Ephesians 2:1-10 • June 18, 2017
This sermon is part of a summer worship series at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church called Reformation Then & Now: Why It Still Matters.
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
First off – Happy Father’s day! To everyone who is blessed to be or is blessed by their father. And to those who are father figures to us as well – because unfortunately, a positive male figure isn’t part of every child’s life. Happy Father’s Day to you too.
One of the more recognizable images of the Reformation is Luther’s Rose or Luther’s seal. It was common in the middle ages for prominent members of the community to have a personal seal or coat of arms. It was a way to tell others a little bit about that person. Needless to say, it didn’t take long after Luther posted the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517 for this small town priest and theology professor at a little-known university to become a pretty prominent figure. Luther’s seal is rich in color and symbols and a fantastic expression of his theology.
In a letter to a close friend, dated July 8, 1530, Luther explained his rose in detail.
“Grace & peace in Christ!” Luther wrote,
“Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend! Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly. I shall answer most amiably and tell you of those thoughts which [now] come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology.
There is first to be a cross, black [and placed] in a heart, which should be of its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For if one believes from the heart he will be justified. Even though it is a black cross, [which] mortifies and [which] also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its [natural] color [and] does not ruin nature; that is, [the cross] does not kill but keeps [man] alive. For the just man lives by faith, but by faith in the Crucified One. Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace; in a word it places the believer into a white joyful rose; for [this faith] does not give peace and joy as the world gives and, therefore, the rose is to be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all the angels. Such a rose is to be in a sky-blue field, [symbolizing] that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy; it is already a part [of faith], and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest. And around this field is a golden ring, [symbolizing] that in heaven such blessedness lasts forever and has no end, and in addition is precious beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.
May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come. Amen. (Luther’s Works, Volume 49, pg. 358-359)
I wanted us to hear this letter today, because understanding Luther’s rose is so important to more fully grasp other ideas of Luther and the Reformation. Important Lutheran theological affirmations like grace and scripture. In case you haven’t noticed, Grace Alone and Scripture or Word Alone are the focus of our worship today.
Luther’s 95 Theses challenged and undermined the Pope’s role as the final authority in matters of faith. Luther said that authority in the church was Christ, and the Word which came out of His mouth. Luther knew that all of Scripture witnesses to the fact that God goes to work in this world through speaking. And when God speaks, when Jesus speaks, things happen. Thus, the only thing a Christian can rely on, or trust, is God’s speaking. Or most simply stated, the Word alone. (Word Alone, www.lutherhouseofstudy.org)
Luther said, “Do you want to sing, shout, and leap for joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ?” That’s how he believed readers of scripture should feel when they sat down to read the Bible. “It is good news,” Luther believed, “a great shout resounding through all the world, shared by prophets and apostles and all who seek within its pages the consolation, strength, and victory offered in it by God.” (adapted from Together by Grace, pg. 32)
Does reading your Bible cause you to sing, shout, and leap for joy?? Or does it cause to you to tremble in fear? Or aren’t you sure because it collects more dust than an emotional response?
In Luther’s day – the reading and study of scripture were only available to the more elite part of society. Especially because these members of society were the only literate ones. And definitely, the only ones who understood Latin, Greek, or Hebrew at any level. Luther thought this was wrong and sought to change that by devoting his life to the translation of scripture – a task he knew would never be completely finished.
By opening up scripture to everyone through his translation of it into the language of the people, Luther was able to help everyone more fully experience Christian life as God speaks to them through scripture. “All that matters,” Luther wrote “is that God’s Word be given free course to encourage and enliven hearts so that they do not become burdened.”
If you haven’t done it in a while, take a few minutes each day this week to open a Bible and discover the glory and grace of God contained within every verse of Holy Scripture. And if you don’t yet own a Bible, please take one of the red pew Bibles with you as a gift from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
If Bible reading and study is already a regular part of your faith journey – may you continue to be blessed and feel burdens lifted as you discover the grace of Christ Jesus revealed in Holy Scripture. Sing, shout, and leap for joy in your reading and study!
Because Luther believed that “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.” But just what do we, as Lutheran Christians, mean when we say we believe in God’s gift of grace?
Especially in light of the fact that if you asked a group of Christians today to define “grace” you would probably get a lot of different answers and opinions as to what grace actually is. After studying Scripture Luther came to recognize that grace is not a substance – it is God’s disposition. His attitude, toward us. And that disposition is one of favor. Luther emphasized that by grace alone, by God’s disposition and favor alone, we are saved. (adapted from Grace Alone, www.lutherhouseofstudy.org)
One of the most important verses of scripture that revealed this to Luther is in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” Paul proclaims. “and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:9-10)
The gospel or good news of God’s gift of grace for sinners through faith in Christ is vitally important to the Reformation movement – in 1517 and still in 2017. And as Paul reminds us again today, you and I are to live our lives in response to this good, good news.
I believe acceptance of God’s gift of grace – and that there is nothing we can do to earn it or lose it – remains one of the most challenging things to truly believe for followers of Jesus.
As Gerhard Forde, one of the last century’s great Lutheran theologians wrote in his book Where God Meets Man, “The grace of God is a power strong enough to make and keep us human. It does this because it makes us give up our attempts to be gods, our attempts to control our own fate and enables us to wait as creatures of this earth in faith and hope for what God has in mind for the future.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, may the good news of God’s grace poured out for you in the Savior Jesus Christ, bless you and keep you today and in all that the future may bring. And may our response to that good news be a blessing to everyone God places along your path during this journey we are on called faith. Amen.
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