October 27, 2019

Romans 3:19-28

In recent weeks and months, we have been hearing faith stories. Members of this congregation have gotten up and shared their stories. Stories of their lives, their faith, and how God’s story intertwines with our individual stories. As we have heard these stories, we have shared laughter and tears. We have learned things about people we thought we knew well, that we never knew about them before. Sharing our faith stories with one another is sacred. Opening our stories of lives and faith is holy ground.

How much difference does one person’s story make? We are here today because of the faith stories of people who came before us. Today, as we celebrate Reformation Sunday, it is safe to say that we wouldn’t be worshipping here at Immanuel Lutheran Church if it hadn’t been for Martin Luther.  So, let’s take a look at Martin Luther’s faith story and see how it fits with God’s story and our story.

Martin’s father had high hopes for his son. He aspired for his son to become an attorney. So, he sent him to good schools and gave him the education he would need to prepare to become a lawyer. But as the story goes, one day Martin was out in a thunderstorm with lighting flashing all around him. He was fearful that we wouldn’t survive this storm. So, he bargained with God. He prayed that if God would spare his life, he would devote his life to God’s service and become a monk. Much to Martin’s father’s dismay, Martin followed through on his promise and did just that.

He became an Augustinian friar and devoted himself fully to the monastic life. He wanted to be the very best monk he could be. So, he followed all the rules to a T. He did his very best not to sin. He searched his life for any hint of sin, confessed it and repented from it. He devoted himself to prayer and study of scripture. Yet, sinful thoughts still crept in. Even if he didn’t act on them, he realized that his very nature was sinful. He realized that no matter how good he was he would never be good enough to earn his salvation. This dismayed him because he thought that meant he would go to hell.

Then one day he read the book of Romans and had a new insight. As Jim Mielke read for us a little while ago:

“For there is no  distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”(Romans 3:23-25)

Martin realized that if all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God, keeping every commandment perfectly wasn’t possible. Try as he might he could not do that. No one could. That’s why Jesus had to come and die and pay the price for our sins. We cannot be justified by our own efforts. We cannot earn our own salvation. Instead, we are justified by grace through faith. And that grace is a free gift. It is nothing that we can earn. It is nothing that we are entitled to. And nothing we can ever pay back. It is a total gift.  

When the reality of this new understanding fully hit Martin, he felt relieved. A huge weight had been lifted. He no longer had to slave under the impossible task of trying to live a sinless life. Aahhhh! He could breathe freely again. He didn’t have to worry about burning in hell for every stray thought or sin of omission or commission.

But he also realized that his understanding of the need to earn his own salvation by being good, didn’t happen in a vacuum. The church, in which he grew up, and was now to serving, was promoting the notion of individuals having to pay for their own sins. And they were doing so in a way that manipulated people into giving money to the church. They were told they could help themselves and loved ones avoid hell and get to heaven by giving donations to the church. In short, the church was telling people they needed to pay their way to heaven. This was wrong. Martin knew this.

He had enough faith in The Church that he thought if he just drew this error to the attention of Church leadership, surelythey would change their ways. But as he tried to reform the church from within, he was met by many roadblocks. There were people from the Pope on down who benefitted from having church members make payments to the church.  And those who benefitted did all that they could to resist change.

Martin continued to speak up and to encourage others to also speak out against it. Some of the reactions became violent. His efforts to reform the church resulted in his being kicked out of the church. It led to what we have come to call the Protestant Reformation. Protestant – relates to the word “protest.” People protested what they saw was wrong with the church. Reformation related to “reform.” People sought to reform the things that were not in keeping with God’s will.

It created a lot of turmoil. It led to the 30 Years War – in which neighbor fought neighbor. It led a large number of people leaving the Catholic Church. Up until that time there had just been one church. The world “Catholic” means universal. The Catholic Church had been the universal church. Now the universal church was splintering into pieces. It felt like the world was falling apart. It was a very turbulent and unsettling time.

We are in a turbulent and unsettling time today. Church attendance is declining, especially among younger generations. There is a lot of fear about what the future holds for churches and church institutions. There is a sense that of corruption and cover up, especially around things like priest sexual abuse and efforts to cover it up.

As unsettling as it seems, we have to have the faith that God is at work in this situation. God loves the church. God intends for the church to survive. So God renews the church in every age.

The work that Martin Luther did 500 years ago to reform the church has had a big impact for over half a millennium. God is doing something new today. When new needs arise, God gives people gifts to do the ministry that needs to be done. Each one of us has gifts to use to serve God’s purposes. Each one of us has the privilege and responsibility of using our God-given gifts to love and serve God and the neighbor.

Each one of us in on a faith journey. That journey affects not only our own lives but also the lives of the people in our circles of influence. That may include family members, friends, church members, people in our communities, and people who are served by the ministries that we are part of.

I’ve spent this weekend with our youth focusing on our faith journeys. It is easy to just live our faith without thinking too much about it. But there are benefits that happen when you reflect on your faith journey and notice where God is at work in your life. It can deepen our own faith as you recognize God’s presence in our lives. It can also prepare us to be more able to talk about the impact God has in our lives when we have noticed it and reflected on it.

I created a booklet called “Mapping My Faith Journey” that we used on the retreat. At this time, I’ll invite some of the youth who were on the retreat to distribute them to the congregation and Jason to talk about how this booklet was used at the youth retreat.

(Jason Fredlund tells of the youth retreat and these faith journey booklets.)

These booklets are a gift to you. I invite you to use them. You can write in them, draw pictures, or make them into a scrapbook where you gather items that speak to the questions. You don’t have to answer the questions in order, though that might be helpful. Answer whichever questions speak to you.

We will continue sharing our faith journeys in coming months. I hope some of you will find this tool helps you feel inspired to share your story – whether it be verbally in worship, or in writing. Blessings to you on your faith journey! Amen!

To print the Mapping My Faith Journey booklet, print two sided, flip along short side, staple twice in the middle (booklet format)