Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thursday Thoughts for the Readings on Reformation Sunday 2017 (October 29th)

Hey folks, sorry for the break in posting.  I missed one week celebrating my wife's birthday and one week due to vacation.  I'm late in posting this week's notes because I spent Monday presiding over a funeral; any funeral gets priority over all other events scheduled that week.

Anyways, we are hitting a stretch in the liturgical calendar where we have several special events.  This Sunday is Reformation Sunday, when we observe the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his "95 Theses" on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517; this event is widely credited as the beginning of the movement known as The Reformation.  This year is a special observance of the anniversary because it is the 500th anniversary of this event.  Many events have taken place over the course of the year and many events will take place either this weekend or this coming Tuesday, October 31st, to complete our observance of this anniversary.

Before this event, however, there was an important change in Luther's theology.  In his early years as a monk, Luther saw the Lord as a God to be feared.  God was a God of harsh judgment, a God who was waiting to severely punish us if we sinned and did not confess to/repent from our sins.  Therefore, Luther ran to his "confessor," a fellow monk, multiple times a day so that he could be certain that he had confessed each and every sin.  Perhaps in exasperation, his confessor invited Luther to read the New Testament.  As he read the New Testament, Luther's image of the Lord changed from a God to be feared to a God to be loved.  This change lies under many of the ideas Luther brought forward during The Reformation.  Where in these passages do we see support for this shift from seeing the Lord as a God to be feared to seeing the Lord as a God to be loved?

As always, I will share each passage in normal text and my thoughts on each passage in italics.  I invite you to share your opinions, reactions, and questions in the comments.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

A colleague reminded the group of us that the Hebrew word interpreted as “law” in Jeremiah 31 can also be interpreted as “teaching” or “instruction.”  This sounds much softer than carving laws onto our hearts.  The last phrase of verse 34 points to the Lord whom we can love: “…for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Psalm 46
Psalm 46:1 <To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.> God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
 10 "Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."
 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Psalm 46 is the biblical basis for Martin Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”  God is our refuge/fortress/bulwark/stronghold to which we can run/retreat when we are stressed or under attack.

Romans 3:19-28
19Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
  21But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
  27Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

This passage from Romans 3 and other New Testament passages inspired Martin Luther’s change in perspective from seeing the Lord as someone to fear to seeing the Lord as someone to love.  The Lord takes it upon the Lord’s self to justify the Lord’s people rather than ask the Lord’s people to justify themselves before the law (which we are not able to do).  This free gift of grace and salvation through the faith of Christ (alternative translation to “faith in Christ”) reveals the Lord’s righteousness and brings the Lord’s justification to us.  The Lord’s judgment is in our favor!

John 8:31-36
31Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
  34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

What is “the truth” referenced in John 8?  In context, we can connect the truth that sets us free with Jesus’ proclamation that “the Son makes you free.”  Again, this points to a God whom we can love, for the Lord loves us enough to come to Earth and die on a cross in order to free us from sin and death.

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