Today is a great day to talk about the blessed Dr. Martin Luther. It’s a great day to sing A Mighty Fortress, with a belly full of brats and kraut. Why not? It’s great to be a Lutheran. It’s great to remember the 95 these posted to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. We should do all these things.
But when it comes down to it it’s not really about our German heritage. It’s not really about being Lutheran. It’s not really even about a guy named Martin Luther. When Luther found out that there was a bunch of Germans running around calling themselves 'Lutherans' he was actually upset. He didn’t want a church named after him. He was hoping followers would call themselves evangelical catholics. Evangelical simply means good news or the Gospel, and catholic means pertaining to the whole, or the universal true church.
There is a way to honor the Lutheran Reformation that’s better. At St. Paul in Wittenberg, we have a large stained glass window with Luther on it. But he’s not drawing much attention to himself, because his knees are planted in the mud and he is looking up at the face of Jesus hanging from the cross. This is a fitting tribute to a man who directs our eyes back to Jesus – the very Son of God. A man who defied the empire – defied the pope – and the whole world, who was ready to be a martyr for one reason: to show us Jesus. To hold before us the cross of Christ. To show that God is merciful, full of goodness and love.
Satan is alive and well. His work remains the same. He wants you to doubt and to despair of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He holds your sins before your face, eggs you on to despair so that you no longer believe in forgiveness. He wants to keep you shackled in your sins, bound and captive to his lies, your fallen flesh, and this sinful world.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This is a promise of the Gospel. It is not arm twisting law. It is as if Jesus is saying “Do not let your hearts be troubled…do not be afraid…I have forgiven you…you belong to me..your are mine…abide in my word..I am the way, the truth, the life…I have set your free - free from sin, death, the devil, and the power of the grave.”
The first of the 95 theses Luther wrote “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” And during the Reformaiton this meant getting back to the Scriptures – back to the Word of God – back to Christ and the simple truths of the holy Gospel.
Hear our epistle "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Rom. 3).
Paul says that the Law of God ought to make every mouth stop. This means that every mouth must stop flapping. We should stop trying to justify our sins, making excuses for them. Mouths should be stopped we should let ourselves be held guilty and condemned by God. Luther preached to his congregation in Wittenberg that before God can take us to heaven he must first bring us down to hell. To see what we have rightfully deserved.
But now Christ has ransacked the gates of hell for us. He has become guilty on the cross that we would go free. He laid down on the same altar that Isaac escaped from. Jesus is condemned. Barabass goes free and so do you because on Easter morning the tomb is burst open and emptied of its prey. Jesus walks out of the grave and he takes you with him. You are raised up to live with God – baptized into his death – raised in his resurrection. You belong to him and no other.
There is strength in this. It means that we can live by faith in the God of love. We can have joy in the midst of conflicts. Family problems, congregational strife, breakdown in society – the devil cannot win. We belong to Christ.
We believe that the Word of God does everything. The word of Christ forgives your sins even tonight. The word of Christ keeps marriages together. The word of Christ brings forgiveness into the Christian home and casts out the devil. The Word of Christ tonight declares bread to be his body and wine to be his true blood.
The Word of Christ is the only thing that makes it possible for us actually to love one another, because in the words of Paul nothing good dwells within us. Now, it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you.
Perhaps you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating. When Luther died he had a little rolled up scrap of paper in his coat pocket which said “We are all beggars: this is true.” And perhaps the reformation can be summed up in these words. We are helpless apart from Christ. We are totally lost, tossed about, and damned apart from him. We are sinners. But in Christ we are redeemed sinners.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.