29 October 2017††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
The Festival of the Reformation††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďSlaying the Monster of UncertaintyĒ
Text: Romans 3:19-28 (Revelation 14:6-7; John 8:31-36)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
You donít know. You canít know.
Thatís what they told Luther. Thatís what was being taught at the time of the Reformation, some 500 years ago.
You donít know. You canít know.
And that plagued Luther. That monster of uncertainty, as he called it. Was his repentance good enough? Sincere enough? You donít know. You canít know. Was he doing enough good works? You donít know. You canít know. Had he achieved enough? Would he be saved? You donít know. You canít know.
And that monster of uncertainty created another monster for Luther: God Himself. Luther hated the God who filled him with such doubt and put him through such agony. And, Luther realized, his did not know and could not know also meant that he did not know and could not know God. What God thought of him. If God really loved him. Luther. Augustinian monk. Trying his best, but knowing this: his best wasnít good enough.
Why canít we know? he wondered. Why doesnít God just tell us?
Well, He has. On the cross. Thereís your enough. Thereís your good. Thereís how you know God loves you. Thereís your certainty. That God would give His Son for you. To die for you, that you might live. That you know who God is and know His wonderful salvation.
Luther finally came to understand that as he studied the writings of St. Paul.
And we heard it today from St. Paul. Your ears and eyes probably passed right over those words without realizing how important they are. For what did Paul say to us today? The first three words of the Epistle: Now WE KNOW.
And as we read on in that reading from Romans, we learned two things that WE KNOW: first, that we are sinners and will never be justified in the sight of God by what we do. All have sinned and fall short. All. You, me, no one excepted. So no one can boast. Your righteousness will never measure up.
But then second, WE KNOW this too: thereís another righteousness, another right-ness, a justification that comes apart from what we do and how well we do it. Justification that is a gift, received by faith. Faith, trust, in what Jesus has done for us.
If you look at yourself or to yourself, you donít know and you canít know. But if you at Jesus, on the cross, crucified for you, suffering for you, there as your substitute, there to forgive you, then yes. WE KNOW. We know God. We know His love. We know that He has saved us.
That word, that truth, made all the difference for Luther. It changed his world. And with the Reformation, it changed the world.
But how important that WE KNOW hit me again this week as I was talking to a friend of mine, who said to me: I donít know. I donít know that if I died I would be saved. And I think a lot of people today are that way, but instead of saying I donít know, they say this: I hope so. I hope I will be saved. I hope God loves me. I hope Jesus is for me. I hope, but . . . I donít know. I canít know. Maybe you think or feel that way sometimes, too. When things arenít going your way, when you keep messing up, when the sin in you, or the sin that erupts out of you, seems so bad.
And thatís when we return to the words of St. Paul. He said: WE KNOW. Not because Iím good enough, but because Jesus is. Not because of my promise to God, but because of His promises to me. Not because of what I do, but because of what He has done. Not because of what I give to God, but because of what He gives to me. WE KNOW because God is on the cross for me, in the Font for me, in His Word for me, and on the altar for me. If He wasnít for me, He wouldnít be there in those places for me. But He is. He is!
Thatís why our Synod chose for its theme this year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation those words that are on the cover of your bulletin: Itís Still All About Jesus. Because it is. 500 years ago, and still today.
Thatís a good reminder because, even though it sounds funny to say, itís so easy to forget.
For example, this 500th anniversary year is a big deal, right? Lots of books have been published, videos made, new web sites constructed, lots of publicity. And pastors can get caught up in it, too, and think - like with Christmas and Easter: gotta have a corker of a sermon today! Something special! Something really memorable! Worthy of such an auspicious occasion.
But as my friend reminded me this week . . . no. Thatís not it at all. I kinda doubt youíll remember what I preached today at all, no matter good or bad it is. Or if something sticks, you wonít remember that it was me who said it.† And thatís okay. For what you need to hear today is what you need to hear every week: Thatís Itís Still All About Jesus. And that WE KNOW. We know God. We know His love. We know His forgiveness is apart from anything we do. WE KNOW, you can be sure, He is for you. All that He is and all that He has is for you.
So donít let that monster of uncertainty come back out from under the bed, or out of the closet, or back from hell. Because heíll try. Count on it. Heíll try to do to you what he did to Luther some 500 years ago: get you to doubt God and His love for you. Make God into the monster, instead of him.
And some of the ways he tries to do that? Well, like he did with Luther. You say youíre sorry for your sins . . . but are you? Are you really sorry? Are you really repentant? Then why havenít you stopped doing those things? Why havenít you improved? You have to prove it, you know. Show it. So whereís the evidence? And is it enough? Have you done enough? Well enough? And what about this? Forgive and forget. But you havenít forgotten, have you? So you havenít really forgiven, have you? Youíre not really heaven material at all, are you? You donít know. You canít know.
No! WE KNOW, Paul says. No ifs, ands, buts, maybes, or perhapses about it. Donít listen to the monster. Listen to what has Jesus said to you! I baptize you. I forgive you. I give you.
I baptize you. You are my child. I give you my name. You are mine. Your home is my home, and my home is your home.
I forgive you. Your sins are gone. Because I took them, to the cross. Theyíre mine now, not yours. My responsibility, not yours. Iíll pay for them, not you.
I give to you. My Body and Blood. That hung on the cross for you, that rose from the dead for you. To feed you and strengthen you. To give you what you need.
There are no ifs, ands, buts, maybes, or perhapses in those words. Only truth. Only promises. Only certainty. Only it is finished. Period. Done. Or as Jesus said in the Gospel we heard today: That you may KNOW that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Free from sin, free from death, free from fear. Free to serve, free to love, free to live.
And thatís really what the Reformation is all about. Itís Still All About Jesus. This eternal Gospel for every nation and tribe and language and people, as John said in Revelation. And as we heard in the Gradual: That we may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. Or as the hymn we sang a little earlier put it:
O Spirit, who didst once restore
Thy Church that it might be again
The bringer of good news to men (LSB #834 v.4).
That good news that WE KNOW, and proclaim, and live.
So for today at least, that will be our one little word, that Luther wrote about in his hymn A Mighty Fortress (LSB #656):
This worldís prince may still† Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none.† He judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him (v. 3).
Many have wondered over the years what Luther meant by that ďone little word?Ē Some think it is the word Jesus, some think the word forgiveness, others think it the Greek word tetelestai, which means: it is finished. Maybe Luther didnít specify so that we would think all those things. All those good things.
But for us, today, let our ďone little wordĒ be this: WE KNOW . . . which, yes, is one word in the Greek.
WE KNOW our God and Father, and His love shown to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
WE KNOW our Saviour and brother Jesus; His love shown to us on the cross and His forgiveness spoken to us and His life given to us here through His Word and Spirit.
WE KNOW. His promises, which are more sure than anything in this world.
WE KNOW. And so we have peace and joy. It changes our world. Because the monster of uncertainy is slain.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.