What exactly is Reformation Day? It has been a lot of things. This sermon mentions a couple of them. But almost of of the alternates are corruptions of what it really was. Which is a recovery of the Apostle Paul. Which is a new birth of freedom in hearing the law and the gospel. It is not just the gospel, although that is the happy best part. It is also the law. The Reformation recovered that 200 proof cask of grace that Paul preached. Christ died for sinners and God’s righteousness is given to you as a gift. You have been made a member of God’s house by God’s choice. And that free gift also frees us to see the law for what it is. It is not a method of saving ourselves. But it is also no longer our writ of condemnation. Yes, we are sinners. But the righteousness of God does not come by the law, but by grace through faith. So we can accept the law as God’s good gift to us for our good. Reformation Day is about the law and the gospel, and how they Reform our hard hearts into hearts of flesh.
Law and Gospel is a beloved Lutheran theological slogan. For my money though it has moved from being something that is life changing to being a doctrinal formulation that is barely understood. And part of the problem is how it has been preached and used for the past 50 years or so. It has been used not as law AND gospel, but law and gospel have been set contrary to each other. That is both an abuse of the law, expecting from it what it can’t do, and a misreading of the gospel.
This sermon is my attempt to move law and gospel from a dead doctrine to a life changing reality.
This is a reformation sermon reflecting on the divisions and questions of our day. My central contention is that in Luther’s Day people assumed the Justness of the collective: the unity of the church and her pronouncements, the majesty of the mass and the sacraments, the divine right of Kings and the entire sacred order. And if the society was just, then it should produce righteous members. That was Luther’s conflict. He didn’t see or feel righteous. I think ours is somewhat the inverse. We assume that at least my tribe is righteous. And if we have righteous members, we should be able to build the just society. Both of these quests are quests for righteousness/justice (the same word in the biblical languages) are pursued through the law.
But we hold that no one is justified by works of the law. One is righteous by the blood of Christ given by his grace and received in by faith. The just society is not found or made with human laws or efforts, but is see from a distance – the New Jerusalem. One day we will get there. Now, we do not seek our justice in the law, because we will be forever angry as it slips away. Now, we live by faith. And only if we life by faith are we truly free.