Reformation sermon on Luther’s rose
Our celebration of the Reformation, October 31st, the day Luther nailed the 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, is not a day to boast and be puffed up with pride, because Luther founded a new church or new religion. No, we celebrate, give thanks to God and remember the reformation because of what God had done in using Martin Luther, as his tool, to bring to light the TRUE GOSPEL for all Christians, all over the world…not just for the German church. The rediscovery, that ‘in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last’ is the rediscovery of Christianity itself.
I often hear and have in the past said it myself: ‘I am Christian first and Lutheran second.’ While this commonly said statement seems to make sense and appears to make us more accepting of other Christians. After reflection, I believe it doesn’t actually make sense. Let me tell you why. To say ‘I am Christian first and Lutheran second’, is to say something like ‘I am a human being first and a man second’, in order to express equality with women; it just doesn’t make sense. You can’t separate being a human from being a man or woman. To be a man is to be human. To be a woman is to be human. There is no human-ness that is before and prior to being either male or female. To be human is to be male or female.
To be Lutheran is to be Christian; to be Christian is to be Lutheran. There is no generic Christian-ness that comes prior to being Lutheran. Have you ever had a nick-name? Lutheran was a nick-name given to the Christians who followed Luther’s attempts at reforming the Roman Catholic Church. To be ‘Lutheran’ was to be named as a Christian who believed and taught that we are saved by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone and scripture alone is the source and foundation for all doctrines of faith.
In a perfect world, where nick-names don’t stick, we would simply be called ‘Christians’, as Luke records in Acts 11:26 ‘The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.’ However, this is not the case. We are Christians called Lutheran’s. Lutheran’s who happen to also have as their symbol of identity, and theology depicted in Luther’s Rose. The Luther Rose, also known as the Luther Seal, is easily the most recognized symbol for Lutheranism, and for good reason. Martin Luther personally oversaw the creation of this symbol. It provides a beautiful summary of his faith, and this is the important part, a faith that is common to all Christians, of every place and every time; a Christian symbol-like the ‘fish’.
Yesterday and today we have been watching on DVD, Bill Hybels teach us some simple techniques to help us make the walk across the room, to speak to someone about Jesus. However, there is one major presumption made; we know a little something about Jesus and what hid did for us. We could all learn more about justification, about faith, about the bible, about Jesus as our substitute and sacrifice, but if we waited until then, waited until we knew all we could about faith and about Jesus, before we went and spoke to someone about him, we would never start. Perhaps that’s why many of us feel the step across the room is too hard, and we can’t even shuffle one meagre step. We fear we might get things all wrong, or worse, they might know more then we do!!
Don’t worry, even the disciples ‘trembled with fear and never made one step across the room, because of the Jews’. But once full of the Spirit and the truth of the gospel, they began to take large steps across many countries spreading the gospel of Jesus. The power that changed them and the courage that ignited them to speak about Jesus, came when the Spirit opened them to the scriptures. The Spirit received at Pentecost inspired them to know and proclaim the basics of the faith: that Jesus died for sinners; that he rose again; that the righteousness needed to get to heaven came from God himself and that faith in Jesus alone saves and makes people righteous, as the Old Testament testified ‘the righteous will live by faith.’
You have been baptised, not only for salvation and eternal life, but you have been given even more. Not only have you been covered in the righteousness of Christ, but you, like the disciples, have received power from on high. The Holy Spirit inspires you with wisdom and hope in the knowledge of Jesus. To know and aspire to the truth, that our righteousness rests in Jesus and not our efforts, as Paul says ‘But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.’ This is the true Christian gospel that Luther rediscovered nearly 500 years ago.
Luther’s Rose, the symbol of the Christian faith, can encourage us to make that step across the room. It gives us an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of those who have already taken the walk before us. It is the ideal teaching tool for faith and mission. The Rose is simple enough to memorise, yet so profound you can never plumb the depth of its meaning for faith. It is basic in design, yet so intricate in theology for mission, that you will never exhaust its treasures. It is the ideal mission and outreach companion.
The cross is central to the Rose. All faith and mission begin at the cross of Jesus. It is the centre and core of your faith and is the power that changes lives by forgiving sin, as Paul writes ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ Our first step in faith and mission is to believe and confess that Jesus died to redeem us from sin, death and the devil. The cross, which is black, etches in our mind the purpose of the cross…to put to death. Not only did Jesus die on the cross and bore the punishment that was upon us, the black reminds us that we now die to sin; die to self and die to indulging in our sinful lusts. It reminds us ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.’
How much could we talk about that or relate that to our own faith journey.
The black cross is centered in the red heart, the core of our being, to remind us that our faith is not subjective or a feeling, but is anchored in the crucified Christ, as Paul writes in Romans 10:10 ‘For one who believes from the heart will be justified’. Luther comments ‘Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive….’ We live by faith in the crucified. The heart, the symbol for our current life, is sustained in faith and kept alive until heaven by the preaching of the cross and the blessings from the cross, the sacrament of Holy Communion; the true body and blood of Jesus.
If we speak to some about ‘Jesus, all about life’, by learning about how Jesus gives and sustain life through his word and sacraments…we have something concrete and life changing to talk about.
The cross and heart are centered in a white rose. Luther writes ‘to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace…the believer is placed into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives.’ Only the gospel of Jesus can bring this sort of joy; the joy that inspires us to tell others about him. Only in the joy that comes from the free grace we receive in Christ, can we even begin to take a step in mission. I can demand and urge all l like, but you will never freely reach out in mission, or even want to, if you have not first experienced the joy of Jesus’ reaching out to you from the cross, to freely open the door of heaven for you, as he said in Revelation ‘these are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut.’
All this is set in the beautiful sky blue that is incased in a golden ring. Why blue with a golden ring? The blue we see and experience as the sky above, is really only the beginning of the endless universe beyond our reach. Beyond that is the gold of God’s heavenly kingdom that encases the whole created universe. All that has happened to us so far; grace through the cross, a new heart, joy in the Spirit, is only the beginning and a down payment of what is yet to come; it is the blue of the sky. We live by faith, in the blue that separates us from heaven, trusting in the promise of God until that day we cross from the blue of faith to the gold of heaven.
The golden blessedness of God’s kingdom and eternal life, the gold ring that surrounds us, that is beyond us, is the comforting hope and assurance that God, through Christ, has already encased us in his kingdom.
Luther’s Rose, from the black of cross to the gold of heaven, is summed up in just a few words of St Paul in Romans 3, ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’
Wow! What a story we have to tell! Amen