Slaves and Sons
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” It would not be a mistake to say that these words explain the central truth of the Reformation. Abiding in the truth of the Word of God was Martin Luther’s main point. That main point was reflected in his translation of the Holy Scriptures into German, so that anyone—not just the clergy—could read the Bible. That main point was reflected in Luther's Catechism, written so that anyone could understand and teach their children the basic doctrine of the Bible.
Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Sadly, the people who heard Him took offense to His words. The astonishing thing is that those who took offense were those described as “those who believed Him.” But if they truly believed Jesus, why would they be offended by what He had to say? And the answer is simple: though they believed what Jesus said to them, their confidence was in their ancestry, their heritage. “We are Abraham’s descendents,” they said. Abraham was their idol; it was as if he was a god to them, and their heritage as his sons was their salvation.
Many of you have been Lutherans since the day you were baptized as an infant. Some of you come from generations of Lutherans. Some of you are descendents of founding members of St. Peter. Some of you even attended our day school. You know the Bible, the Catechism, and the great hymns of the faith. You’ve learned the truth of the Word from your parents and from faithful pastors and teachers. You come to this place to hear the truth. You sit in your pew and you listen as your pastor preaches the Law to you and then speaks to you the comforting message that Christ has delivered forgiveness to you through His death and resurrection. You come here to return to your baptism through repentance and faith. You come here to hear the word of Holy Absolution, spoken to you by your pastor as by Christ Himself. You come here to receive in your mouth the body and blood of Jesus Christ, given and shed for you. You have a heritage of faith, and that’s a wonderful blessing from the Lord.
And yet…and yet, there are times when the message is not what you think you should be hearing. Your pastor preaches, and you can’t help but think that the sermon is being preached to the choir, that there’s no need for the pastor to preach to life-long, every-Sunday churchgoers the way he does to real sinners. It makes you uncomfortable, for example, when he speaks of individual confession and absolution. It irritates when he preaches about the Lord’s Supper on days when it’s not offered. His message makes you squirm in your pew because he’s telling you that ‘the way things have always been,’ the way your parents and grandparents did things, does not cut it as a reason to refuse the gifts of God. “But isn’t it enough that St. Peter has been a faithful outpost in Campbell Hill for nearly 125 years?” “Isn’t it enough that our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has been bringing the Word to our country and the world for 165 years?” “Isn’t it enough that, 482 years ago, Martin Luther gave us a theological heritage?” These earthly institutions become idols, slave chains that bind you to sin. Being called “Lutheran” or even “Christian” cannot save you. Many who claim those names have abandoned the Word. Neither Martin Luther nor CFW Walther can free you from slavery to sin. Membership here does not give you an eternal heritage.
Only the truth of the Word of God sets free repentant sinners. That is the true, eternal heritage we have as sons of our heavenly Father, disciples who abide in the Word of God. Our true heritage as sons is that our Father’s dwelling place is our home as well. The Divine Service is our family gathering. In this house we are clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism. In this house we are fed with the body and blood of Christ, our Brother—a meal which fully nourishes us and quenches our thirst. Our Father spends quality time with us in the Word, where Christ’s faithful preachers share our family history, telling us the good news of how our Brother took our sins upon Himself, bearing them to the cross, suffering and dying in our place, and then raising us up with Him in baptismal waters. That sacrifice has broken the chains that bound us to sin.
The Gospel is an offense. The Word of God will never be popular in the eyes of the world. The children of the world are happy to be slaves. They have their reward: earthly treasures of fame, popularity, and fortune—all of which will fade away, all of which leave them as slaves of sin. But as sons of our heavenly Father, our heritage, our eternal inheritance, is freedom from sin and a place in the house of our heavenly Father. “The Kingdom ours remaineth.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.