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“One Little Word…”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is not an exaggeration to say that all of the problems of God’s people in Scripture happened as a result of not abiding in His Word. The Old Testament prophets offered a continual litany of the ways in which Israel ignored the Word and will of God, and the disastrous consequences that followed. The same can be said for the Church in every generation. If we do not abide in the Word, we mock God. When we do not abide in God’s Word, we become accountable—guilty—before God, just as all the world is guilty before God. We stand under the condemnation of the Law. The Law of God does not save us. The Law cannot save us; it only condemns us. That Law says that we are to love God with all our being; it tells us we must love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot do this because we are born in sin, the inheritance we have from our first parents. And so, the holy apostle is correct when he writes: “Therefore by the deeds of the Law, no flesh will be justified in his sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.”
The Christian faith tells us that attempting to live by the Law in order to be saved can only bring condemnation. That was the lesson Luther learned as a monk. He could pray literally thousands of prayers; he could whip his flesh into submission with monastic discipline; he could say a hundred Masses. None of these, nor anything else he did, could pay his debt of sin to God. At that end of that road, all Luther could see was death and condemnation. He cried out in despair for a gracious God: a God who would love him in spite of his countless human frailties; a God who would redeem him even though his sins were too many to number. In the same way, every attempt we make to pay our debt of sin to God falls short. The Law works repentance, not salvation. The Law declares us guilty of sin. The minute we think salvation is a solo effort on our part, or even a cooperative venture between “me and Jesus,” is the very minute we become slaves to sin.
In the reading we heard from the Revelation to St. John, we were told that there was an angel flying in the midst of heaven who had “...the everlasting Gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth: to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.” In our beloved Reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” we sing: “The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom ours remaineth.” This stanza confesses that the Church will never perish. Our Lord Jesus Christ is ready to defend her to the end because she is His beloved Bride, purchased and won at the cost of His own life. And this Church believes and confesses, “...the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed...through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe.” It is in this word about the righteousness of God revealed through faith in Jesus Christ that our Lord wants us to abide!
When we abide in God’s Word, when we put aside the fads and trends and gimmicks to abide in the clear words of Holy Scripture, as rightly confessed and explained in our Lutheran Confessions, then we know the truth. And the truth frees us from having to fear, love, and trust in any other god, whether the false god of self or any idol we have made. It is truly liberating to give up trying to remake the Christian faith in our own image, and simply have Christ mold us into His image through preaching and Baptism, through Absolution and His Supper.
There is an old saying: “The Church is always being reformed.” As long as we draw breath in this life, we will be fighting for the faith. That fight will not always be popular, not even among our fellow Lutherans. We may face mockery, persecution, prison, or even death for the sake of the Word. Still, we contend for the truth of God’s Word faithfully, because we know that the Gospel, with its gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, offers us the only hope there is. both for this life, and for the life that is to come.
Luther said it very well: “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him.” From the cross Jesus cried out, “Tetelestai!”—that is, “It is finished!” All of salvation’s work is done. Satan no longer has any power, for Jesus has won the victory. Abide in that word, that victory. For in Jesus, “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.