Saturday Evening Worship Sermon
One nail hammered into a door is all that it took to secure one man’s purest attempts to cleanse the impurities that existed in the Catholic Church in 1517.
Unfortunately, the church fell short and took advantage of the innocent, hard working, conscientious Catholics by strong arming them into believing that they needed to purchase their salvation from the sale of indulgences.
In the Catholic Catechism that was printed in 1995 we learn: that an indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the Saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins.
Since the faithful departed now being purified (in Purgatory) are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.
Even though one confessed his sins, received absolution, did the penance assigned by the priest and made a sincere effort to repent, he would still have to suffer temporal punishment due to sin.
Purgatory provided the time and space for the punishment. Granted, no one actually knows how many days that he would be spending in Purgatory so it would behoove him to purchase indulgences by going to Mass other than on a Sunday, pray a rosary, recite particular prayers and go to weekly confession.
In addition to that, one could pursue a partial indulgence and that would mean that a soul would only spend half of their temporal punishment in Purgatory or one could work for a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence took away all of one’s temporal punishment for sin and that was granted after one participated in a seven day retreat or went on a Pilgrimage to Rome during a holy year.
So, if one’s relationship with God was built on obeying man made rules to then purchase indulgences to pay for the rules that were broken, where’s the Good News! The Good News that Jesus suffered, died and rose again wasn’t enough to convince the Pope, bishops, priests and government officials that salvation was won through Christ Alone! Scripture Alone! Faith Alone and Grace Alone!
The fact that one didn’t have to do anything to earn his salvation made God’s love for us too simple to accept. Consequently fear and guilt claimed its territory in the souls of those who got weighed down and shackled by teachings that are not rooted in Scripture.
It’s true that the church is made up of saints and sinners and no community of faith stands without sin but Christians are beckoned to follow Christ not recreate Him in our image.
Today’s gospel cuts through the layers of pride and blindness that plagued the church for centuries. When Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” to the Jews who were seeking ways to destroy Him, they stood dumb founded.
For the Jews freedom was spelled EXODUS. God freed them from slavery in Egypt but God’s idea of freedom and their idea of freedom weren’t the same. God wanted to establish a relationship of trust with them but their choice to worship a golden calf and a myriad of other poor choices gave pride the center stage while God kept careful watch in the wings. Obviously, sin wreaked havoc then as it wreaks havoc now.
We may not have to melt gold to make a golden calf but anything that demands that we take our focus off Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life over and over again starts to become a golden sin.
With the way that the world is today, it’s so easy to be tempted to look outside of our faith for the strength to deal with unexpected hardships, illness or the death of someone that we love.
If you’ve ever been taken off guard by any or all of those things, then you know what it feels like to want to be set free from the agony of fear, anxiety, depression, grief or worse….despair, but what about being set free from believing that God can’t possibly love you? Since the fall, all people have been enslaved by sin but thanks to Christ, sin never has the last word!
Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Through Jesus sacrificial death and resurrection, He provided liberation from sin, death and the devil to all who believe and are baptized into His name. Baptized people have been made free again therefore they are not only able to hear the Word of God but to agree with it and accept it, although in great weakness. (Lutheran Study Bible pg. 1797)
The Third Article of the Creed reminds us that yes we are free but only if our freedom remains rooted in Christ.
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me by his gifts, sanctified and preserved us in the true faith; in like manner as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the true faith; in which Christian Church He daily forgives abundantly all the sins of all believers, and will raise us up and all the dead at the last day, and grant everlasting life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Lutherans have been studying and reciting the Third Article of the Creed for 500 years so the concept of reformation has had an ample amount of time to mean more than a date on the calendar. Aside from the historical aspect, there’s a personal one too.
The season of Lent gives us an opportunity to take a good look at our relationship with God and how that relationship affects us and those around us but six weeks isn’t enough! After taking that good look, we may be ashamed or terribly disappointed in ourselves but that’s when we must, must to pray to the Holy Spirit to re-form what has become malformed in our approach to God and one another.
In Psalm 51 we hear:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness, in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me. Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
Re-form-a-tion is God’s gift to us won through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, so rejoice!
The Holy Spirit provided Luther with the insight and courage to draw attention to the mal-formed theology that was being fostered at that time and for that we must give thanks.
Yes, it took one nail and one man to win back the honor and glory due to Jesus Christ the Son of God who with four nails and a pieced heart won for us our salvation.