Reformation Sunday                             
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Jeremiah 18:1-11 Sermon                                       
October 25, 2009

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
149 "The Church's One Foundation"
151 "Built On A Rock The Church Doth Stand"
----- "Thy Strong Word Didst Cleave The Darkness"
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"


TEXT (vs. 6-10):  "[The Lord said to Jeremiah] Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.  If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed,  and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.  And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted,  and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it." 

            Every Sunday evening, you can turn on channel 8 or any other ABC station and watch "Extreme make-over, home edition."  Now I know I've made several references to this show in past sermons, but I thought it would be fitting to do so again today.

            Every week, the producers of the show and Ty Pennington who stars in the show go through numerous applications from all over the country.  People write in and send videos of their home and their current situation with the hope that they can receive a complete home make-over, courtesy of ABC television and the various sponsors of the show.

            If you've watched the show for any length of time at all, you know that there are a lot of people out there who really need something done about their current living situation.  There have been numerous shows that focus upon a family member who has a disease, or a physical challenge, or some other condition that requires some major renovations to the family home.  And as it is so often the case, the people who need this are without any source of adequate funding to carry this out. 

            Regardless of the particular situation, the show revolves around a family that has a hardship or difficulty of some description.  So after the family is chosen, the situation is evaluated further.  Sometimes it involves an extensive renovation or remodeling of a home.  But other times, as is so frequently the case, the entire home is demolished and they start from scratch. 

            From ABC's perspective, the show is all about ratings and giving the people what they want to see.  After all, if nobody watched the show, the sponsors would pull their support and the show would be axed.  So when the families are chosen, that is the first consideration.  However there is a very real need here too.  And when everything is said and done, the particular family has a home they not only want, but most importantly, they have what they need.  Extreme Make-over, Home Edition has been a definite blessing in the lives of many people since it began back in 2003.

            Today we are celebrating an important milestone in the history of Christianity known as the Protestant Reformation.  The date used to mark this is October 31, 1517.  Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther set the wheels in motion for an adventure in Christianity like the world had never seen.  This morning, based upon our Old Testament Lesson from Jeremiah, I'm going to talk about what we can consider as an Extreme make-over, Church Edition.

            I don't think this will be a new hit reality TV series for any of the major networks.  There's no huge sums of money to be made.  Sponsors aren't out there queuing up waiting for an opportunity to advertise.   And I wouldn't expect an army of volunteers to show up to make this happen.  But yet there is a very real need connected with all this, a need that cannot be met in any other way except by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

            As Lutherans, we like to take a fond and respectful look at that "attorney-turned-monk-turned reformer" whose name we bear as part of our official name.  Indeed it is something we should do with a thankful heart, that God chose to use the likes of someone such as Martin Luther to bring the Bible and the pure teaching of the Gospel back into the church.  This fulfills both a want and a need in the general picture of Christianity.

            But as much credit as we give to Martin Luther, we have to dig even deeper to realize that Luther wasn't the only reformer the Church had seen.  In fact when we go back into the Old Testament, we can see that God used various individuals to do this task.

            One very fine example of this is recorded in 2 Chronicles chapter 29.  Here we read about how abominable the church had become under King Ahaz.  Pagan rites and rituals had been introduced into God's Church little by little, until the worship of the one true God had become almost unrecognizable.  Something needed to happen.

            Under King Hezekiah, an "extreme make-over, Church edition" happened.  The temple was purged of all the heathen objects of worship and associated practices, and it became a Church dedicated to the glory of the one true God once again.  Renovating the church in this fashion required a lot of dedicated man hours.

            Another good example is our text for today, where Jeremiah is having to deal with the Israelites and what they were doing.  They were going their own way instead of God's way.  Something needed to happen.  So God reformed the church here as well, which is described as a potter working with clay.  Just like in the TV show "Extreme Make-over, Home Edition," sometimes the potter could re-shape and re-work a piece of pottery if it didn't turn out right.  Other times, the whole pile of clay would have to be thrown back and the potter would have to start from scratch on a new piece, as he saw fit to do. 

            But as history goes and as sin continues in the world, the Church would lapse back into sinful disrepute again.  Along comes Jesus himself, who works hard at reforming the church.  He takes the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the other Jewish leaders to task and points out how they are not operating the church as God intended.  Jesus does such things as upsetting the tables of the money changers in the temple court and driving them away. 

            Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, and the Church needed to recognize him for what he was.  The Church in Jesus' day was in dire need of reformation.  As Christianity grew, it was obvious that the old church and their un-Christian conviction would have to be completely replaced with the new Christian Church.  Jesus had come to give people what they needed, which was the pure message of the Gospel.  People would be saved not by what they did, but through faith in Christ alone.

            But as history goes, 1500 years of sin and corruption had taken its toll again.  In Luther's day, there were those who had come before him, like John Wycliffe and Johannes Hus who also tried to reform the Church in a similar fashion.  But it took somebody the likes of God working through Dr. Martin Luther to take it to the level it needed to be.

            Luther saw the task at hand as being one that would in effect "remodel" the church and put it back where it should be.  The situation sounded almost identical to the problems the Church was experiencing at the time of Christ, and even back into Old Testament times.  Church officials were corrupt.  Positions of honor were bought and paid for.  People, just like Luther himself were operating under the threat and fear of the law.  The saving Gospel had gotten lost under a pile of human logic and rhetoric.  Something had to change.  An "Extreme Make-over, Church Edition" had to happen.

            If we picture Christ's Church as a physical structure, the first problem Luther encountered was the foundation.  The foundation of the whole Church was faulty.  That foundation was the pure Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, namely the Bible itself.  The authority of the Bible had become subject to the will of sinful humanity.  Pious opinions and man-made rules had been either added to, or had completely replaced what the Bible said.  Church officials held that the Bible was not the inspired and inerrant Word of God.  The Bible was withheld from the people too, so they had to rely upon what they were told.  Tradition was given an equal footing with the Bible.  That's why the first leg of the Protestant Reformation is the Latin phrase, "Sola Scriptura," or "Scripture Alone."

            In this "Extreme Make-over," it became obvious that the existing structure had to be replaced and a new one built.  This new structure would be built as the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians chapter 2 verses 19-21: "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets [that is, the pure words of the Bible], with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord."

              The structure of the Church would be sure and certain with this in place.  The Bible would have it's rightful place, and it would all square with Christ and his ministry.  The Gospel message would direct how the whole structure fit together.

            Furthermore, the Bible has to be taken literally; in other words, God says what he means.  It's because we take this seriously that we have certain teachings in the Lutheran Church.  We practice Baptism the way we do because we take the passages regarding it literally.  We practice the Lord's Supper the way we do because we take the passages regarding it literally.  We believe God at his Word without adding to it or subtracting from it.

            The second leg of the Reformation is the Latin phrase "Sola Gratia," which means "Grace Alone."  Our salvation is something that depends not on what we can do ourselves, but upon what Jesus has done for us.  We have not earned God's blessing, but it's given to us out of his undeserved love for us.  That's the definition of grace; "grace" is another word for "undeserved love."  Therefore we have to picture our Lord Jesus as having such undeserved love for us, that he came to this earth and endured what he did just because he loves us.  He accepted the punishment and paid the price for our sins so we would be reconciled to God. 

            And this brings us to the third and final leg of the Reformation, which is the Latin phrase "Sola Fide," that means in English, "Faith Alone."  None of this does us any good without God's gift of faith.  We have what Christ has given us through faith, and by nothing else.  God the Holy Spirit gives us this gift.  So God by his grace gives us everything; all we have to contribute is a sin-sick soul in need of salvation.  Through faith in Christ alone, eternal salvation and peace are ours.  By what he did for us on our behalf, we have the absolute assurance of an eternity in heaven.  That's the message of the Gospel, and it's something that the law could never accomplish.

            To illustrate this, I'm going to share a story with you that was told by Walter Wanegrin, the former host of the radio program, Lutheran Vespers.  Walter is a very gentle, soft-spoken man, with a loving and caring spirit.

            In one of his books, Walter talks about the time he and his wife had with their son Matthew.  For three years, Matthew would steal comic books.  He and his wife did everything they could think of to get him to stop.  Finally, Walter resorted to spanking his son.  After he did it, Walter had to leave the room because he broke down and wept.  Matthew didn't cry, but his father did.

            Allow me to share Walter Wanegrin's concluding words to this story: What wasn't true, however, was how I thought the change had occurred in my son. I thought it was the spanking. I thought the law had done it.  The law can do many things, of course. It can frighten a child till his eyes go wide. It can restrain him and blame him and shame him, surely. But it cannot change him. So it was with Israel. So it is with all the people of God. So it was with Matthew. Mercy alone transfigures the human heart -- mercy, which takes a human face.  For this is the final truth of my story:

            Years after that spanking, Matthew and his mother were driving home from the shopping center. They were discussing things that had happened in the past. The topic of comic books came up. They talked of how he used to steal them, and of how long the practice continued. Matthew said, "But you know, Mom, I haven't stolen comic books for a long, long time."

            His mother said, "I know." She drew the word out for gratitude: "I knoooow."

            Matthew mused a moment, then said, "Do you know why I stopped the stealing?"

            "Sure," said his mother. "Because Dad spanked you."

            "No, Mom," said Matthew, my son, the child of my heart. He shook his head at his mother's mistake. "No," he said, "but because Dad cried."

            Hereafter, let every accuser of my son reckon with the mercy of God, and fall into a heap, and fail. For love accomplished what the law could not, and tears are more powerful than Sinai. Even the Prince of Accusers shall bring no charge against my son that the Final judge shall not dismiss. Satan, you are defeated! My God has loved my Matthew.

            Extreme Make-over, Church Edition.  The Reformation.  It might seem sometimes like a lot of dry old doctrines written on yellowed pages sitting on dusty shelves.  But in reality, the Extreme Make-over in the Church has resulted in an Extreme Make-over in the lives of Christians.  God looks at each of us with tears in his eyes as he extends to us his mercy and grace.  We are no longer under the threat of the law, but under the blessing of the Gospel.  The Gospel is what transforms lives and saves souls.  Jesus has defeated Satan for us; and through faith in him, we have experienced an "Extreme Make-over" in our lives.  Jesus has guaranteed that we will live in heaven forever.