Reformation Day
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Romans 3:19-28 Sermon
October 31, 2004

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
252 "Christ Thou Art The Sure Foundation"
151 "Built On A Rock The Church Doth Stand"
149 "The Church's One Foundation"
153 "Jesus With Thy Church Abide"


TEXT: (vs. 21-24; 28) “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it; the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus…For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”

Little Johnny was 10 years old. His sister Susie was 8. They lived with their mom and dad in the city. Little Johnny had gotten a slingshot for his birthday, but he hadn’t used it much, since they lived in the city and there wasn’t really a good place to shoot it.

During the summer, Johnny and Susie would go to their Grandma’s farm for several weeks. This year, Johnny brought his slingshot with him.

One day, he was out in the yard playing with it. He was trying to shoot leaves off the tree, and aiming at fenceposts, and aiming at a target his grandpa nailed up for him. All of a sudden, he sees his Grandma’s pet duck in the yard. He thought he would shoot a rock close to it to kind of scare the duck. He didn’t want to hurt it, of course. But Johnny was a better aim than he thought, because the rock he shot from his slingshot hit the duck square on the side of the head, and killed it instantly.

Little Johnny was heart broken. He knew how much his Grandma loved that duck. What was he going to do? And to make matters worse, his sister Susie saw the whole thing. She told him, “I saw what you did. If you don’t do what I tell you to, I’ll tell Grandma on you.”

And so that night at supper, it all began. That night it was Susie’s turn to wash the dishes. But she piped up and said, “Oh Grandma, Johnny volunteered to do the dishes tonight.” And then she gave him the elbow and whispered to him, “Remember the duck.”

Johnny rolled his eyes. He knew he was being blackmailed. And of course, it only got worse.

His sister ordered Johnny around like a little slave, all the while saying the phrase, “remember the duck; remember the duck; remember the duck.” He was doing all of her work for her, along with his own. All of this was in addition to the sorrow and guilt he felt over his Grandma’s duck, of which his sister kept reminding him. He wasn’t having a very good summer holiday at all.

Finally he had just had it with the whole thing. So he goes crying to his Grandma, “Oh Grandma, Oh Grandma, I killed your pet duck. I am so, so sorry! It was an accident.”

Grandma smiled at him, and said: “Oh Johnny! I know that you killed my duck; I saw it happen when I looked out of the kitchen window. I know that you didn’t mean to do it. I know it was an accident.”

Johnny wailed, “But Grandma, I know you loved that duck!”

And Grandma said, “Certainly I loved that duck; but you know I love you more. You mean far more to me than any duck. I forgive you for what you’ve done.”

Johnny asked, “But Grandma, why didn’t you tell me this before?”

And Grandma replied, “I just wanted to see how long you would be a slave to your sister’s threats.” ...Remember the duck.

Today as we once again celebrate Reformation Day, the birthday of the Lutheran Church, we are inclined to look into the life of the reformer himself, Dr. Martin Luther.

In his earlier years before the Reformation, Dr. Luther very much had a “remember the duck” type of religion. He continually felt the threat of God’s law. He felt so unworthy when he thought about God and his providence. But he could not measure up to God and his expectations. And so, he tried everything in his power to make up for his shortcomings.

From an early age, Luther had wanted to become a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. But Luther’s parents had other ideas, and so he went to law school and became an attorney.

But then one day, while he was walking through a field, Luther was caught in a severe thunderstorm. He prayed to St. Anne, and promised that if he could be kept safe in this storm, that he would quit practicing law, and study for the priesthood.

That was Luther’s so-called “bargain with God.” If God would do something nice for him, then he would in turn do something for God—in this case, he would devote his life to God by becoming a monk and studying for the priesthood.

And so, that’s the way Luther’s life went. His whole way of life centered around the idea that he needed to do something in order to please God. He was in a perpetual state of trying to bargain with God. He would perform the various acts of contrition and penance which were laid upon him by the church. He would spend hours in prayer. He would say all the right words. In fact, he once walked up an entire flight of stairs on his knees, praying at each step. All of this was in an attempt to please God and make himself worthy of his acceptance.

But nothing worked. Even when Luther was ordained into the priesthood, he felt his own sins and shortcomings all the more. Regardless of what he said or did, it was almost like Satan was right behind him saying, “remember how sinful you are….remember how short you have fallen from God’s glory….remember how unworthy you are;” almost like little Johnny’s sister saying, “Remember the duck, remember the duck, remember the duck.”

This continued on for quite awhile. It wasn’t until Luther witnessed a man by the name of John Tetzel selling indulgences that he realized something was just not right. Indulgences were written documents which promised forgiveness of sins in exchange for a certain amount of money. This is the way the Roman Catholic Church was raising money to construct St. Peter’s Bacilica in Rome. Tetzel even had a little rhyme to go along with this, which loosely translated said, “when coins in the coffer ring, souls from purgatory spring.”

And so Luther saw people by the droves plunking down every last cent they had, in order to buy these indulgences. They would even deprive themselves and their families of food and clothing just to buy these bogus bonds.

Luther came to two conclusions as a result of this. First he realized that there were a lot of other people out there who were just as troubled and concerned over their sins as he was. And secondly, he realized that something was horribly wrong with the Roman Catholic Church’s system of forgiveness. It didn’t make sense that people would have to go through all of this just to get forgiveness. Why would God be pleased with some sort of super-church structure which would be built out of money bled from the poorer people of society?

As Luther was studying his Bible one day, the words of Romans 3, 28 fairly leaped off the page at him. The words said, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” That got Luther to thinking in a different track. As he studied his Bible further, he realized that the Church’s idea on the forgiveness of sin didn’t match up with what the Bible said—at all.

And so the event occurred that would change history. Luther penned 95 theses, or statements, which he wanted to debate with the church officials. Luther’s words burned with righteous anger. He then posted them on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg which was like a community notice board. He did this on October 31, 1517, which was the eve of All Saints’ Day, an important festival in the church year. He knew that the church officials would see them as they came to church.

He hadn’t intended the 95 theses for the general public, so he wrote them in Latin for the benefit of the church officials. But almost immediately, they were translated into German, so everybody had a chance to see what they said. This single event is what gave birth to the Lutheran Reformation which would forever change the shape of the Christian Church.

Throughout history, it has been human nature to look at the Christian faith in terms of works. Our whole society revolves around the idea of deeds and rewards. A day’s work for a day’s pay; a school assignment merits a good grade; you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. It’s the way we think. And when we mess up along the way, it’s like that “remember the duck” scenario. Good deeds are rewarded, bad deeds are punished.

But that’s not the way God thinks or acts. If we turn to our text for today from Romans, we see the Apostle Paul dealing with this same concept. The Christians in Rome also had the “deeds and rewards” mindset. Paul had to set them straight. So he says in Romans 3, 20: “For no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight by works of the law, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” The old “deeds and rewards” concept just didn’t work with God.

As we examine our own lives, we don’t have to dig too deep to see how we have sinned against God. God’s standard is perfection, and we have all fallen woefully short of that. So many times, we feel our sins deeply. How could God ever forgive someone such as me? How could Jesus love someone who has transgressed God like I have? How can I have any comfort at all? How can I be worthy of entering heaven when I die?

Paul writes some definite words of comfort for us. He directly addresses this issue in verses 23 and 24 of our text: “…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,”

In just two short verses, Paul takes our attention and turns it away from our deeds and mis-deeds. He wants us to focus our attention on Jesus Christ, and him only.

Forgiveness is not a matter of what we do or don’t do; it’s a matter of faith. Faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour is the only way we will find forgiveness and peace. Faith in Jesus is the only way we are justified; not by good deeds or pious works. Christ’s forgiveness is free and it is complete; forgiveness isn’t something that’s offered for sale to raise funds to build a building. It is a spiritual blessing that is ours simply for the asking.

That’s how uncomplicated the Gospel message is. The word “Gospel” simply means “good news.” And the good news is that we are forgiven and restored, reconciled unto God himself, by grace through faith in Jesus our Saviour. That’s the simple message of the Gospel, uncomplicated by the addition of good works. That’s the message Paul was giving the Romans. That’s what Luther discovered. And that’s what we need to remember as well.

As I was preparing this sermon, I had one person ask me, “Pastor, are you going to say anything in your sermon about Christian duty and responsibility?” In other words, was I going to say anything in my sermon about good works?

The answer to that is “yes.” There is definitely a time and place to talk about good works, and the Lordship of Christ, and how God’s law is our guide in life. Christians are supposed to do the God-pleasing thing in their lives. But this isn’t part of the Gospel message. The Gospel is the forgiveness we have through faith in Jesus Christ, free and clear of any good deeds or works of the law. The Gospel is what motivates us to do good works, out of a thankful heart toward God.

And so in a spirit of thankfulness, we will seek to do the God pleasing thing. When we do charitable acts like give money to the poor and hungry, or help someone out, or be a good neighbor, or honor those in authority, these are all acts of the law; BUT (and it’s a big “BUT” too) such acts are motivated out of love for God, and NOT out of a sense of us owing God something, or us trying to get on God’s “good side.” The gospel message is one we can believe and trust, with no strings attached. The gospel is something that is completely unencumbered by works of the law.

This is the message of the Bible, and it is the message that Luther discovered so long ago. Bringing the gospel back to the Church was the intent of the Reformation, and it is the mission of the Church today.

As I think back about little Johnny who killed his Grandma’s pet duck with his slingshot, I can only imagine the tremendous weight he felt lifted off his shoulders when he finally went to his Grandma. He found love and forgiveness in her arms. He tried carrying the weight all by himself, and he couldn’t do it. His sister’s constant words of “Remember the duck, remember the duck, remember the duck” haunted his every hour. He just couldn’t take it anymore.

That’s the way Satan tries to deal with us too. He doesn’t want us to come to God for forgiveness. He doesn’t want us to hear and believe the Gospel message. So it’s like he whispers in our ear, “remember the duck.”

In John 8, 34-36 we find some very appropriate words spoken by Jesus: “…Truly, truly I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Definitely no “remember the duck” as far as Jesus is concerned.

I’d like to close with a brief personal story. When I was installed as a pastor in Australia back in 1989, I used this “remember the duck” illustration in my first sermon. I was preaching on Isaiah 61, which were the words of Jesus’ first sermon. Verse 1 reads, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners.” This is definitely a good Old Testament Gospel text.

5 ½ years after I was installed, I was preparing to leave Australia to go to my next call. At my farewell, I asked the question, “Does anybody remember what my first sermon was about?” To my surprise, about half the people assembled, responded in unison, “remember the duck.”

It’s a good illustration, and it brings home a very important Gospel truth. As we consider our mission as a congregation of Lutheran Christians, we need to see how very important that pure Gospel message is. This is the very heart and core of our mission and ministry. Everything else we do as a congregation stems from it.

And so, every time Satan tries to attack us with “remember the duck” type of thinking, we can respond, “I remember Jesus, and the forgiveness I have through him.”

Through Jesus, we are free from the threats of the law; we are free indeed.