested in Holy Scripture. Churches were collecting relics of bones and locks of hair of supposed saints as if this would merit grace or favor from God. The world was held in confusion but these new teachings were not shared with the early church and they had no basis in Scripture. In a way, Grandpa’s church had been subverted by medieval Catholicism and the simple truths of God’s Word had been lost. No one could be sure of his salvation because it had become a complicated system of penance and satisfaction. Sinners could not be freed by the forgiving Word of the Gospel – the free, unfettered announcement of the forgiveness of sins purchased and won by our Lord Jesus Christ. So, Martin Luther and the Reformers sought to give a clear testimony to the Pope, the Emperor, and the whole world. They sought out the wisdom of the Church Fathers, but above all pointed to Holy Scripture as the source of all doctrine. 

And so on this day, June 25th, 484 years ago, a simple Lutheran layman read the Augsburg Confession in its entirety before the throne of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V. We Lutherans confessed to the whole world that we cannot be justified before God by our own strength, merit, or works. We are justified, declared righteous before God, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that we are received into favor and that our sins are forgiven through Jesus. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. By His rising from the grave He has destroyed death and the power of the devil. Sins are forgiven and the barred gates to paradise have been unlocked.

Tonight sinners enter into the presence of God. We defy emperors, presidents, popes, armies and the whole world. Jesus says “Fear not…everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” But God does not deny you. He speaks tenderly to you. He is rich in mercy to you. You have been adopted by your Father in heaven through the baptism of His Son.  

Be glad that Jesus acknowledges you and speaks well of you before God in heaven. Your sins are forgiven. All of them. Your life is redeemed and it’s a life worth living. Jesus tells you tonight that the hairs on your head are all numbered by your Father in heaven. He takes care of the sparrows and he cares for you much more than he does them.  

In the meantime, we’ll keep being grandpa’s church. Namely because it’s the church of Martin Luther, the church of St. Augustine, the church of St. Peter and St. Paul. It’s the church of the apostles and the martyrs who sing our same liturgy and hymns we do. We respect grandpa’s church because grandpa’s church is the church of Christ. We don’t follow tradition because tradition is good in and of itself but we are glad to be part of it. Tradition has been tested by blood, sweat, and tears. Tradition is the democracy of the dead who now live. They’re voices are important.  

There came a time when my grandpa couldn't sit in the pew to sing hymns and listen to a preacher but had to do so from his own bed. When he lay dying in his bed his Lutheran hymnal was always by his side, which I now keep at my own. Finally his breathing became heavy, and he yielded his spirit to God. At that moment, and even now, it is good to have something in common. That we confess the same faith, sing the same liturgy and hymns. It’s good to be part of grandpa’s church.

Tonight we remember the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. We remember that we are part of something much larger than ourselves, which is none other than to be one with Christ Himself. When it comes to the kingdom of God, the church has no command to be hip and trendy. We are called to stand together with the whole family of God, with sainted fathers and mothers, and to hear the message that every family needs to hear again and again – the heavenly message that your sins are forgiven through Christ and that God’s Word remains the same.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.                 

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