Service & Sermon
Sunday, October 18, 2020
This morning we will be sharing our worship via Facebook live at https://www.facebook.com/CalvaryHauppauge/ The video will be uploaded here subsequent to the service.
Pastor Laurie's sermon is below:
Why are we members of a Lutheran Church? Some of us will say we were “baptized Lutheran,” or that we were “born Lutheran.” Others “married Lutheran.” Still others may have decided to come because the church was conveniently located, or the worship services were at a convenient time, or a friend invited us, or any number of other reasons. Lots of factors might have led us through the doors; what matters is how what we experience here affects our lives when we walk out the doors.
Martin Luther never considered himself Lutheran. He never wanted to break from the Roman Catholic Church, he wanted to reform it. Initially, when people called someone “Lutheran,” it was meant as an insult. Luther responded, “Do not call yourselves ‘Lutheran.’ Did Martin Luther hang on the cross for you? No. Call yourselves ‘Christian,’ for it is Christ who died to save you.” He and his followers were excommunicated, but they always considered themselves part of the one true Church.
It must be acknowledged that Luther and his followers were not innocent in the schism of the Church. Luther, who was an eminent professor in addition to being a monk and a priest - became harsh and vocal with his feelings for those who disagreed with him. As their arguments became more heated, he referred to the Pope in very unflattering language, including calling him the Anti-Christ. The absolute worst shame we continue to repudiate is that Luther owes an unfathomably deep apology to the Jews who paid the price for his horrific document entitled On the Jews and Their Lies. He wrote this out of his disappointment that the Jewish people did not embrace his teachings. Generations later, this document became a blueprint for some of the anti-Semitism and attempted genocide of the Jews by the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.
Luther wrote many books and documents which, thanks to the invention of the printing press, were widely distributed and read. He condemned the church for its misuse of the Gospel and called all people to return to the Word of God instead of relying only on the Church for spiritual and moral guidance. He taught and wrote hymns and preached. He studied Scripture to learn the truth. For Luther, the cornerstone of faith, as highlighted in the Book of Romans, is that we are saved by God’s grace and mercy, instead of our own good thoughts and deeds. Luther translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into German, the language of the common people. He also advocated for the common people, for example, public education for all girls and boys. For those reasons and more, despite his faults, we honor the man whose name we bear.
Martin Luther did not aspire to be a leader. When he was called by the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to defend his writings in the city of Worms in 1521, the Pope’s envoy was certain that no one as dull and stupid as Luther appeared to be could possibly have written the incendiary and brilliant books he was in trouble for writing. This rather homely and sometimes rude figure evolved into a passionate advocate for the truth. At the conclusion of his hearing in Worms, when he was asked to take back his criticisms of the church, his response ended with the now-famous line: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus, I cannot and will not recant, for to go against one’s conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Today (on October 31) we celebrate what happened next, which we call The Reformation of the Church. It sounds simple today, but for the people of that time, it must have been terrifying. The Reformation was not a peaceful movement. It brought about class warfare and bloodshed across Europe. People no longer knew what to expect from their church or their position in society. Peasants were revolting against landowners, the nobility was violently putting down the revolts, some Roman Catholics were burning Lutheran preachers at the stake, and some Lutherans were lashing out against priests and anything that looked remotely Catholic.
During all this religious and social unrest, Europe was dealing with the catastrophic effects of the plague, which wiped out whole villages. There was also a constant threat of invasion from the Ottoman Empire. The faithful must have depended on the words of Luther’s favorite Psalm 46, “We will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though it waters roar and foam; though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” Luther set that psalm to music in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Our situation today is also full of anxiety – a hotly contested election, a pandemic still spreading around the world. Paul expresses our situation clearly in today’s reading from Romans - a passage Luther often cited – “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It was also in that passage that Luther found the words that gave him hope and led him to reform the church. Paul tells us that it is by God’s grace, through faith, that we are saved.
Leila Ortiz, the Bishop of Washington D.C., ELCA, shares her story about how Luther changed her life. She was brought up in the Pentecostal tradition and was raised to believe that she had to “chase and choose Christ on a daily basis.” She hoped that her pursuit would get God’s attention and save her from eternal damnation. Then she attended Lutheran seminary and took Lutheran Confessions. She resisted and rejected the doctrine of unconditional love and grace because she believed she was responsible for earning her salvation. One day in class the professor gestured towards her and said, “When you understand that God chose for you to be saved, and that you did not choose your own salvation, then you will understand God’s amazing grace.” She had a conversion moment right there and then. She felt as though she had been set free and has since understood that her good works are out of gratitude for the salvation that was chosen for her, not by her. (Working Preacher commentary 4647)
We all belong to God. This world belongs to God. Every failure is an opportunity for God’s grace to creep in. As Luther would attest, this is not thanks to him, or the work of any Lutheran church. It is not the work of any political party. It is not our doing. Loving, forgiving, saving, and redeeming us and the whole wide world is God’s doing.
Luther recognized and taught us that in God’s truth, we are set free - free to risk, to love, to live, to work, to dream, to struggle, and even to fail…all in hope. One thing that has changed from the time of the Reformation is that our ecumenical partners join us in declaring the same message. So, we never give up. God promises to transform all that burdens us, all our anxieties, even our failings, to bring about new life. To honor the Reformation, we keep the faith, and we share the Good News of God’s great mercy and love. God promises to call us, to love us, and, like Martin Luther, to commission us in ways we cannot imagine. Amen.
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