Sunday, June 25, 2006

2 Corinthians 6:1-3 - “Augsburg Words”

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
Thursday, June 22, and Sunday, June 25, 2006

I’d like you to take a look at the picture on the front of your bulletins. It’s a fresco, a wall painting, depicting the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25, 1530. As we’ve already seen in today’s worship service, this is a major moment in Lutheran history and in the history of Christian Church as those who followed Martin Luther’s interpretation of Scripture had come together to submit this Confession, this document outlining their teachings.

Looking at the picture, you see the Lutherans giving their Confession to the man on the throne, that’s Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. They’re at the Diet of Augsburg. A diet is a formal assembly that debates an issue.

What might not be clear from this painting is that Martin Luther himself was not at Augsburg. Since 1521, Luther had been in hiding or at least staying in certain German territories where the princes would protect him, because 1521 was the year that the pope declared that Luther was a heretic, excommunicated him from the church, and issued a death warrant. Nine years later for the Diet of Augsburg, it still wasn’t safe for Luther to appear in public, so others had to present the Augsburg Confession based so much on what Luther had been teaching about the Bible.

Our worship service today has used many words from the Augsburg Confession reminding us of how this document teaches what God’s Word says. However, besides just looking at the Confession itself, which was actually the subject of our sermons this past Lenten season, I thought on this 476th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession that it would help to look at what Martin Luther said about the event.

You see, Luther couldn’t be at Augsburg in person, but that didn’t keep him from trying to influence the outcome, trying to lead from a distance, through his writing.

So, then, you’ve got two quotes from Luther’s writings sent to Augsburg. Let’s take a look at these Augsburg Words as reminders of what it means to confess our faith in Jesus, to stand up in front of the world and tell everyone what we believe.

First, you have a quote from Luther’s “Exhortation to All Clergy Assembled at Augsburg.” This was a longer essay that Luther sent to a printer in Augsburg; it was published in June 1530. The Diet of Augsburg wasn’t just Emperor Charles and a few Lutherans. This was a huge meeting with clergy coming from all around. The clergy who came were both Roman Catholic and followers of Luther. Luther’s “Exhortation” is written as a way to reach out to all of the clergy, encouraging the Lutherans but also trying to win over some of the Roman priests.

The quote we have here is from early in the letter. Luther says:

The reason for this is that my conscience drives me to entreat, implore, and admonish you all in a friendly and cordial way not to let this diet slip by or use it in vain. For God gives you grace, opportunity, time, and cause through our most gracious Emperor Charles to do and accomplish much and great good through this diet, if you only want to. He now certainly speaks as St. Paul says, II Corinthians 6[:1–3], “We entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.’ Behold, now is an acceptable time and a day of salvation,” for you above all. We see and hear how the hearts of all people watch and wait upon this diet with great expectation that good will come of it. (Luther's Works, vol. 34 : Career of the Reformer IV)

Luther is saying use this diet: use this assembly, use this time for good. Use it to study, discover, and proclaim God’s truth. Luther probably didn’t really think that Emperor Charles was going to change his mind; the Emperor couldn’t dare go against the Pope. However, Luther is saying that if Charles is going to gather everyone together, well, then God’s going to use this situation. Luther is trusting that God is going to work His grace through the Diet of Augsburg.

God will work through situations that don’t seem so good, and He will make sure that His truth is heard through those situations.

The cards were stacked against the Lutherans. It seemed like the Diet of Augsburg was just another opportunity for the Emperor and the Pope to condemn the Lutherans. What good could come out of that?

But Luther is reminding the clergy in his “Exhortation” that God will use this opportunity to shine the light on the truth of the Gospel. Even if the Emperor isn’t convinced, the world spotlight was on what the Lutherans were saying at Augsburg. Other people were going to hear the Confession, were going to hear the true teachings from Scripture, and God could use that to help others know the wonderful truth of salvation through faith in Jesus, a salvation through faith alone and not by works. It wasn’t the situation the Lutherans would’ve picked, but Luther is convinced God will use it for good.

Same thing in our lives: they are times when we’re called on to speak God’s truth in situations that don’t seem ideal. I remember going to a coffee shop once to do some work. It was during Lent. As I was sitting there, the owner and a customer were having a rather loud conversation that cut down the Church, Christianity, and the tradition of Lent. After awhile, the one guy asked what I was working on. My gut reaction was: this conversation isn’t going to go so well.

I told him that actually I was a Christian pastor and I was typing a sermon for an upcoming Lenten service. Rather than immediately shooting me down, he seemed a little surprised and curious. We talked about the Church and Christianity a little bit, and while I don’t think I convinced him of much that day, I trusted that God was going to use that situation for good. To me it didn’t look like there was going to be much point in confessing my faith, in speaking clearly about believing in Jesus in that coffee shop that day, but apparently God saw something else. He created the opportunity for me to speak; He gave me the words to say; He is in charge of the outcome.

So that’s the first thing to take away from these Augsburg Words: the next time you’re in a situation where you couldn’t possibly imagine any good coming from you admitting your Christian faith, trust that God created the opportunity and will use it for good.

And just in case the clergy forgot, Luther points out the ultimate good that God is trying to bring about through a situation like that: the day of salvation for all people. For the Lutherans at Augsburg and for us at the coffee shop or wherever, God wants to speak His Word so that when the Lord returns, it will be a day of salvation for many people. He wants to use us in any situation to help others look to Jesus for hope, forgiveness, and salvation.

Well, those are some Augsburg Words that the clergy read before June 25, but our next quote comes from a letter dated July 9, 1530. It’s just over two weeks since the Lutherans presented their Confession to the Emperor, and they’ve stayed in Augsburg as the meetings continue. Luther is chomping at the bit, so to speak, hardly able to keep himself where he is in Coburg, because he wants to know what’s happening, wants to be there to defend the faith.

So Luther writes to his friend, Justus Jonas, a layman who was part of the Lutheran delegation at Augsburg. Jonas was instrumental in helping to write the Augsburg Confession.

Luther writes to Jonas saying:

For, first of all, and this is most important, Christ has been proclaimed through this public, glorious confession, and has been affirmed in bright daylight and in the very presence of these, [his opponents,] so that they may not boast that we have run away, have been afraid, or have hidden our faith. I only envy you this opportunity, for I could not be present at this [time when] the beautiful confession [was presented]. (Luther's works, vol. 49 : Letters II)

Again, Luther is emphasizing that the good of the situation has come about because God gave them an opportunity to clearly speak the true faith according to the Scriptures. There may have been many in the room that were against the Lutherans; they may have been at an assembly arranged by an emperor who was against them; but God used it for good, because the true faith was heard loud and clear in what the Lutherans said.

Luther seems to be encouraging Jonas to continue in what they were doing at Augsburg, saying that at least no one could accuse them of running away, being afraid, or hiding what they were teaching. It would’ve been far easier to avoid the controversy; it would’ve been far easier for the Lutherans to simply agree with the Pope and then secretly teach something different.

However, Luther is saying that it is better that they weren’t hiding what they believed, taught, and confessed.

It would’ve been easier for the Lutherans to run and hide back in 1530, and it would be easier for you Lutherans to run and hide in 2006. Perhaps you can think of times when you did hide your faith, when you did run away from an opportunity to speak God’s truth. I think of a time when I tried to hide in my first week at the Seminary in St. Louis.

I had just gotten to campus and started to meet some of the other first-year students. A group of us decided to spend a Saturday night downtown at a Blues Festival. Being a new seminarian, I was OK if no one figured out where we went to school. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to have conversations with everyone I met that yes, I was at the Seminary, yes, I was going to be a pastor, and yes, that means I believe in Jesus Christ. So I was OK to keep my faith on the downlow. I didn’t think of it as hiding; I just thought, “Aw, no one needs to know.”

Well, one of my new friends thought differently, in fact, he thought a lot more like a witness of Christ. His name is Chris, and instead of hiding his faith, he looked for every and any opportunity to talk to people about Jesus. He was never rude about it; he actually had a great way at making people feel at ease and open up and talk to him about their beliefs. You couldn’t meet Chris without knowing that he truly believed in Jesus.

I remember standing waiting for the subway, and trying to slink away as Chris started up another conversation with someone about Jesus. Of course, Chris wasn’t going to let me hide, as he gestured to our little group saying, “Yeah, we all go to Concordia Seminary and are studying to be pastors. We’re all Christians.”

That person on the train platform could’ve very well have pointed to me and said, “Even he’s a Christian? It kind of looks like he’s trying to hide.”

We’ve all tried to hide our faith; we’ve all tried to avoid talking to people about Jesus or church. But Luther says he envies the opportunity that Jonas had to boldly confess the faith at Augsburg. That’s a little hard for us to imagine: being sad about not being at a very difficult, tense assembly where you are outnumbered but still have to say what you believe. Yet, that’s exactly what Luther is saying: he was sad that he couldn’t be there.

We might get nervous about the crowd of people, we might get nervous about having the right words, we might get nervous about making people mad or getting into trouble or what our hair looks like. We might think of lots of reasons we wouldn’t want to be in a situation where we had to tell lots of people about our faith, or even a situation where we had to tell one person about our faith.

But you see, when Luther said he wished he could’ve been there at Augsburg, he wasn’t focused on what people were going to think of him. He was thinking about what it meant to have the opportunity to tell other people about Jesus, to tell anyone who would listen that Jesus gives us salvation.

Someone, actually probably many people didn’t hide their faith from you. Someone, actually probably many people have told you about their faith in Jesus, so that you would know that the day of salvation will come for you as well, so that you would know that Jesus died on the cross to pay for all of your sins, so that you would know that Jesus rose again from the dead to give you life after death. Think of all of the people that showed you their faith, how God used them to teach you, encourage you, and strengthen you in your faith. Rejoice that those people didn’t run away or hide, and then let us follow their example.

That’s what you can take away from these Augsburg Words: rejoicing in the fact that God will give you opportunities to tell someone about Jesus. In these Augsburg Words, we’ve been reminded of our sins, of how we hide our faith, but you’ve been forgiven for those times. The forgiveness of Jesus washes away those sins, and now the joy of forgiveness leads you forward to try again. These Augsburg Words ultimately are encouraging us to rejoice in the times when God can use us to share His Word, encouraging us to see those times as gifts from God. God will help you to stay instead of running, to speak instead of remaining silent, to appear instead of hiding, and in the end, no matter what kind of situation you find yourself in, God can use it for good, as a time when someone else will get to hear about His great, glorious, wondrous, gracious love in Jesus Christ.