Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may be filled with your endless life, now and forever. AMEN
There was a man named Martin Luther -- a priest in the church -- who had been reflecting upon life and the world around him -- and on the things he had been reading in the Holy Scriptures. What he thought about made him feel many things -- sad, angry, and happy, perhaps -- but more than anything he felt -- responsible. Duty bound. He saw something -- something of the greatest importance for all people. Something bigger than him or any of us, that should be in the open for all to see -- but somehow it had become hidden; forgotten. And he knew he couldn’t keep silent.
On October 31, 1517, he walked over to his neighborhood church, where he posted a sheet of paper on the door. The doors were the bulletin board for the community -- and here is how it began:
Out of love for the truth and from desire to shed light upon it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and regular lecturer on them at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
So began the announcement that listed 95 points for discussion about the Word of God and the authority of the church -- and so began, also, what has come to be known as the Reformation of the Church in Europe.
Luther and many others saw that the church was in bondage to sin and caught within a system of fear and control from which it could never be freed, except by placing at its foundation the truth of God’s love, revealed in Jesus Christ.
The Reformation was an historical event that changed the course of world history.
And today -- Reformation Day -- we remember above everything else . . . that today is not about Martin Luther or any other reformer. Nor is today about the church. Our focus today is on the Holy Spirit.
As we remember the Reformation, what is important is WHO changed history and WHY.
The answer: GOD changed history. And the reason is because God loves us and all of creation. That is the Truth behind the truth of the Reformation.
That is good news for us today because God still loves us and God is still changing history. We celebrate today because the Holy Spirit continues to reform us, the church and the world -- turning our eyes to the truth that God still loves you and is working in your life for good.
I remember once when I suddenly became afraid. I was in college and was presented with the first serious challenge from someone that everything I had been told about God and Jesus and salvation was wrong.
They told me I had not been told the truth -- but they will give it to me now. And I was afraid. What if they were right? All I had was one group’s opinion against another’s.
I called my pastor. I thought he would explain clearly to me how this person was wrong. Say something to tear their argument apart. But instead, he said something I’ll never forget. He listened to me calmly, and then he said to me, “Philip, the truth is not afraid of freedom of thought.” Read, he said. Ask questions. Search your heart and pray. Look at the fruit of their actions.
My pastor knew that the truth will stand on its own integrity -- and everything should be tested against it -- for me to base my life and my beliefs on anything other than the truth would be foolish.
Martin Luther began his 95 theses with these words: “Out of love for the truth and desire to shed light on it...”
A love for the truth was at the heart of the Reformation -- a truth that wasn’t created or even discovered by the reformers but revealed to them. That truth needs to be continually revealed for us, also. Because you and I face the same challenge that every generation faces -- that sin and fear will turn our eyes away from the truth of God’s love, to seek satisfaction and security in other places.
The truth of God’s love for us is not complicated. But to remind ourselves of it, we have come up with a few phrases that may seem confusing at first, but when we start to complicate life and our relationship to God, they are intended to help us keep it simple.
These three phrases come from the Reformation.
The sayings are: “sola gratia” -- By grace alone.
“sola fide” -- By faith alone.
“sola scriptura” -- By Scripture alone.
Simply summarized, Sola gratia -- grace alone -- reminds us of what Paul said in our second lesson: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” We are saved by grace -- by God’s act of love. There is nothing we can do to make us more saved or more loved. What Christ has done is enough.
Sola fide -- by faith alone -- reminds us that the living of our lives should be built around the truth of God’s love that holds us safe. The alternative to living in faith is to live by fear -- which seeks control -- and therefore believes that we can be saved by our works.
And “sola scriptura” -- scripture alone -- reminds us that the truth of God’s love, the truth of our justification by grace and the truth that we cannot live by works -- are all revealed to us by Scripture. Sola Scriptura reminds us that the Bible is the final authority on all things relating to God and our salvation. The church must never initiate practices or traditions that suggest that our salvation comes from somewhere other than God’s -- or that anything other than faith in God’s works is pleasing to God.
By grace alone are we saved.
By faith alone do we live.
That is the whole truth revealed by Scripture -- and NOTHING can add to it or take anything from it. By Scripture alone do we know the full truth about God that guides us in the teachings and practices of life.
If you continue in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
That is what all of this is about in the end: that we may be free. Not merely free as an institutional church, but first and foremost as individuals. Love will set you free. The truth sets us free to live lives of love.
The Holy Spirit is alive -- and is here today -- here in you. And the Holy Spirit comes to guide you into a life of faith in God’s grace. The Holy Spirit comes to convert your heart from fear and reform your life in love.
Lord, keep us steadfast in your word.