Thursday, June 25, 2015

Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession


THIS week is an important anniversary.  485 years ago, the Evangelical princes in Germany stood before the Emperor Charles V and presented the Augsburg Confession.  The emperor was concerned because his realm was in jeopardy.  To the east the Turks were pressing into Austria.  To the west the French were forcing their way into Flanders and claiming Provence.  In Rome there was a pope who couldn't stand Charles, Clement VII, and within the Empire there were two opposed forms of the Christian religion:  the Catholics who followed the pope, and the Evangelicals, most of whom followed Martin Luther.  The emperor was a Catholic.  He couldn't stand the pope, but he believed God wanted him to be a Catholic, so that's what he was.  Only three years earlier his troops had sacked Rome, but he needed peace.  If there was any way he could live with the Lutherans, he wanted to know about it.  Some Lutherans had been in his ranks the year before when the Turks besieged Vienna.  They had resisted that attack.  If he could understand our religion, perhaps he could let it be legal.  Charles asked the princes to tell him what they believed.  He needed something to hang onto.

As for the princes, they were not sure what to say.  They needed something to hang onto as well.  The Empire they had known as children was collapsing.  Only five years before the peasants had made war against them.  There were radicals calling for an end to all government.  Some were saying that the world was about to end.  Religion had always been a reliable constant, but it had become a bone of contention.  One day the Emperor was scolding them for being Lutheran, the next he was begging for their help.  They turned to the professors at Wittenberg, Luther's university, to write a document for them.  Philip Melanchthon wrote the articles down.  Princes, counts, and barons all signed it, along with mayors and councils of the Imperial cities.  it was an impressively long list of names, all standing firmly by this Confession of faith.  They had found something to hang onto.

485 years later, people still need something to hang onto.  The political and commercial marketplace is so uncertain, many who are at the ideal time of life for public action stay home and avoid getting involved with public business.  The young may not be able to talk about the problems, but they know something is wrong.   Often they try to escape, seldom in a healthy direction.  The older you get, the more you are aware the swift-winged flight of time.  Have events brought you distress this year?  Has this year of grace, this year of opportunity brought you a broken heart, a broken home, a broken body, a broken bank account?  Even if you can truly say that you had unlimited good fortune, is that really secure?  What is secure is that you are born again of water and the Spirit, that you live in the presence of  a Savior who warms and enlightens you, and who is the same yesterday, today and forever.  The Evangelical princes confessed that Savior, Luther and Melanchthon confessed that Savior and you can confess Him today.  He does not change, nor does the faithful response to His call.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day; earth's joys grow dim its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see; oh Thou, who changest not, abide with me.

He has never changed.  He is still both able and willing to be our savior and Lord.  Have your friends you trusted betrayed you?  Jesus has been faithful to his promises.  Has your health broken down?  Jesus is still the Great Physician.  Did you finances take a tumble?  He was rich yet for our sakes He became poor to bless us with abundant spiritual wealth.  Have you been caught up in the whirlwind of television and cheap amusements?  Jesus is still the solid Rock, the sure Foundation, yesterday, today, and forever.

Can there be a love so deep as our heavenly Father's?  He was moved by incomprehensible compassion to give up His righteous Son for the hired servants of death.  Has anyone greater love than Jesus?  He thanked His heavenly Father for the privilege of dying to redeem us.  Is any ministry as excellent as the Holy Spirit's, standing firmly by our sickbeds and deathbeds, always forgiving, always renewing?  The three in One loves us still.  We say the cross "towers o'er the wrecks of time."  As long as there is time, there will be plenty of wrecks to fill it, but if you had been watching Jesus' trial, which one would you think was the wreck, the pathetic figure of the Defendant, or the togaed Pilate?  2000 years later both are still known by  name, but Pilate is only known because of Jesus.  When love confronted power, love won.  Everything that He taught us is unchangingly true -- the last shall be first, the persecuted are blessed, forgiveness and faith cannot be separated.  He had enemies then, and He still has enemies now, organizing one battle after another against the truth.  Soon they are listed among the wrecks of time.

The final round is approaching, the Great Tribulation which will pry us loose from all our vanities, call us to healthy repentance, mysterious things should not frustrate us.  How easy it is for us to get so engrossed in ourselves that we declare our independence from God!  We believe, but still need help for our unbelief.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are a clean heart and a right spirit, nurtured by the Word of God and the Sacraments of the Holy Church.  that was what those Confessors said to the emperor 485 years ago.  They were making the faithful response in their day.  It is for us to make it in ours, when the windows of opportunity open.  Above all, they refused to allow any contamination of the teaching that we are saved by grace alone and neither can we.  If Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, so our faithful response is what it has always been, confessing Him as the way, the Truth, and the Life.

Is that old fashioned?  Of course it is.  Our faith is an old faith, based on an old book.  I do not mean Melanchthon's Confession, faithful as that was, but a much older book, the Sacred Scriptures themselves.  These are things the world doesn't want to hear.  Charles V only listened because he needed the Lutherans.  He did not accept the Confession in the end, but it was the faithful response from that generation which we can stand on as we make ours today.  We might no longer call ourselves "Evangelicals," for certain heretics have preempted that name for themselves.  We use the name of Lutheran even though there are many who use it while denying our faith.  We pray for the Holy Spirit to baptize our talents as He did those of our forefathers, that we might write our chapter in Church History as well as they wrote theirs.  Only God can write the epilogues.  When He does, we can be as certain of His forgiveness and comfort as the princes were 485 years ago, for their Savior is ours, yesterday, today, and forever.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, June 1, 2015

Isn't that the pastor's job?


Public Domain
SUPPOSE a visitor from another planet looked at these Cleveland churches.  He would have no assumptions about what a church should be.  He would see a lot of movement going on, various groups, official boards and auxiliary organizations, having an endless stream of meetings.  It doesn't bewilder us, because we're used to it.  A church that is stirred up is active.  Do you know what getting stirred up is?  That's the fire station when the bell rings.  It's the barracks when the sergeant walks in.  It's the ground crew after the fifth inning.  It's when your husband comes home at 6:30 and tells you that his boss is coming for dinner at 7:00; and it is our worship service.  We believe that we enter into the very Presence of God.  He calls us to enter His throne room.  He wants us to believe that we have every right to be there.  In Bible class we do something similar.  God wants to visit with us here; He wants us to seek Him here.

Neither should we be surprised when this same text warns us not to neglect this assembly.  Didn't we learn as children that we should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it?  Worship obviously is part of this, but what about the rest?  Does the Third Commandment mean we need a Board of Stewardship?  Does it mean I have to teach Sunday School, or work at fundraisers, or help decorate for Christmas?  God knows that no one person can do everything, but all of His work is important, including attending the nursery; and God blesses work done for Him, whether it is part of the congregation's organized efforts, or your own free lance participation during the week.  We live in times that are unfriendly to the Christian faith.  Institutional busy work does not make you holy, but we need more Christian association in these times than Sunday morning alone.  We need divine encouragement from many sources.

Nor can we leave all this to the pastor.  The pastor can't go to Bible class for you, or say the prayers you're supposed to say.  You also can't leave admonishing and encouraging members to the pastor alone.  You see, the real God is here.  He wants to be part of your life, your conversation, your plans and projects.  Do you think He needs the pastor for an interpreter?  Do you feel so far from God that you can only approach Him through a pastor?  In Moses' time God required a Mediator.  He had an inner chamber built in the sanctuary which only the High Priest could enter.  It was the holiest place of all.  He had Moses put the Ark of the Covenant in there, and hang curtains all around it so nobody could see inside.  Many years later, the Second Temple was laid out that same way, even though there was no Ark.  At the exact moment of Jesus' death there was an earthquake tearing that curtain from top to bottom.  God was telling us that Jesus had fulfilled all the sacrifices of the Law.  People were still sinners, but all sinners had a perfect way to come to God, by coming to His Son.  Do you think that only the pastor is a child of God?  Hardly!  It is true that the pastor does in public what Christians do in private -- warning and comforting sinners, baptizing, forgiving sins, performing marriages.  Furthermore, as a steward of the mysteries of God, the pastor performs the ceremony that consecrates Holy Communion.  That is never done privately because it is intended for the entire Body of Christ.  Every child of God comes to Him.  He gives the pastor authority, although the congregation designates him as an individual to perform the office.  Admonishing and encouraging are an important part of that office.  Because the pastor's functions are public, it is necessary that he know what he's doing.  Only one who has that aptitude should be designated as  pastor.

Our Lord Jesus ripped open the external veil, but we have veils in our minds that keep us from drawing near with a true heart.  What are these veils?  Let's start with, "I don't want to worship with a bunch of hypocrites!"  Why not?  Jesus did.  Search the world over and tell me if you ever see a church without hypocrites.  Do you think you are the only one who is not?  Another internal veil is the idea that you aren't good enough for the Lord.  It is true you are a sinner, but it isn't your call whether you are good enough for the Lord.  He is, after all, gracious.  The reason He wants you here is to forgive you.  By Holy Baptism Christ Himself cleansed you from all your sins.  By human merit, no one would ever be worthy to come here, but the same Christ who broke the external veils breaks this one by calling you His friend.  He urges you to get stirred up.

In the divine service on the Lord's Day we come to the mountaintop.  We come to receive the food that sustains our courage as we face the devil's threats and temptations all week long.  God serves us by proclaiming the Law and the Gospel, and by stirring us up to loving action.  We serve God with thanksgiving and praise, and we serve one another by being here, expressing our fellowship with you, and stirring you up.  Here we all serve each other by praying publicly for our common needs.  At the summit is the Feast of the Sacrifice of Redemption, the point where we drink from the Fountain of Life, where we let ourselves be served by the Servant King.  Then we serve Him by doing our duty.

As Judgment Day draws near, the bad times that precede it are coming even faster.  We are going to have to fight the good fight of faith, which can be a hard one.  Our internal church discipline, the admonishing that we do - in several different forms - may  upset you when it happens, but the church has to do it.  Does it get you stirred up?  Oh, it gets you angry at us. Well, at least you heard reveille, at least you are involved at that point.  Does a lesson on stewardship send the hand to guard the wallet?  Of course it does, it's getting you stirred up.  We have veils in our minds that these things tear down.  Jesus was torn down Himself to unblock the veils which keep God's blessings from us.  He humiliates Himself.  Of course it's hard to let Jesus wash your feet, but He alone can get them clean.  Let Him tear down all the veils.  Draw near with a true heart, drink from the Fountain of Life, and see how stirring that can be.  AMEN.

Rev. Lloyd E. Gross