Reformation Day 2019
October 27, 2019
“Unchanging Truth for Changin’ Times”
Grace and peace be to you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that serves as the basis for the sermon is the Gospel lesson from St. John, the 8th chapter.
Dear friends in Christ,
It was 1964. The Beatles made their now-infamous appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show. They had 13of the Billboard Hot 100 hits at the same time. One of those hits was “I Feel Fine,” because “she’s in love with me and I feel fine.” Okay…but in 1964 not everyone felt fine. In 1964 Bob Dylan recorded the song “The Times They Are A Changin” which became the quintessential song of that era because things WERE changing; not everyone felt fine. JFK had been shot and LBJ was the new president. The Civil Rights movement was turning US streets into combat zones. The anti-Vietnam war movement was gaining strength and, in doing so, it polarized communities and families who either did or did not support the war. Yes, in 1964, the times they were a changin’.
Now it’s 55 years later. Around morning coffee, people still talk politics but it’s not LBJ and Ho Chi Minh and Nixon. It’s Trump and Hillary and AOC. Bombs no longer rule the world like in 1964…it’s bytes; gigabytes, terabytes. Information is the new weapon of choice. The times they are a changin’.
Today we observe the anniversary of Reformation Day, that great change within the church brought by God through Martin Luther back in 1517. Luther restored to its proper place the glorious truth that we receive forgiveness of sins through Christ, not by our works but as God’s free gift of grace. There are three Latin phrases that are vital to the ideas Luther presented in the Reformation and are the kinds of truth that NEVER changes whether its 1484, 1964, or 2019: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia.
Sola Scriptura means “Scripture alone.” This means that we in the Lutheran church accept without reservation all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the divinely inspired Word of God and we acknowledge the Bible as the true authority in all matters of faith and life.
God’s word gives us unchanging truths in an ever changin’ times. Where did man and this world come from? Scientists will give you a variety of answers but the truth is found in Genesis. What is “right” and what is “wrong?” Psychologists and counselors have a number of theories claiming morality is subjective, but the truth lives in Exodus and the Sermon on the Mount. Why do bad things happen to good people? Psychics and astrologists will tell you that Pluto wasn’t around the right moon or your stars were out of alignment; read Romans 8:28 and Job and Habakkuk if you want the truth. God’s Word gives us unchanging truths in an ever changin’ times.
Sola Fide means “faith alone.” In our Gospel text, our Lord encourages us to abide in His Word – faith – and then we “will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Faith changes you. It makes you different in heart and spirit and mind. Faith is a living, busy, active, and mighty thing going on inside you. Faith is more than a warm and fuzzy feeling on Christmas Eve or Easter morning, it defines and shapes who we are in spite of the every-day trials and tribulations. It revises the way we think and act especially in uncertain and changing times. Faith gives you hope, and hope does not disappoint.
Sola Gratia means “grace alone.” Grace is undeserved love for unworthy people. Our Lord makes this clear in our Gospel lesson in verse 36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” We are set free from the power of sin and death by the grace of God. We cannot work or earn something like salvation, but we receive our salvation only by God’s grace.
That was not the position of the church in Luther’s day. The church sold indulgences – they tried selling God’s forgiveness – that claimed to offer the merits of the saints so that people could buy or earn their forgiveness. People were taught that they must do something to cause God to look with favor on them. Buying indulgences, fasting, attending mass, praying, good works, or giving of some kind were thought to buy or earn forgiveness. Luther learned the glorious certainty and truth from God’s Word that we have already heard: “A man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28).
Sola Scriptura. Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Those three phrases represent who we are and what we believe as Lutherans. We have been saved by grace through faith and we find this and other unchanging truths in Holy Scripture. Those words are important, but if they cannot change your life, then all they will ever be are mere words. Scripture, grace, and faith; If you cannot allow the life-changing power of God’s Word to set you free from your burdens and give you hope amid your guilt and your anxiety, then they ARE just words.
When life changes, we need more than words in order to feel fine. Maybe your last test didn’t turn out so well. Maybe your diet is not going so good. Maybe you’re lonely at night and concerned about not enough money coming in and too much going out. Maybe your relationship is on rocky grounds these days. Maybe your sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Maybe you don’t see a way out of your current crisis. Sola Scriptura. Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Remember who you are, whose you are, and then through prayer watch how God changes the scenery of your life as He lifts you up with his loving hands by grace through faith.
Bob Dylan’s song concludes like this: “For the loser now Will be later to win For the times they, they are a-changin’…The slow one now Will later be fast. As the present now Will later be past…And the first one now Will later be last For the times they are a-changin’.” I wasn’t even born in 1964 but I still know the times ARE changin’; and you probably have your good days and your bad days. You may feel last now, but a day will come when you WILL be first. Know that, believe that, and live that because the foundation of your daily life reformation is your Savior Jesus Christ because it is for His sake that we are saved by grace through faith, and that truth will NEVER change even in all of your changin’ times in life.