Reformation Day (alternate text)
Saturday, October 30, and Sunday, October 31, 2004
Saturday – put up poster of questions from youth compiled before, explain the connection to Luther
Sunday – have children give questions during children’s sermon, children put up poster
The questions that these students have asked are very violent. I mean, really, “Why should we believe in God? Why preach about God? Do you all really believe in Jesus? Why are you here?” Those are violent questions, just as Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” were violent.
Oh, but you say, “Violence?? What violence? There’s no fisticuffs, no blood, no broken bones, no explosions, no guns, no bombs. Really, these questions are just questions from our students. There’s no violence in these questions. . .is there?”
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent will take the kingdom of heaven by force.” People are going to violently attack God’s kingdom, His people, His church, and the appropriate reaction to this attack is violence. Jesus is calling us to be violent, take the Church back by force. It’s a little difficult to see this, but this verse is talking about two different groups of people: the people who attack the Kingdom of God and the people who defend it. The people who attack, attack with violence. The people who defend, defend with violence.
But still even though Jesus said this, you still say, “Violence?? What violence? Who’s attacking the Church today? It doesn’t look like anyone is attacking the Church, and certainly not violently. And those questions from the students, I mean, they’re not violent questions, are they? They’re just asking questions, right?”
Ah, yes, it all seems peaceful today, but perhaps in those questions posted on our door, perhaps there’s an extremely violent confrontation going on. In order to understand just how violent it is in here today, let’s take a look at a violent scene from the Reformation. Perhaps then we’ll understand the violence in our church today.
Today we celebrate the Reformation, how Martin Luther in 1517 set the Church on a course of reexamining what it taught, of reexamining the Bible, of rediscovering the Gospel of Jesus Christ—that we are not saved by what we do, but that we are saved by grace, as a gift of God, through faith and trust in Jesus. Luther and those who searched the Scriptures with him wanted to reform the Church, change what the Church was teaching, but when the Roman Catholic leadership rejected this change, Luther and others were forced out, forced to be a separate denomination.
While these tensions would lead to civil war in Germany, would lead to much physical violence, that’s not the violent scene from the Reformation that I’m talking about. In order to understand just how violent it is in here today, we have to see the violence on October 31, 1517, the day Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door, the day Luther publicly began to question what was being taught in the Church. Luther was announcing that he wanted to debate these issues surrounding the essential question of how we are saved. And in asking those questions, Luther was reacting with violence, was defending the Church with violence, was taking the Kingdom of Heaven by force.
You see, the kind of violence Jesus was talking about is not the blood and gore, the hit and crush, the shoot and kill kind of violence we think of first. The kind of violence Jesus was talking about is the violence of faith versus faithlessness, of belief versus unbelief, of truth versus false teaching.
Luther had seen the violence of faithlessness, unbelief, and false teaching in the Church, and Luther reacted by taking the Kingdom of Heaven by force, by violent force. When Luther questioned what was being taught, when he announced that he wanted to debate these issues, when he brought attention to the fact that the truth of the Gospel was being lost in what the Church was teaching and doing, these were the kind of violent acts Jesus was talking about. Luther was defending the Word of God against the violence of false teaching.
Again, what violence was being committed against the Word of God in Luther’s day? The violence of changing the message, of hiding the Gospel, of making the faith to be about our works. In that way, the Kingdom of heaven was suffering violence, because the people were not hearing the hope and forgiveness of Jesus. The people were being chained to the Law, were being told that they could only have eternal life if they did enough. The Church was ripping apart God’s Word.
As one author put it, “The necessary response to such violence is a faith which must also be violent, that is, violently stubborn in confession. The violent take it by force, that is, Christians with faith born of the word of God who will not back off from their confession by the threat of violence against them. For Christian violence is not the same as the violence of the world, but is, rather, a violence of the heart and mind" (Every Day Will I Bless Thee, 494).
What the Church had been teaching was doing violence to Luther’s heart and mind. He was overwhelmed with guilt and his heart ached. He only understood Jesus as a terrible judge who would condemn him to hell for his sins. To this violence against his heart and mind, Luther reacted with a violence of heart and mind.
He questioned what the Church was teaching; he asked the Church to look again at the Bible, to study again what Jesus had taught. He found hope in the Gospel, found that forgiveness and peace that he had desperately needed, and now he wasn’t going to let anyone take that forgiveness and peace away from him.
When Luther put his “95 Theses” on the door, he was committing a terrible violent act. He was showing that he would not back off from his confession, his belief. He would remain stubborn about teaching the truth of God’s Word. And that, my friends, is the same as this violent act of our students today.
Look at these questions again that the students have asked: “Why should we believe in God? Why preach about God? Do you all really believe in Jesus? Why are you here?” Those are the questions they want to ask you. In them is a violence against unbelief. They are calling you to really know the faith, to know the truth about God. When they ask, “why are you here,” they’re really questioning whether you’re just going through the motions. Perhaps these students sometimes sense the violence that you do against the faith—the violence of unbelief, of false teaching, of hypocrisy, of putting on a good show, of not really knowing the Gospel. Sensing this violence against the kingdom of heaven, these students have violently asked their questions today. These students will not back down from their faith. These students will not let you do violence against their hearts and minds, not let you trample their hope of forgiveness and peace in Jesus.
But you say, “Violence?? What violence?” You say, “Where have we been violent against the Word of God?”
Unfortunately, I do see violence committed against the truth in this congregation. When I hear you telling each other that you have to do good works in order to please God, you are doing violence to the Gospel—which says we cannot please God by our actions and we are saved by faith in Jesus. When parents tell me they want their children in church to learn the Ten Commandments, especially the one about honoring parents, you are doing violence to the Gospel—because that most important thing students learn from the Church isn’t the Ten Commandments but rather learning that they are forgiven in Jesus. You have done violence to the Gospel when you act as if people can’t be Christians unless they meet your expectations. You have done violence when you say that going to Church is just about getting a nice feeling for the day, ignoring the spiritual, eternal importance of the faith.
Because you have done this, because we have all done this, because we have all violently opposed the Word of God at times with what we say and do, because of this, the students have asked us some difficult questions today. They aren’t going to let our violence destroy the preaching and teaching of truth in this place. They will not back down from the faith. And when they ask these kind of questions, when they react with a violence of heart and mind, they are calling us back to the truth.
And when they call us back to the truth, that truth forgives us for our violence, for our unbelief, for our faithlessness. The students aren’t asking these questions to condemn us; they’re asking these questions to point us to the hope and forgiveness in the truth of Jesus Christ.
Of course, these students don’t always remain faithful themselves, and of course, you often are boldly committed to the faith. In other words, we all sin, and we all need forgiveness. However, I think these questions are indeed good reminders for us today—how are we doing violence to the Word of God? Are we lacking faith and trust? Are we teaching something other than the Gospel of Jesus? We must be willing to ask these questions, so that we can defend the Word of God against false teaching—even when that false teaching comes from ourselves.
And how do we defend the Word of God, how do we react against violent attacks on the truth—besides writing up questions to tape to the door? We defend the truth by clinging to Jesus who defeats the devil. We defend the truth when we believe and trust the Word of God, when we believe that Jesus will save us from death and give us life forever. When that Word of God is preached and taught, that does great violence against false teaching.
We defend the truth by clinging to Jesus who defeats the devil. We defend the truth when we ask our children what they’re learning in Sunday School and make sure that they hearing that Jesus loves them and forgives them. We defend the truth when we attend Bible study and don’t let anyone change the message of God into a message of being saved by works. You defend the truth when you check what your pastors are preaching against the Word of God, questioning us when you think we’ve gone against the Gospel.
We defend the truth by clinging to Jesus who defeats the devil. We defend the truth when we explain to others the differences between Christianity and other religions, that only Christianity teaches that salvation is a gift from God. We defend the truth when we explain to others the differences between our denomination, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and other denominations, that we don’t want to remain separate from other Christians but that we will not let anyone teach something in the Church that makes the Gospel less important, that makes it harder to hear forgiveness, that doesn’t focus our attention on Jesus Christ alone.
You see, there’s violence going on here today. The students have asked some violent questions, not backing away from the truth of God’s Word, because I think they correctly realize that the kingdom of heaven is being attacked even by some of us in here today—by faithlessness, unbelief, and false teaching.
Yet, while the kingdom of heaven is suffering violence here today, the violent are also taking it by force. Through your faith in Jesus Christ, you are reacting with great violence against those who would destroy the truth. You are committed to Jesus Christ. You are not letting anyone change the message, holding onto our hope that we will be saved by faith not by works. You will not back away from your faith which seems ridiculous to the world. You are committed to the Word of God.
When they asked Luther to take back everything he had written and said about the Gospel, Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by scripture…, I cannot and will not recant [take back] anything, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” His conscience was captive to the Word of God; he was committed to the Word of God over against anything else.
There’s a lot of violence in here today when you remain committed to the Word of God, when your conscience is captive to the Word of God. There’s a lot of violence when you won’t let the truth be attacked, the teachings of Christ be changed, when you won’t let the world destroy the hope you have in God.
So now I am going to incite you to violence, stir you up to commit a violent act. Most of the time if I encouraged a group of people to be violent, I could be arrested, charged with inciting a rebellion or leading a mob. Yet, I am going to ask you to do a most violent act that won’t be recognized by the world as violent. I’m going to ask you to commit an act of spiritual violence, defending the Church against the violence of faithlessness, unbelief, and false teaching.
Join me in the violent act of confessing our common Christian faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Please stand. The Creed states our faith in Jesus against all other beliefs. With this Creed, we violently declare that we will not back away from the faith—the faith that gives us forgiveness through Jesus Christ alone.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.