The Saints and the Lutheran Reformation
Data postării: 12.11.2019 04:34:36
Biserica Lutherană Confesională din România - Parohia Lutherană din Padoua
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ. In the period that has passed from our last Church service in October, in our church calendar were two major Feasts, the Reformation Sunday and The All Saints Sunday. There are two very important moments for our Church and I want to refer to these moments in my sermon.
As you know, the last Sunday in our Church Calendar was the Sunday in which we commemorated the saints of Christ of all times and in all places. It is a special feast that takes place at the same time in the Romano-Catholic Church in Italy and Romania. Although the Saints hold a very important place in the Christian Church life, in present just a very few people have an idea about who and what a "Saint" really is. Under the influence of various traditions, most people in Italy as in Romania too, believe that the "Saints" are a separate category of Christians, a category of people who are living a perfect life according to the will of God. The general opinion is that most of these "Saints" were people who left the world, preferring to live in some isolated places, where they fully devoted themselves to a prayer and spiritual meditation life. The life of these people have been distinguished by a perfect love for God; by lived in abstention from sin, reaching through various spiritual personal efforts to a state of perfection according to the will of God. This is the most common description of the “Saints” if we are talking with people from the south and from the east of Europe.
Now, these descriptions of the “Saints” are not exactly unfortunate. If we follow the Scripture about which we say that is the Word of God, we will notice that God says to every man: "you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev.19,2). It is obvious to anyone that this commandment requires every man to fulfill the standard of being "Saint". Because is the will of God for any man to be holy, it is God who has commanded what must be done in order to be in this way. In other words, we do not become “Saints” by doing what our reason or emotions dictate to us, but doing what God has commanded. The standard for "holiness" according with God’s will is the Law of God. This Law of God summarizes perfectly all that a man must do to be considered a "Saint" before God.
Analyzing the Law of God we discover another important aspect of this standard of "holiness". The Law of God is an uncompromising standard. It does not allow any kind of error or deviation from the commandments. Thus the Law of God tells us this: "Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them" (Deut. 27:26). God does not accept half-measures in terms of fulfilling this standard. God does not accept the fulfillment of the Law in 99.99 percent. Our Lord Jesus Christ is clear on this aspect, saying: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Whoever does not fulfill the Law perfectly is under the curse of God and is condemned as "sinful" but by no means considered to be a "Saint".
My dears, anyone of us looking honestly in the light of the Law of God cannot draw an optimistic conclusion about himself. Paul tells about each of us this: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one”(Rom. 3,10-12). This conclusion the Law of God is draw is not only about a bat part of humanity, but it concerns all people, including all who are here today. Paul draws the following conclusion for every man who has lived, lives and lives in this world, saying: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3,23). Scripture tells us that absolutely every human being is in the bondage of sin and is subject to the judgment of God and death from the very first moment of his existence, as King David says: “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps.51,7). Moreover, Paul tells us that man does not even want to fulfill the God’s standard of "holiness" as we read: "the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him" (1 Cor. 2, 14).
Considering that Paul tells us that absolutely every human being has violated the Law of God and failed in being "holy" according to the Law of God, how can we still talk about what the Apostolic Creed calls "the communion of saints"? How can the Church of Christ still talk about "saints"? How can Paul use the formula: "[to] all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia" (2 Cor. 1:1). According to the Law of God, all the people of Achaia are sinners but not saints! And yet, Scripture speaks to us about the "Saints of God" and our Church celebrated all these "saints" last Sunday. Who really are these "saints" if are not those people who have perfectly fulfilled the Law of God? It is clear that the correct answer to this question can no longer be the same as the one formulated by the Pharisees during the Lord Jesus Christ or the teaching preached by the overwhelming majority of Christian Churches that affirmed the Law of God as the way of personal holiness.
My dears, the true answer to this questions was rediscovered by Dr. Martin Luther and preached by the Lutheran Reformation after centuries in which the Church of Christ lived into a spiritual darkness identical to the one in which the Israel were during the Lord Jesus Christ time. The Lutheran Reformation from the beginning of which we celebrated two Sundays ago 502 years, is the one that rediscovered that the correct answer to the previous questions cannot be given by human reason, by philosophy or emotions but it can be found exclusively in Scripture, the only source of the truth, as our Lord Jesus Christ says: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8,31-32). This freedom of which the Word of God speaks is not gained by our effort but is the gift that God has given us in His Son.
As a monk, Martin Luther has for many years been focused on the Law of God, submitting superhuman efforts to fulfill this Law correctly and completely. But despite these efforts, Luther did not feel this freedom of which the Lord Jesus Christ spoke, contrary, the more he strived to fulfill the Law, his spiritual burden became heavier. The Reformation of the Church took place when, focusing on studying the Word of God, Martin Luther discovered the Gospel of Christ. Studying the Word of God, Martin Luther discovered that Scripture is not limited to the Law of God but it contains something else and this is where Martin Luther found the liberation he has been seeking for so many years. The Gospel speaks to us of a true miracle of God's love for man. The Gospel of Christ speaks to us not about what we must do to for being "holy" before God, but about what God himself has done through his incarnate Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may be called "holy" before God. How was that possible? The Gospel tells us through Paul as follows: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Gal.3: 13)
In the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, God himself paid the price for our inability to become "Saints" according to the Law and, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to us, he found it appropriate to declare "Saints" all those who believe the good news of the Gospel. Here is what the John tells us about this: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3,16) ). My dears, only in this sense that we speak today about the "communion of saints", because we have been redeemed, as Peter says: "with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Pet 1,18).
The Gospel of Christ speaks about the cross of Christ as the true and the only way of forgiveness and freedom from the bondage of sin and death. This has happened only because Jesus Christ bore the sins of each of us on the cross. On the cross, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, received from God the punishment for each of our sins. In this way, not our obedience to the Law but the death of Christ became our source of “holiness” because God punished our sin in the death of Christ. Paul tells us this: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom.6,3). These words tell us that through our Baptism we partakers of the death of Christ, who was our substitute in death, as the Prophet Isaiah tells us: "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53, 6). Scripture also tells us that we were not only buried with Christ but a true miracle would happen as Paul says: "for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3,27). Through Baptism God has forgiven our sins, freed us from the bondage of the devil, and put us in the love of God by planting faith in our hearts. This "putting on Christ" is a supernatural connection that produces faith and brings forgiveness of sins. Convinced of the forgiveness of sins obtained in the Baptism, Paul make the following statement: "If we died together with Christ, we believe that we will live with him” (Rom.6, 8). My beloved ones, the Lutheran Reformation discovered in the Gospel of Christ that through our Baptism we are united with God and this union means eternal life because the baptized man is a man who lives with God every day.
Moreover, in the Gospel of Christ, the Lutheran Reformation rediscovered other miraculous means by which God communicates us the forgiveness of sins and gives us eternal life, strengthening and keeping alive the saving faith in us. These are the confession and the absolution of sins and the Lord’s Supper. God puts us in Christ through our baptism, and God also sustains us in Christ by nourishing us with the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which are nothing but a medicine against sin and a food for eternal life.
My dear ones, the Gospel of Christ, the Baptism, The Confession and Absolution and the Lord's Supper are the ways in which the Christ comes to us, frees us from the bondage sin and death and puts us into eternal life. In other words, this is how God makes us ”Saints”, for where there is no sin, it is holiness as King David says: ”Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity” (Ps.31,1-2).
My dears, this message of the Gospel are what the Lutheran Reformation from 16th century brought to light. The teaching that the "holiness" is not won by the man's efforts, as the Medieval Church has preached for centuries, but this is the gift that God gives to anyone who believes in his Son and in what his Son did for our salvation, as we read in the Gospel of John:”this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jo.17,3).
My dears, today, Southern and Eastern Europe, regions where the Apostles preached the Gospel around two thousand years ago, need today more than ever to hear the Gospel of Christ. This is because the Churches in Italy, Romania and Greece are Churches of the Law; Churches which preach what man must do to be saved. The sad reality is that Christianity in these regions of Europe is in the same situation as in the Middle Ages. These people urgently need to hear the gospel of Christ. If they do not hear this truth of the Gospel of Christ then they will remain slaves of sin. But when they will hear this message of Scripture and will believe it, they will receive from God the deliverance from sin through Christ. On this special day, I wish to realize how important is the time when God has placed us in this holy mission of preaching the Gospel of Christ, because is also valid for them what Christ says: ”you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8,32).
Predică de Rev. Sorin H. Trifa