Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween and Blessed Reformation

A Reformation Sermon from 2005:

TEXT: Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:34-36

A HAPPY HALLOWEEN and BLESSED REFORMATION DAY to you beloved and baptized children of God. While Halloween, as it is observed and celebrated today is anything but a Christian celebration, I believe it still holds great value for us if we examine it in the light of God’s Word and the Reformation we Lutherans rejoice in on the very same day, October 31st. It is also ironically fitting that Halloween and Reformation are celebrated on the same day.

C. S. Lewis in his preface to The Screwtape Letters: "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."

Senior devil Screwtape to junior devil Wormwood in the same book: "The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method in confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you."

Herein lies the value for Christians in celebrating Halloween: rejoicing in our freedom from sin, death and the devil won by Jesus on Calvary and evidenced by His resurrection – rather than ignore or fear it, we can look at the very real evil the devil works around us and know and proclaim Christ’s victory. Given that Jesus died to defeat the devil, we do not see him as some comic book figure, nevertheless, we can indeed laugh at the devil and his schemes to ensnare us and chase him away by the authority of the One who set us free and made us sons of God rather than slaves of sin and its author. Speaking on the Treatment of Melancholy, Despair, Etc., Luther said, "But I resist the devil, and often it is with a [breaking of wind] that I chase him away. When he tempts me with silly sins I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too. Have you written it down on your list?’"

So if Luther can break wind at the devil, certainly a little Halloween celebration is not out of order if we remember our status as God’s dear children. But let us also remember that as long as we are in this world, we still must recognize our sinful natures and never forget that though we are certainly free from bondage to sin and its eternal consequences as sons of God we are not free to break the Law and act as if nothing is sinful any longer. Sin is still sin. Idolatry is still idolatry. There is no way to know God apart from Christ and we should not join in prayer or any kind of worship that is not centered in who Christ is and what He has and continues to do for us. Murder is still murder. It is not for us as individuals to decide whose life is viable and whose is not based upon convenience or our idea of quality. Adultery is still adultery. One man and one woman united by the bond of Holy matrimony is the only context for sexual relations blessed by God.

That we are saved by faith, not works, means that we should not boast of our works because, if they are truly good, they are not our own anyway, but the works prepared in advance for us to do as members of the body of Christ. Furthermore, faith in our eternal salvation through Christ is not license to disregard the Law. "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17, NIV) Part of that message is Law, for without it we would not have the mirror that shows us for who we are, sinners condemned to hell in desperate need of a Savior.

Truly it is not the devil we need fear, but the wrath of God apart from Christ. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28, NIV)

Thanks be to God He doesn’t abandon us to His wrath.

"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." saith the Lord. (Luke 5:32, NIV)

But for this to be known and truly believed requires one to understand and believe that God does have wrath that condemns sin. As Luther puts it: "But now we hear that Christ was sent to make these same people saved who are judged and condemned.... WHOEVER DOE NOT BELIEVE THAT HE IS A SINNER AND CONDEMNED WILL BELIEVE MUCH LESS THAT HE IS SAVED THROUGH CHRIST."

We see this close up all the time. How many of our dear loved ones, brothers and sisters in Christ, have we said goodbye to over the years as death makes its presence known among us? As sweet, gentle, kind, and loving as we may remember these dear saints of God and loved ones of ours to have been, the fact that we gather for their funerals is constant reminder that they were and we are still sinners. For all of the fond memories of kind words and helpful deeds, in the words of God through the prophet Isaiah, these like "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)

And if Isaiah himself, a faithful and beloved prophet of God, counted himself among those who "have become like one who is unclean" and "[his] righteous acts [were] like filthy rags" before our Holy God, let me tell you that none of us here stands a snowball’s chance in Saudi Arabia of eternal life with the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost in his heavenly kingdom.

"But, [thanks be to God], now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24, NIV)

In our text today we see the Pharisees pride in who they were and the holiness of their lives kept them from seeing who it was that stood before them. It also caused them to run roughshod over the less righteous among them creating a sens of despair in those who just could not measure up. Jesus came to set that situation straight. To condemn sin, to call sinners to repentance and to free sinners from the consequence of sin – death and eternal damnation.

At the time of the Reformation, Luther was sent by God to proclaim these very things Jesus had done. The religious leaders had once again become pompous in their superior righteousness and caused the general populous to live in despair at their own hopelessness and unrighteousness. The Reformation was and still is about calling us to faith in what God has done in Christ and conquering both self righteousness and despair.

And its not just those Pharisees, those Catholics, those LDS, those liberals out there. It is us right here. We, in our sinfulness, all at various times and in various ways become subject to both self righteousness and despair.

Just as "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils," so also are there two equal and opposite errors awaiting us as we ponder sin.

1. We stand above it, laughing and pretending it no longer exists for us in our Christian superiority: As Luther preaches regarding the Pharisees of our Gospel, in their self-righteousness the Pharisees say, "We are the seed of Abraham." Thus here they also rub this under Christ’s nose and say: "You may claim to be able to do this, but You might as well cross out Your words. To be Abraham’s seed involves blessing, kingdom, government, and inheritance. We shall reign and rule. And now You come along as a heretic who joins the false prophets in disputing the reality of our freedom. You are causing many to fall prey to this heresy when You deny that we are Abraham’s seed and imply that the promise given to Abraham does not pertain to us." They alone want to emphasize that they are free men. And since Christ will not proclaim this, they soon take offense at Him—especially the mighty among them—and fall away, although they had believed in Him before.

2. We become preoccupied with it and fall to its temptation all over again. As Luther says again: "So it happens. At first people adhere to the Gospel, expecting to become great popes, bishops, princes, and lords. They want to yield to no one and to be as free as the birds. But when they recognize the truth, one after another falls away. These are disgraceful disciples; they flock to the Gospel for carnal freedom and temporal benefits. And when they do not find what they are looking for, they abandon it.

That is a danger for all of us as well, when we think of our faith and Baptism as things that make us somehow like supermen impervious to sin, or free us to do as we please as if it no longer applies. In truth, faith and Baptism free us from bondage to sinful desire and cause us to rejoice in living according to God’s command.

Please remember, children of God. Jesus suffered and died because you are a sinner who needs to be set free from that sin. Now that you are His children it is not for you to ignore either the Law or the Gospel of His Word for as Jesus tells us in Matt 5:14-18, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (NIV)

We are no longer slaves to sin but sons of God in Christ. And so let us rejoice in Christ and leave sin behind. Let us neither become arrogant and think ourselves above the Law nor hopeless in despair of our own inability to keep it. Thank God He has given us the victory in Christ and made us His sons and heirs of His kingdom forever. Though we deserve it not, that is "How great the love the Father has lavished on us [is], that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are" [1 John 3:1] all because we are forgiven all our sin -- in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Roderick_E said...

Thanks for encouraging people to learn more about our Christian heritage.

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