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

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