In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
As we celebrate reformation day, there is one important point to be made: the Reformation really isn’t about Martin Luther, and the Lutheran Church isn’t about him, either. Luther was merely an instrument of God, a preacher of the Kingdom of Heaven. When we celebrate the Reformation, we remember his posting of the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. These theses begin with the declaration of what the Christian life is to be: “When Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Luther was a preacher of repentance, a preacher of God’s Word and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Luther follows in the train of John the Baptizer, the greatest preacher of the Kingdom of Heaven. Clothed in camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey, and preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” he showed that the Kingdom of Heaven is found in humility, in lowliness, in turning away from sin and worldly pleasure to live for God alone. With his baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, he showed that the path of repentance was open to all, regardless of what you have done. Heaven is opened to all, whether most reprehensible of criminals or everyday of citizens. John the Baptizer proclaimed God’s truth that the mark of this Kingdom is repentance and living a life that seeks to avoid the sins of the flesh.
Some reject this preaching of repentance. It’s easy to point to “big” sins like the murder of the unborn that is called “healthcare” or racism and hate crimes or open rejection of God. But there is a part of us that cringes at preaching of repentance. We claim to love the Triune God, but are much more in love with the gods of this world and its sin. When we confess our sins on Sunday morning, are we serious about amending our sinful lives come Monday morning?
Today’s Gospel reading comes at a time when John the Baptizer is in prison for daring to tell King Herod that his adulterous life was sinful. “The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence,” Jesus says, “and the violent take it by force.” John’s life is eventually taken by force, his head cut off at the request of a dancing girl. But not even violence and murder could stop the preaching of John and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Even though John was silenced, Jesus continued to preach repentance. He called to repentance and His Kingdom tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus, people caught in adultery, thieves, and the worst society had to offer. Our Lord called them to leave the broad path that leads to destruction and to walk the narrow path that leads to life. Jesus preached the Kingdom of Heaven, the love of God for all men, and His forgiveness for sinners. But Jesus wasn’t a reformer or a revolutionary or just an example. Jesus Himself was and is the Kingdom of Heaven in the flesh.
But like Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” Eventually they will seize Jesus, too, and do violence to Him. They will whip Him, beat Him, insult Him, drive thorns into His head, nail Him to the cross, and thrust a spear into His side. That’s how the world answers the call to repentance. That’s how the world treats her God, who comes only in love and peace saying “Come now, and let us reason together; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as son.” The world wants none of it. The world’s kingdom comes with soldiers and weapons. The proud and cunning rule with smooth words and empty promises, while the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence. And this Kingdom is not violent. The Lord’s Kingdom is one of martyrs, one where the other cheek is turned, one where one does good to their enemies and prays for their persecutors.
These two kingdoms are engaged in a great struggle, from the days of John the Baptizer until now, from the day that Satan sought to raise up a kingdom against God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. As Reformation Christians, we must stand up and be counted, willing to suffer the world’s hatred and even the scorn of other Christians because we hold that “the Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine, and that no human being’s writings dare be put on par with it, but that everything must be subjected to it.” (FC SD Rule and Norm 9) We are Lutherans, not because we follow Luther, but because we hold to the same opinion that Luther held, that only the Word of God rules in the Church, not councils or synods or conventions or commissions. We are Lutherans, not because we follow Luther, but because he stands in the long line of those preaching in the way of John the Baptizer: “Repent” and “Behold, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In Jesus Christ alone is our trust and hope. Luther and the other reformers simply continued the great preaching of repentance that began with the Prophets, continued in John the Baptizer, and rings through to this day, preaching that points only to Jesus and the forgiveness He won by His death and gives to us freely, without any merit or worthiness on our part.
It is precisely in that violence done to Our Lord, that death wherein we find life, that we find hope and joy. From His cross comes our life. The sins for which we repent are paid for on His cross. The sinner that you are is nailed to the tree. The sinner that you are is drowned in Baptism, pierced in Jesus. On the cross, the Kingdom of Heaven suffered violence, and though the violent sought to take it by force, the violent lost. The devil was defeated, your sins atoned for, death undone, and peace with God was restored.
That’s what the Reformation is all about: God’s free gift to you in Jesus on the cross, willingly suffering violence in your place. So Reformation Day is not a mere historical observance. It is a call to let the doctrine of the Reformation, that man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law, live on in our own lives of repentance and reception of the free gift of forgiveness. So come, receive the reforming, redeeming, renewing Body and Blood of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Come receive strength for your fight against sin and the devil and receive a foretaste of the Feast to come.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).