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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor


The Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost/
Festival Of The Reformation

"Grandpa Luther"

Romans 5:1 ff.

Rev. Wayne Dobratz, M.Div

(Note:  This weeks' Sermon Starter does not lend itself to outline form, so the entire message is being sent--a celebration of the Festival of the Reformation.   Rev. Kelly Bedard’s contributions will return next week.)

“Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”  Romans 5:1 (NIV)

When Fall weather gives way to winter, our indoor activities resume. We find the board games and the puzzles we left in the closet for the summer. Sometimes we get the picture albums out too and we reminisce about old times and old friends.

I’d like you to activate your imagination this morning. Imagine that you and I are looking at a picture album of the life of Martin Luther, our spiritual grandfather. If photography had been available in Luther’s time, what we would find in a picture album of his life?

Today’s text from Romans is full of memories where our Reformation heritage is concerned. That’s because the Letter to the Romans contains so many of the teachings that were precious to Martin Luther.

Here’s a picture of Grandpa Luther in the Monastery. He doesn’t look very happy. In fact, it looks as if he is torturing himself. Here’s a picture of him lying on the cold stone floor of his monastery cell. He has thrown off his blanket because he is punishing himself for his sins, trying to find peace with God. But the more he tried, the farther he found himself from peace with God and peace of mind.

Grandpa Luther told us that he often read about The Righteousness Of God in the Bible. It filled him with anger toward God. That’s why today’s text was so important to him. Paul is pointing to the very thing that Martin Luther was concerned about.

Paul wrote:

“Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ....”

There’s a connection because the word righteousness and the word justified come from the same root word in the Bible. Thank God that the Holy Spirit made it clear to Grandpa Luther that this righteousness of God is not something that God wants from us, but is rather something that God wants to give to us. Paul wrote in Chapter 1 of Romans 17),

“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”  

When Grandpa Luther saw this light shining in God’s Word he said:

“I thought I saw the gates of heaven swing wide open.”

Here’s how Grandpa Luther described that realization: 

“This expression being justified includes the fact that we are considered just for the sake of Christ. And no sin, neither our former sin nor that still clinging to our flesh, is laid to our charge.”

Grandpa Luther always taught us to look away from ourselves and to fix our eyes on Jesus. He would never let us forget that no one enters heaven without righteousness and that ours by the Law just isn’t good enough. Remember the weight that was lifted off of your shoulders when you realized that God includes you in his Good News? God charges your sins to Jesus and He credits your account with Jesus’ perfect righteousness.

Here’s what Great Grand-Father Paul wrote about that:

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them...God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Here’s a picture of Grandpa Luther teaching this during a message in Church:

“A Christian is righteous and holy by a foreign righteousness. This grace is not something human; it is not some sort of quality in the heart. It consists completely in the gift of another and is a pure gift of God, who shows mercy for Christ’s sake. Therefore, a Christian is righteous in respect to God’s grace and the free forgiveness of sins which comes to those who admit their sin and believe that God is gracious and forgiving for Jesus’ sake, who was delivered up to death for our sins.”

As we turn the page in the picture album, imagine someone in our spiritual family sharing another memory:

The thing I remember about Grandpa Luther was that he would never let us talk very long about God without talking about what Jesus did for us. Come to think of it--Great Grand-Father Paul taught that truth to Grandpa Luther. Paul wrote: ‘Being justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.... That reminds me of one of Grandpa Luther’s favorite sayings:The Scripture abounds in Christ, God and Mary’s Son. All has to do with this Son, that we might know him.’”

Great Grand Father Peter said the same thing in Acts chapter 10:

“This is the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. ...all the prophets testify that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.“

That reminds me of something else that Grandpa Luther said. He would always tell us that we Christians are at the same time sinners and yet saints, God’s holy people. I remember what he said about that:

“Learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and despairing of yourself to say: ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, but I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours.’"

Then he want on to say:

“Beware of ever wanting to look so pure that you do not want to look like a sinner or that you are no sinner in your own eyes. For Christ dwells in sinners only. For he came down from heaven where he lived in righteousness, to live in sinners also. Always think of this love of His, and you will find the sweetest comfort. For if we were to find peace of conscience through what we do, why did He have to die? Therefore, you will find peace only in Him, despairing of yourself and your own works.”

Grandpa Luther was at his best whenever he would talk about God’s grace for us in Christ. He took his cue from Paul in today’s text:

“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access into this grace in which we now stand.”

The word for “access” is one of the most beautiful words in the Bible. It points to One who takes an otherwise unworthy person and leads him into the presence of the King. You wouldn’t have a prayer of standing before the King and receiving his help without the “access” or introduction your friend gives you. Jesus is that friend of sinners who leads us before the throne of a holy and just God. Peter writes in his First Letter:

“Christ died for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. “

Oh, here’s a picture of Grandpa Luther in the classroom and another of him preaching in the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Grandpa Luther was a great Teacher. He would never let us forget how much Jesus suffered for us and that Jesus’ blood was the purchase price of our eternal life.  He said:

“We must never imagine that saving us cost little or that peace with God comes through what we have done. Sin and death were overcome for you in him and through him. Grace and life were given you, but it meant bitter work for him. It cost him much. He earned it at the greatest expense with his own blood, body and life. For to put down God’s wrath, judgment, conscience, death and everything evil and to gain everything good could not be done without satisfying God’s justice, paying for sin and overcoming death. All our blessings are given us through Christ, but now without great cost.”

Finally, Paul speaks of rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. The glory of Jesus dispels the gloom as death draws near. Jesus’ victory over death is brought before our eyes as the Pastor and Christian friends speak of our Heavenly Father’s House where there are many rooms waiting for God’s children.

Grandpa Luther's words at the passing of his daughter Magdalena are a beautiful example of how the Christian is to face death--his own or that of a loved one. When 14-year-old Magdalena Luther lay dying, Grandpa Luther prayed: "O God, I love her so, but your will be done." And turning to her he said,

"Magdalena, you would like to stay with your father here and you would be glad to go to your Father in heaven?" 

"Yes, Dear Father, as God wills." 

And Luther reproached himself, because God had blessed him as no Bishop had been blessed in a thousand years, and yet, he could not find it in his heart to give thanks. Katie stood off to the side grieving, as Martin Luther held the child in his arms until she passed on. When she was laid to rest, he said:

"My dear Magdalena, you will rise and shine like the stars and the sun! How strange it is to know that she is at peace and that all is well, and yet to be so sorrowful."

Grandpa Luther faced his own death in peace as well. He confessed his faith clearly and it is reported that he said: "We are beggars. This is true." On his dying day, Grandpa Luther reminded us that we enter heaven’s gates with empty hands, only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

The pagan people of Luther's day had a poem about death:

I LIVE, HOW LONG I DO NOT KNOW.
MUST DIE, BUT KNOW NOT WHEN I GO.

PASS ON, BUT KNOW NO WHEN ‘‘TWILL BE;
MY CHEERFULNESS SURPRISES ME.

Grandpa Luther rewrote the poem to show that faith in Christ changes everything:               

I LIVE, HOW LONG I CANNOT TELL;
GOD ONLY KNOWS AND KNOWS IT WELL;

 
PASS ON, BUT KNOW JUST WHERE I’LL GO––
WHY SHOULD I NOW BE GRIEVING SO?

Like our Lord Jesus, Grandpa Luther loved to take the ordinary things of nature to teach us the truth of God. He wrote this about the way God’s people are to speak of death: 

"We must learn a new language in talking about death and the grave. It should not be called dying, but being sown for the coming summer. The church yard or burial mound is not a mound of dead bodies, but an acre full of grain, called God’s grain, which is to sprout and to grow more beautifully than any man can comprehend. This is not human but divine language, for such thoughts you will not find in the books of all the wise men on earth.

Among Christians, this ought to be the language. They also have a different Master, the Holy Spirit, who through the Word of God teaches them to understand this heavenly language and to speak it.

So, when I see my love one buried and lie under the ground, I as a Christian, should not say, here lies a corpse.  Rather, there lies my dear Father, Mother, child, or friend, and today or tomorrow I shall lie there with them. What are they? Pure kernels of grain, which will grow immortal and imperishable, far more beautiful than the green crops in the field when the summer is coming. This is speaking of the matter in heavenly language, as God and the angels speak. ...We must clear our eyes and speak of it according to God’s Word."

On this Reformation Festival, we pause to thank our Heavenly Father for this messenger ...who had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth-- to every nation, tribe, language and people  (Rev. 14:6). Amen.

Rev. Wayne Dobratz

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This page was revised on: Friday, January 20, 2006 12:10:31 PM