Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Revelation 14:6-7 Sermon
October 26, 2014
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
TLH 473 "The Church's One Foundation"
----- "Thy Strong Word Didst Cleave The Darkness"
TLH 467 "Built On A Rock"
----- "A Mighty Fortress & God's Word Is Our Great Heritage"
TEXT: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every tribe, language, and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water.’”
Mighty Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church. Have you ever thought of that name and what it means? I’m sure you have, because you see this name all the time. Over ten years ago, our congregation chose that name for this church.
Mighty Fortress was chosen, mostly because of the connection with Martin Luther and the Reformation, especially honoring his great hymn based upon Psalm 46 verse 7: "The mighty Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." And along with this, it always does us well to remember what the first verse says: "God is our refuge and strength, a very presenthelp in trouble." These are words of comfort and hope and promise, and a very appropriate name for a Christian congregation.
The word “Evangelical” has some important meaning too. Contrary to what some people think, it has nothing to do with any particular denomination or church body; rather, it means that we are in the business of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In everything we do, we are focused upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the central figure in our life as a congregation and as individual Christians. That's what it means to be "Evangelical." Literally, it comes from the Greek and it means "good news." And most Lutheran congregations have that as part of their official name, regardless of their synodical affiliation. For the sake of brevity however, many congregations will often not use it, and regard it something like a person's middle name.
As meaningful as “Mighty Fortress” and “Evangelical” are, I’d like to take time today to look at the word “Lutheran.” People have asked me at times why we are so stuck on having that name attached to our congregation.
We are a Lutheran church, or perhaps more correctly, a congregation of Lutheran Christians. We aren’t Roman Catholics, or Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Anglicans. We are Lutherans. And we aren’t the only ones around either.
Seward is well known for being a Lutheran community. Notwithstanding ourselves, there is St. John Lutheran, Grace Lutheran, Faith Lutheran, Living Word Lutheran, The Rock Lutheran, and of course Concordia Lutheran University. Lutheranism is thriving amongst the almost 7,000 residents of this community. And just outside of Seward, you’ll find Lutherans inMilford,Garland, Middle Creek, Staplehurst,Utica, Cordova, andWaco, along with countless other locations in the Lincoln Metro. There are a lot of people around who claim Lutheran heritage to one degree or another.
Dr. C.F.W. Walther once said, “We are Lutheran by virtue of our confessions,” so let's have a look at what they are. The Lutheran Confessions are a collection of documents assembled in what is known as the “Book of Concord of 1580.” Without going into a lot of individual detail, we hold that these documents are statements of faith declaring sound Bible teachings. Many of these documents were written refuting various errors which had crept into the Christian church which did not square with the Bible. These were the doctrines and articles of faith, the Biblical teachings that Dr. Martin Luther so staunchly defended against the errors that he so vehemently condemned. So as aLutheranChurch, these Lutheran Confessions are something that we as a congregation fully subscribe to; but make no mistake about this: we are to never, ever, in any way elevate them to the level of the Bible, nor should they ever be regarded as a replacement for the Bible. These are documents that correctly expound solid Biblical teaching. Therefore, we call ourselves “Confessional Lutherans.”
If you’ve been to our website, we have a short document there called “What is a Lutheran?”. Allow me to read some quotations from that document:
"A Lutheran is a person who believes, teaches and confesses the truths of God's Word as they are summarized and confessed in the Book of Concord. The Book of Concord contains the Lutheran confessions of faith.”
“Being a Lutheran is being a person who believes the truths of God's Word, the Holy Bible, as they are correctly explained and taught in the Book of Concord. To do so is to confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Genuine Lutherans, confessional Lutherans, dare to insist that all doctrines should conform to the standards [the Lutheran Confessions] set forth above. Whatever is contrary to them should be rejected and condemned as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith."
“To be a confessional Lutheran is to be one who honors the Word of God. That word makes it clear that it is God's desire for His church to be in agreement about doctrine, and to be of one mind, living at peace with one another. It is for that reason that we so treasure the precious confession of Christian truth that we have in the Book ofConcord. For Confessional Lutherans, there is no other collection of documents, or statements or books that so clearly, accurately and comfortingly presents the teachings of God's Word and reveals the Biblical Gospel, as does our Book ofConcord.”
“Hand-in-hand with our commitment to pure teaching and confession of the faith, is, and always must be, our equally strong commitment to reaching out boldly with the Gospel and speaking God's truth to the world. That is what ‘confession’ of the faith is all about, in the final analysis. Indeed, ‘It is written: I have believed; therefore I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak’ (2 Cor. 4:13). This is what it means to be a Lutheran.”
Today, I’ve entitled my message, “Five Steel Beams,” which will take us to the very crux of the faith. In doing this, I want to put forth the five fundamental doctrines that make our church truly Lutheran. These are the five steel beams that hold our entire structure intact, and were the guiding principles behind Luther and the Reformation.
The first steel beam is the Holy Bible. This is the divinely and verbally inspired and inerrant Word of God himself. This is the very voice of God speaking to us. He has spoken to his people throughout the years, and he continues to speak to us today. He does so very clearly and honestly. We can trust what God says.
TheLutheranChurchis to be a Bible only church. We don’t have “additional scriptures” like the Mormons, or the Christian Scientists or others who claim some sort of divine revelation has been given to some modern pseudo prophet. A Bible only church doesn't seek out new messages or revelations, but focuses upon what God has chosen to reveal to us in the pages of Holy Scripture.
A Bible only church also does not interpret the Bible in a variety of different ways according to the feelings, wisdom, and caprice of people. Scripture must stand upon its own merit, and must be allowed to interpret itself. If a passage seems unclear, then read it in light of something that is clear. God makes no mistakes, and he says what he means. Moreover, God does not need faulty human wisdom to interpret what he says by some subjective “I think, I feel, maybe” type of statements. God communicates his will very clearly.
The second steel beam is Jesus Christ. Without him, we would have absolutely nothing. Jesus is the only reason for our existence as a congregation. I’ve often said that the entirety of the Bible is like two arrows—it either points ahead to Christ, or back to him.
Jesus, the sinless Son of God, the second person of the Trinity was the one who came to this earth as a man. He was born amongst the cattle, he lived the simple life as an itinerant preacher, he was illegally tried, and he died the death of a criminal. But then, he defeated death by rising again from the dead. He did what we could not do, and conquered the things we cannot.
In so many ways, he showed himself to be true God. And he has taught us as well. He showed us what it is like to forgive, to love, and to care. He came to be our Saviour from sin, first and foremost; but he is also our teacher and the Lord of our life.
The third steel beam is Grace, namely God’s grace shown to us. The definition of grace is “undeserved love.” God’s grace is so great that we will never be able to fully comprehend it.
God shows us his love in so many ways. Every day that we are alive we are living in that grace. Thanksgiving will soon be upon us, and we will be reminded again of the different ways we have been blessed. The very fact that we are alive upon this earth is evidence of God’s abundant grace toward us.
But the best example of God’s grace is Jesus himself. God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to this earth to save us. Because we are sinners, we deserve nothing but God’s wrath and condemnation. But grace is getting what we don’t deserve. God responds in love by sending Jesus to this earth to live the perfect life we couldn’t, and to bear the punishment that we deserve because of our sins.
Because of Jesus, God promises to forgive our sins and cast them away from us, as far as the east is from the west. Because of Jesus, we need not fear that God will haunt us with those sins ever again. In our Old Testament lesson for today from Jeremiah 31 verse 34, God makes this promise to us: "For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." And what a beautiful promise that is!
And that brings us to the fourth steel beam, which is faith. Faith is purely a gift of God through the Holy Spirit. We can know all about theology, and Jesus, and God’s grace; but it does us no good without faith.
I heard one preacher say one time that it takes the Holy Spirit to move it from up here (indicating the head), to down here (indicating the heart). Knowing is one thing, believing is quite another.
The Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Jesus our Saviour. We know that he led the perfect life for us and died in our place. We know that he rose again from the dead.
However through faith, this becomes ours personally. He has led the perfect life I couldn’t. He died for me. He rose again for me so that I would never taste eternal death. Certainly he is the world’s Saviour; but through faith the Holy Spirit has given me, he is now my Saviour too.
The fifth and final steel beam is love. 1 John chapter 4, verses 10-11 puts it quite well: This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
This definitely has a close correlation with that third steel beam of Grace. However, this love calls for a response from us as well. We know that the summary of the commandments is to love God and love each other.
Our love for God and others is a result of our faith. We reflect God’s love in the way we live by what we say and by what we do. This is the way that we show that Christ lives within us. When we show this love, it is always out of gratitude for what God has done, and not something we do to try to earn his favor or to save ourselves by our own good works.
Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8-9, which I very frequently quote, explain this quite well: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
These then are the five steel beams that hold up the Lutheran Church, namely: the Bible, Jesus Christ, Grace, Faith, and Love. These are all things which are vitally important; without them, everything would collapse.
Do you know what an invertebrate is? That is a creature without a backbone. When I lived inAustralia, there were a lot of jellyfish around. They are invertebrates. They are basically slimy blobs that float around in the water. When they wash up on shore, that’s it for them. They can’t get back into the water, so they just sort of shrivel up on the beach. If they get next to a coral reef, they are torn apart.
That’s what we would be like without those five steel beams. We would be theological jellyfish. We would have no purpose, no goal, and no hope. It's like the old saying goes, we would stand for nothing and fall for anything.
The Lutheran church is a church which indeed has a backbone. In fact, we have five steel ones.
When Dr. Luther set out to reform the church, he saw serious flaws in those five areas. The church he saw didn’t resemble what Jesus had intended. The church was rapidly deteriorating into jellyfish status.
The text I read at the beginning from Revelation was the text used at Luther’s funeral. This text describes the importance of preaching the gospel message to the world, and bringing others to know Jesus as their Saviour. Luther indeed preached with those five steel beams intact.
So we are Lutherans, and we can be thankful we are. We can be proud to display that name on our sign and have it as an integral part of our name.
With all of this, I don’t mean to sound exclusive or holier-than-thou. There are certainly those people out there who maintain those five steel beams who don’t call themselves “Lutheran,” just like there are those who call themselves “Lutheran” who have removed some of those beams. It works both ways.
When I hear about a Lutheran church that wants to remove the name “Lutheran” from their name because it sounds “too denominational,” I cringe. I cringe because the name has so much meaning.
It is the name of the great reformer whose legacy and cause we bear, which is Jesus Christ. It is the name which connects us to the Lutheran Confessions and the Biblical truth to which they testify. It is the name that gives us a unique identity in a world filled with theological jellyfish.
So let us go forth in the world as Lutheran Christians, proclaiming the gospel to all people, whoever and wherever they are.