The Festival of the Reformation
On the Occasion of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
“Here I Stand”
October 29, 2017
Sermon Text: Romans 3:20-25
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you this most blessed day from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Hier stehe ich” These words in German have been the subject and title of countless books and articles written over the past five hundred years.
“Here I stand.” Actually the complete phrase that Martin Luther is purported to have said is: “Ich kann nicht anders, hier stehe ich, möge Gott mir helfen. Amen.”
“I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen.”
Luther was at that very moment standing before Emperor Charles V who wanted to settle the matter once and for all regarding the unrest and upheaval caused by Luther and his writings.
The emperor granted Luther safe passage to the city of Worms where this special convocation, known as a “diet” was held in 1521. Would Luther have the opportunity to present to the emperor, to other civil authorities and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church a defense of his writings – what he said and why he held it to be true? Hardly.
To much surprise, he was asked only two questions – whether he acknowledged the books, the writings, that were stacked on a table in the room to be of his doing… and whether he was willing to retract any of their contents… to recant what he said… what he professed.
My friends, I share all of this not because it is some nice walk down memory lane on this auspicious occasion… or even simply an important reminder of what was said hundreds of years ago… but because of its incredible application to today… its application to you, me and all of the faithful in regard to where we stand… its application to our church and where it stands as we enter further and further into the thick darkness of these last days.
“Martin Luther, do you recant what you have written?” It is recorded that Luther’s answer was thus,
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.”
And then, one account, records Luther saying, “Ich kann nicht anders, hier stehe ich, möge Gott mir helfen.”
“I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen.”
Four years earlier, in the year of our Lord 1517, a Roman Catholic friar of the order of the Augustinian Hermits, would have never imagined what his posting of 95 theses on that October day… October 31st to be exact… would lead to… what it would bring about.
Luther simply wanted to discuss and hopefully correct serious abuses going on in the church, and these having to do with the sale of indulgences… the purchase of worthless pieces of paper that told the buyer that he or she (or one of their loved ones) was released from having to spend a certain number of years or any years… any time… in purgatory.
This is the place where, according to the Roman Catholic Church, all but the best of saints would have go to make full satisfaction for sins committed here on earth. It is known as the Sacrament of Penance and it is clear that such satisfaction cannot be completely made in one’s life here on earth… that an untold number of years would have to be spent suffering greatly in purgatory before entering into heaven.
What an insidious teaching! What a burden this placed upon one’s conscience and a thick pall upon their very spirit. How many men, women and children have born this great weight in the course of time? And among the spiritually stricken was Luther.
Not to know if one’s acts of penance were good enough… sufficient enough. Not to know, really know, where one stood in relationship to God Almighty.
At this point, we need to be reminded that what we are talking about here are not just things long gone and past… that which has accumulated dust over the centuries. The fact is, the sacrament of penance is still being taught… it is still in force… the making of satisfaction for one’s sins… in the Roman Catholic Church.
What is more, the offering of indulgences continues.
What is more, the teaching and believing of “works righteousness” continues… that in some way, manner, shape and form, we must participate and actively cooperate… play some role… in the forgiveness of our sins… in the making of complete satisfaction… the making of everything right again… for our trespasses and transgressions.
And this my friends, extends far beyond the Roman Catholic Church to almost every other so-called Christian denomination and doctrine other than the doctrine of the Lutheran Church… the true Lutheran Church.
I say this because, as you well know, many churches have “Lutheran” in their name, but are not… most certainly are not… Lutheran.
In many ways, one must question whether they are even Christian. In other words, they have far bigger problems than not adhering to the Lutheran Confessions. They do not adhere to the very Word of God!
This includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Who is here rightly called out for the sake of those dear souls who belong to ELCA and those who would consider joining it.
So what is the difference with us? What was the difference with Luther? What makes us so special? Luther so special? The true Lutheran faith so special?
Something, thankfully, totally outside of us… given to us… namely, Holy Scripture – pure and simple. Holy Scripture and all of Scripture. The inerrant Word of God. The strong Word of God, pure and holy, that straightforwardly declares in no uncertain terms that forgiveness and life eternal in heaven lies in no other, none other, than Jesus Christ.
That “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Not the name of any man, be he emperor, pope, priest or pastor. Be it one’s self in whole or in part. No other name, but Jesus. No other way, but Jesus. No other answer, but Jesus.
What a divine revelation this was for Luther and continues to be for you and me. All imparted in God’s Word. Here, written here, in black and white… giving us great comfort and peace. Knowing, understanding, believing and confessing that our salvation and the certainty of the same lies totally outside of us… apart from our works… for as Scripture says, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:20-25)
God put forward His only begotten Son as the only perfect and acceptable sacrifice for our sins. And because of Him… because of Jesus… because of what took place on the cross… we are forgiven and free. We are God’s children once again… His beloved now in time and in eternity.
My friends, it is on these blessed words and all of the words that make up the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, that Luther declared, “Hier stehe ich.”
He… we… and all of the faithful likewise stand and can do no other, would do no other… than to stand on the solid, sure and certain Word of God. We stand on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We stand on the Lutheran Confessions. We stand on the Doctrine of Justification which declares that we are freely justified… that, is made right with God… for Christ’s sake… through His and His merits alone on the cross at Calvary … and all this received, counted and applied to us… each of us… through faith alone, by God’s amazing grace alone.
What a precious gift God has given us in Christ Jesus. What a precious gift God gave back to us, that which was hidden for so long by sinful man, but no longer through what He did… what God did… in and through the Reformation.
And may we, my friends, not keep this gift on some mantle of in a glass case… but use it… apply it in our own lives, in the life of this church, in the life of this world… and share it with any and all – the gift of Christ and Him crucified… the gift of the Gospel, the reality of the Gospel that brings us peace and comfort, joy and gladness. That others many have the same thing… enjoy all of this with us here on earth and soon, so very soon, in eternity. Amen!
Möge der Friede Gottes, der alles Verstehen übertrifft, deine Herzen und deinen Geist in Christus Jesus bewahren, zum ewigen Leben. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
“Here I Stand” 10/29/17 The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL