The Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost November 2, 2008
295 (1-2,5-6), 378, 377 (1,4-6), 262
Each worship service is a celebration—we are celebrating the greatness of our God and His graciousness in providing salvation for sinners such as we.
The Word of God is our source for knowledge as we seek to understand just how great and gracious God is. The Word of God is what informs us, instructs us. The Word of God—specifically, the Gospel—is what the Holy Spirit uses to create the faith in our hearts to believe and then through faith gives the forgiveness of sins.
About 490 years ago, God restored the true teaching of His Word. The truth and purity of God’s Word was never really lost—God’s Word is eternal, unchanging. But the true teaching and preaching of that Word had been for the most part lost and was not being proclaimed in the churches. Through individuals whom God blessed with spiritual gifts to accomplish His work, and through God’s control of earthly events, the Reformation took place and true teaching was restored. That restoration benefits us because the truth restored through the Reformation has been passed down as a heritage to us and it is the life-giving Word of our Lord.
Today, with the backdrop or knowing the truth of what God accomplished nearly 500 years ago, we celebrate OUR HERITAGE OF TRUTH.
We begin by going to God’s Word to better understand our heritage of truth.
God told Moses to divide the Children of Israel into two groups—six tribes on Mount Gerizim to bless the people and six tribes on Mount Ebal to curse the people. These are the words of curses from Mt. Ebal: Deuteronomy 27:14-26
These are words of God’s Law—His expectation and the punishment for not living up to that expectation. Cursed is the one who breaks God’s Law. While some of the examples of sin that God gives in these words could be easily brushed aside with “Of course, I would never do that…” in the end God says: “Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this Law.”
Every sin you commit deserves the same judgment as pronounced on Mt. Ebal. Every lie—whether it was boldface or what seemed at the time to be a little stretching of the truth, every hateful word, every wicked thought, every deception is condemned. Every time you’ve thought, “God won’t mind this little thing,” every time you’ve gone against your conscience when it was trying to remind you what God would say is condemned. Every time you’ve disobeyed parents, every time you’ve neglected a responsibility, every time something corrupt has flown out of your mouth—“Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law!”
Now imagine, if the only word we had from God was His Law. We would live in uncertainty, fear, and despair. Uncertainty because we’d never know if we had been good enough to please God; fear because we know what His justice demands—“cursed” is not hard to understand and He pronounces that on every sin we commit; and despair because the Law provides no way out of God’s judgment.
Understanding our Heritage of Truth means understanding God’s Law. It means understanding that just because these words are in the Old Testament that doesn’t mean they no longer apply. It means that we are condemned under the righteousness and justice of God’s holy Law.
Law is what Martin Luther learned early in his life. He grew up afraid of Jesus and despairing that he could ever have eternal life because he knew all too well that he could never live up to God’s Law. Luther was convicted by God’s Law and it needs to convict us as well. Understanding our heritage is to hear the Law, understand God’s anger, and tremble at it because we understand our sinfulness.
Hymn 295 (1-2,5-6)
Because God’s Law condemns us in our sin, our sinful self looks for ways around that condemnation. No one likes to be condemned. One of the ways around God’s condemnation is to assume that if we get “close enough” that is all we need to do. This approach incorrectly assumes that close is good enough and it still comes down to work righteousness and trying to earn God’s favor by what we can accomplish.
Another attempt to get around God’s condemnation is to approach it in a dismissive way by pretending that the condemnation isn’t really there, or that God doesn’t really view sin quite as seriously as all of that. This approach soft-peddles the Law. This also takes the Gospel for granted by assuming that because Jesus died for sin it no longer matters what God says in His Law. However, a “gospel” that comes without the Law is not God’s Gospel because unless we have the Law that condemns us in our sin and shows us our needs for a Savior, we’re not ready to hear the precious news about our Savior. Without a knowledge of sin, there is no reason to love Jesus as our greatest treasure.
The second Scripture reading addresses the neglect of God’s grace that would assume that because Jesus came it doesn’t matter if we continue in sin: Romans 6:1-14
When we fully understand the condemnation of God’s Law upon our sin, then we are fully ready to appreciate the great treasure of the Savior who takes that sin away. When we appreciate the great treasure of our Savior who has taken that sin away, who has set us free—why would we ever return to that bondage and darkness of sin?
Imagine a so-called gospel in which Jesus is “love” and sins are dismissed because sin is never really spoken of, where there is no true understanding of what sin is and how seriously God takes it and how desperately we need forgiveness. Imagine a so-called gospel in which Jesus is a name to revere but there is no clear understanding of why. Sadly, many proclaim just that kind of gospel in our world today. Too often, sin is not confronted, the Law of God remains silent, and a so-called gospel is proclaimed in the name of Jesus but it is empty because there is no true understanding of sin and therefore no true understanding of the Savior from sin.
Our heritage of truth contains God’s Good News—the Gospel of salvation which understands the severity of sin and rejoices in the full and free forgiveness through Christ Jesus. Hymn 378
We have imagined what it would be like if there were no Gospel at all and if there were a false Gospel. We now turn to see the truth of our heritage with a better understanding: Romans 1:16-17
Seeing the truth is to see our sins in all of their severity. Seeing the truth is to see Christ in all of His grace. Paul wrote and we can likewise confess that we are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ because we know how far down we fall. We know the depth of our need. We’re not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power to pull us up out of our deep need. It is the power to set us free from sin. Yes, God’s Law speaks and convicts us in our sin, but thanks be to God that He sent His Son to live a perfect life when we could not, and to lay down that perfect life in payment for our sin.
The Truth of our Heritage is that we are sinners, but we have the righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus. The Truth of our Heritage is that salvation has come by God’s Grace. Hymn 377(1,4-6)
Sermon Text: Psalm 61:5b
You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.
In Christ Jesus, fellow beneficiaries of God’s Grace:
Through our Scripture readings and meditations upon them we have been reminded of the true understanding of the heritage we have as God’s Word has been passed down from generation to generation. In addition, the message from God’s Word is to treasure what you now understand.
The psalmist, addressing His Words to God says, “You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.” Our heritage is the blessed privilege of God’s grace to stand in awe of who He is and all that He has done and all that He continues to do. Our heritage that we share with all others who fear His name is to stand in awesome trembling when we consider His Law, but also in awesome thanksgiving when we rest our every hope and confidence in His Gospel.
As we treasure our heritage it is something that we treasure for ourselves. Because each one of us is an individual sinner we need that Gospel message. We individually need the salvation which Jesus gives. We personally need the rebuke of His Law. We can talk about sin in a very general way and certainly God’s Law exposes sin in each us in that general way; but we are ready to appreciate and treasure the heritage of the Gospel when we use God’s Word to dig deep down into the corners of our heart and the hidden things of our lives and see where we, personally, individually, sin and fall short of the glory of God. Then we are able to also rejoice when the news of God’s forgiveness also reaches those dark corners of our hearts. Treasure the heritage that you have—the heritage of the true Gospel which brings forgiveness and assures your soul of that forgiveness and salvation.
As we treasure the heritage personally it also has an impact in our day-to-day lives. There are so many applications we could make, but let it suffice today to say that the heritage affects everything—how we conduct our lives, how we go forward day by day, the things we do for our work, the things we do in play, and every aspect of our lives—these are all connected to this treasure and heritage.
As one studies the history of the Reformation, one of the things that stands out is how clearly God’s hand was guiding every part of that history. God directed each event, circumstance, and opportunity in Martin Luther’s life so that he was equipped and prepared to accomplish the work God wanted him to accomplish. God did this because He was so intent on restoring the true teaching of His Word. He was so intent on restoring the true teaching because He is so intent about saving souls. God controlled all things and every part of Luther’s life to accomplish His goal, and He will certainly do the same for us. Our lives are also lives of service to our Lord and He has given us gifts to use and opportunities for using them.
As we treasure our heritage for ourselves we understand that God has individually called me by the Gospel, He has brought me to faith, He has made me His child, and I have the opportunity—the blessed privilege—to declare what He has done for me by how I live. Treasuring this heritage shapes my life’s view, it shapes how I look at things in the world, it shapes what I’m going to do, it shapes everything about me because I believe that God has prepared me and given me gifts to use for His purpose and to His glory.
One of the ways in which you are able to serve the Lord as you personally treasure you heritage is to share the heritage with your family and in your home.
Martin Luther’s parents shared with him the message of God’s Word as they knew and understood it. Unfortunately, their understanding was largely a message of fear. Martin Luther did grow up fearing Jesus, but his parents took the time to instruct him in the Word of God according to their understanding. This instruction laid the ground work for Luther’s interest in God’s Word, his awe and respect for God and His Word, and His later study of it.
Later in his work as a church leader, Luther took great pains to provide a way for fathers to instruct their children in the truths of God’s Word. He wrote the Small Catechism and the Large Catechism for that every purpose. In his own family, Luther kept the Word of God and his family’s use of it as the center point of their family life. Their meals, their celebrations, focused on Jesus. As the leader of his household, Martin Luther made every effort to always keep this focus.
We treasure the heritage for our families when we remember and understand just how important that heritage is, take time now to dig into that heritage, maintain it as the center of our family life, and pass it on to the next generations. God himself has given you the heritage of those who fear His name and it is God’s will that you pass it on to the children whom He has given to you as well.
The heritage of God’s Word and the truth of our salvation is something we can treasure in our congregation. The music we enjoy in worship—the choirs, the instruments, the joining together in praising God with our songs—is part of the heritage of the Reformation.
We have the opportunity to join together to worship and to hear and learn from God’s Word. By God’s grace and His grace alone, through no human will or strength, we still have the truth of God’s Word in our worship and congregational life. By God’s grace, through no human strength or will, we still have the truth of the Law and the truth of the Gospel. By His grace we pray that we will continue grow in our understanding of Law and Gospel and grow in our wisdom to apply both in our own lives and with one another in our congregation.
We can pray that the Lord continues to give workers to His harvest. We can pray that the Lord continues to give faithful pastors and teachers who will study the Word and serve us with the Truth. But at the same time as you are praying for faithful pastors and teachers, understand that the truthfulness and faithfulness also falls to you. Do not rely on a single individual or group of people. Do not rely solely on your pastors or teachers. Go back to God’s Word and make that treasure your own, dig into it! Love it! Treasure it! When you do that individually and when you’re not relying on human strength, the whole congregation is richly blessed.
We have an amazing treasure—the heritage of those who fear His name. It has been passed down to us by God’s grace after the restoration which He accomplished through the Reformation. As we are diligent in its use, we pray that God maintains that heritage among us as we pass it down to each new generation.
May God strengthen us and make it so among us. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.