Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

Reformation Sunday


Reformation.18 “Running From/With Sasquatch” Rev. 14:6-7, John 8:31-36

Reformation day presents an odd set of paradoxes and conundrums to the devout. The vicar slyly refers to it as “the Holy Feast of the Reformation” with a wry little grin. This is a very deep and subtle sarcasm that is entirely in the spirit of Martin Luther and of which I absolutely approve. But to get the joke, you need a bit of background. This is the first paradox that we meet today. Luther had no intention of splitting off from the church catholic and starting some nondenom big-box thing. No. Emphatically—no. His goal was basically the unglamorous task of shoveling manure. Like, after Manasseh (the wicked king of Judah) had filled the temple in Jerusalem with pagan garbage, idols, praise bands, etc. and good King Josiah ordered the priests to haul out all the garbage from the temple, this was Luther’s job: taking out the trash, (well, the worst of it) from God’s sanctuary…

Luther knew the church catholic (universal, the church of all times and places that believes in Jesus) has always had a fair bit of trash to take out of our sanctuary. “The church is always reforming” was Luther’s basic motto. There never was a “Golden Age” when everything was holy, pure, and orthodox. Even the church of the apostles had their own trash heaps, as Acts 15 and James’ legalistic nonsense and set-up of St. Paul for arrest later in the book demonstrates. The catholic church has never been a uniform, monolithic organization with pure holy people doing nothing but pure holy things. No. The church is always sinner-saints, servant-lords, muddling along by the grace of God, with faith in Jesus to cover the multitude of our sins…

Of course, telling the Truth like that will get you kicked out of most any large organization, then as now! That Luther’s prince (Frederick the Wise) protected Luther from silencing by death was miraculous and rare, like Constantine letting orthodoxy triumph at Nicaea and for a while afterwards in the 4th century. But, even the so-called “Lutheran Church” (I believe that “evangelical-catholic” is the preferred nomenclature, Dude) quickly got back to the same old (rotten) business as usual. Just go to LCMS pastor’s conferences and you’ll see: we’ve got plenty of garbage piling up in our holy places still today in our Synod! The most you can hope for is that, scattered around the world, here and there, in every land and country, are a handful of the Remnant who still believe in Jesus alone for salvation and worship Him His Way rather than our way. And maybe His Way catches on, here and there, with a few other lost souls. That’s about all the Reformation you can ever hope for, till Jesus comes back and really once and for all Reforms His Church around Himself in Heaven.

So, there’s your first paradox and why the vicar says with that wry little grin “The Holy Feast of the Reformation”. Because there was no Holy Feast of the Reformation in Luther’s day, or before! Celebrating Reformation Day as if we’ve fixed all the problems in the church is precisely the sort of arrogance Luther hated (!). And anyway, Luther’s “reformation” was simply, humbly, gracefully recovering the better practices of the holy, catholic, and apostolic church—in theology, liturgy, and life. This meant brooming the stupid feasts, festivals, and lousy theology Aquinas and other scholastic jerks had introduced in the 13th-16th centuries, and getting back to the simpler liturgy, creeds, and ways of the early church: when things weren’t perfect but were definitely less bad

So, the old evangelical-catholic church had no feast day of the Reformation! Because real Lutherans would never add stuff to the old liturgical calendar that hadn’t been there time out of mind. So if you want to be one of the cool kids just say “Holy Feast of the Reformation” with a little smile and you’ll signal that you like the Reformation but think it’s a bit silly to go messing with the old liturgical calendar, that there’s a slippery slope to video screens and liturgical dance, that as the commercial sagely says: you’re either running with Sasquatch or you’re running from Sasquatch*. And we always wanna be running with the apostles not running away from them by concocting our own liturgies, feasts, theologies, catechisms, what have you…

Reformation Day was a 17th century thing, to mark Luther’s 95 Theses. And this is the next paradox—Luther didn’t think much of his 95 theses. They weren’t anything in his view to have a party over. Yet, there were fairly large anniversary celebrations in 1717 and 1817. It was only after the ones in 1817 that the Lutherans who came to America started making it an annual thing. And of course last year there was a fairly big whoo-hah. 500. Everybody loves a big, round number…

But while I guess it was kinda good in 1817 and 1917 when renewed interest in Luther brought people back to the Scriptures, there was plenty of smug triumphalism in that (and more than a little of it last year) that made people go: “Wow. I’m a Lutheran. I’ve got really pure theology and worship. I’ve got it all going on. God must be so proud of me and my, me and my, me and my friends.” Luther’d slap you, hard, talking stuff like that…

The next paradox is that our text for today is from Revelation.(!) The 19th century Lutherans thought Luther was the angel proclaiming the everlasting Gospel(?). But Luther didn’t even think Revelation was in the Bible (along with most of the early church fathers)! Irony! The message of the angel to “Fear God and give glory to Him, to worship Him alone” does sound like something Luther would say. But he’d surely bury his head in his hands if you went exalting Luther like that, and preach on a book unlikely to be canonical as the best way to encourage reform in the church catholic.(!)

The biggest paradox though is the one Jesus smacks us in the face with in our Gospel: people who insist they are free, Lutherans, right thinking ‘mericans, never slaves to anyone, are lying. Yep! Soon as you say: “We’ve never been slaves to anyone”, you show yourself not only to be a slave, but a deluded liar, as well. Not so good, Bob! Because the Truth is that whoever commits sin (and that would be everyone who’s ever lived on earth except Jesus) is a slave of sin. And slaves don’t abide in the house forever. Only sons of the King abide forever. Only the King’s Son dying on a cross makes free from sin, death, and devils. And only confessing yourself to be a slave (not a son!) can ever get you toward sonship, yourself…

Christianity is being put in a round room and told to sit in the corner. How would you do that? How can you enjoy the slavery that is royal freedom? This is the paradoxical conundrum the church catholic (Christian!) has been circling around since the Garden of Eden. You can’t do IT (IT does you!). You can’t make yourself free—not from the tyranny of England, large banks, big media, Rome, St. Louis, sin, death, or the devil. Fight hard as you like. The big dogs are gonna chase you. You’ll always be running from Sasquatch if you try to make (or keep) yourself free.

But when you stop running; when the holy cross of Christ smacks you down dead, wallops you upside the head by the Word of Jesus, then—in that dying, you find Life. In that slavery is your Freedom. In sharing His suffering, you got His glory. And… Boom! You’re running with Sasquatch—run, and not be weary. “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Yeah, Happy Reformation Day! Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.




Wednesday, 21  November 2018

Thanksgiving Service – with Communion

7:00 p.m.

25 November – Last Sunday of the Church Year

8:30 Divine Service with Communion

11:00 Matins

9:45 Sunday School – children ages 3 through high school

Adult Bible Class with Pastor Martin


Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.