Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sermon for Reformation Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
John 8:31-36
Free Indeed
Reformation Sunday, 26 October 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
O church, arise and put your armor on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain;
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth
We'll stand against the devil's lies;
An army bold whose battle cry is "Love!"
Reaching out to those in darkness.

If ever there was a time for the Church to arise and put on the armor of Christ, it is now. The Church does two things at once. We defend the faith once delivered to the saints and confess the Truth of Holy Scripture, God’s Word, especially the law of God that convicts us of our sin and the Gospel of God in Christ that gives peace to the conscience, reconciliation with God, and the promise of eternal life.
O Church, Arise! This hymn was written by non-Lutherans to honor the tradition of Lutheran hymnody in the life of the Christian church. It encourages me to speak up for truth and defend God’s word against all enemies, foreign and domestic, secular and supposedly “sacred.” God’s truth sets free. Most dangerous are those who lie in God’s name.
There are days we are on defense because the Church and Christians are under attack. There are days we are primarily on offense. That is when we make ourselves known primarily for what we are FOR rather than AGAINST. That is when the Church is known for making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching God’s Word.
These two things that the Church does are not at war with one another. That would be silly. We are faithful and care about mission. We wish to preserve pure teaching and preserve human life. We oppose abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and murder, yet see a purpose in Romans 13 for just war, self-defense and even capital punishment. The Church can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are the baptized people of God, given to care about Gospel Outreach and Human Care. As President Harrison and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod emphasizes, the work of the Church is Witness, Mercy, and Life Together.  

The Church does these things because of Who God is and What He has done for us in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven that we may forgive. We are blessed so that we may be a blessing. As we abide in God’s Word, He abides in us. Hear again a portion of John 8:
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Free indeed. We are free indeed in Christ. Even when mischaracterized or lied about, persecuted or praised, vilified or seen as a partner by communities or governments, in Christ you are free indeed.
It may not always feel that way when a Houston mayor and City Council cross the line on common sense, free speech, the free exercise of religion, and threaten the liberties of pastors under the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution by sending subpoenas for their sermons and communications with members. We may well yearn for the whole armor of God in Ephesians 6 when Christian ministers in Idaho in a for-profit marriage chapel are ordered to conduct same-sex so-called weddings. Granted, their business is not a church, but the religious liberty of wedding photographers and cake bakeries is similarlythreatened.

Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valor.
When faced with trials on ev'ry side,
We know the outcome is secure,
And Christ will have the prize for which He died—
An inheritance of nations.

Hold on to the Word of Christ this Reformation Sunday and always. The Reformation was never really about Luther or Germany or only protesting ecclesiastical authority. It was and is all about Jesus, a return to Scripture, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reforming human traditions on the basis of Scripture and the Gospel: Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, all to God’s glory alone!

Consider again how you felt when you first heard that Wyoming’s ban on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples was overturned by one Federal judge in Casper. I have great pity, concern, and compassion for anyone struggling with their gender identity or any sexual temptation. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He did not come that any of us would remain trapped by any sin, whether it is habitual gossip and slander or fornication and adultery. The simple practical reality that some sins have less consequences than others does not mean that such sins are harmless. If one keeps the whole law, as James writes, but fails at one point, he has become accountable for breaking all of the Commandments of God.
As a pastor I will continue to do premarital counseling for the kind of couple God has promised in Scripture to bless, one man and one woman. Whether Synod and legal counsel will advise us to visit a Justice of the Peace for the actual legal ceremony remains to be seen. Some fear that a pastor’s name on a wedding license may open him and his congregation up to lawsuits if he and his congregation will not also perform Christian ceremonies for same-sex couples contrary to Scripture. In Luther’s Germany, the pattern was to get a civil marriage and then have a Church ceremony. In Luther’s case, his church wedding was two weeks after the civil ceremony, the equivalent of our “marriage license” from the county court house.
Please do not misunderstand me. I do on occasion speak from the pulpit about political matters. I speak up when religious liberty is at stake, when a governing authority threatens your and my right under heaven and the Constitution of the United States to freely assemble, speak, and exercise our religious freedom in accordance with the Holy Bible. Are such concerns political? Yes. Are they coming from a partisan perspective? No. My Call as your pastor is to preach and teach the Word of God. And my Bible still includes Romans 1 and Genesis 18-19, just to mention two relevant passages.
In Acts 5:29, Peter reminds us that “We must obey God rather than men.” Do not be surprised if a government gives citizens the legal freedom under the authority of the state to do something condemned by the Lord in His Word, something prohibited by the Ten Commandments, something clearly identified as sin. Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” We could also say, “What God has not joined together, let not man dare join together.”
Anyone caught in any sin should not be given permission to keep on sinning. Sin separates a person from God. Christ Jesus, by atoning for sin, is the mediator between God and man, the bridge to the Father, the Reconciler, our Savior. Out of true love, the love taught in God’s Word, sin is to be pointed out. Sinners are confronted with their affront to God and His will. This is done so that sinners would be brought to repentance. And that the Holy Spirit, by the preaching of the Gospel and the Spirit working as He wills, to bring that sinner to faith and the status of “saint” because of Jesus’ atoning death and victorious resurrection for that person, that dear child of God.

Come, see the cross where love and mercy meet,
As the Son of God is stricken;
Then see His foes lie crushed beneath His feet,
For the Conqueror has risen!
And as the stone is rolled away,
And Christ emerges from the grave,
This vict'ry march continues till the day
Ev'ry eye and heart shall see Him.

That is why we abide in God’s Word. That is why we are not surprised at the threats of Al Qaeda, ISIS, or other Islamic terrorists. 
Did you know that militant Islamists have been at war with America since the Jefferson administration? Today we hear the name “ISIS” or “Islamic State” in the news. Back then they heard “Barbary Pirates.” They are the reason why “the shores of Tripoli” are mentioned in the Marine hymn. American marines fought in Libya back then. And some Marines tell me that the reason why Marines today are called “leathernecks” is because of the wide strips of leather worn around the neck at that time. A leather collar like that would help keep your head up straight. It would also make it harder for Muslim foes to behead you.
In Luther’s day, Muslim Turks had besieged the city of Vienna in what we call Austria today. That is why the original text of his hymn, “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word,” went like this in its first English translation:  LORD, keep us in Thy Word and work,       Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk,             Who fain would tear from off Thy throne Christ Jesus, Thy beloved Son. (ELHB)
If someone opposes the clear teachings of Scripture by removing portions offensive to them, adding human ideas and declaring them equal to or superior to Scripture, or lives or encourages others to live contrary to God’s Word, we must speak up. We dare not remain silent. Too much is at stake spiritually. As Lutheran Christians, our concern for religious liberty is a real and practical part of our Christian heritage. Defending the faith and speaking up for Bible Truth is necessary for every generation of Christians. It has been said that God does not have grandchildren—only children. Spiritually, it doesn’t matter whose genetic offspring you are. You don’t get faith or eternal life or salvation merely because your ancestors were faithful practicing Christians. By God the Holy Spirit you have been called to faith in Christ and reconciled to the Father. Thanks be to God!

So Spirit, come, put strength in ev'ry stride,
Give grace for ev'ry hurdle,
That we may run with faith to win the prize
Of a servant good and faithful.
As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day
When, with Christ, we stand in glory.

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” O Church, Arise.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.