Monday, June 26, 2017

Sermon on Psalm 119:46 & Psalm 46:1-3, 7, the Introit for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, "Bold Confessors"

The Word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that is preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). In Jesus’ Name, Amen. On this historic day, June 25, the year 1530, a group of Lutheran laymen, most of them princes and dukes of Germany, gave a bold confession of the Christian faith before Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, in the city of Augsburg, Germany. Martin Luther could not be present, because 9 years earlier he had been condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death. But when he heard about their success in confessing the faith before Emperor Charles, Luther exclaimed: “How I rejoice to see this hour when Christ is publicly proclaimed by such men in such an assembly, by so glorious a confession!”
The situation was this: the Emperor feared the growing Lutheran churches, and had revoked their freedom of religion, because he was determined to reunite Germany, by force if needed, under the Roman Catholic faith. The Lutherans and others, issued a protest, thus forever earning us and other non-Catholics the nickname “Protestants.” Emperor Charles requested that the Lutheran princes prepare a written statement of their “opinions, thoughts, and notions.” The Lutherans happily responded by writing the Augsburg Confession. Today is the anniversary of its Presentation. In some ways it may be more important than Reformation Day—since the Augsburg Confession to this day is our primary statement of faith, while the 95 Thesis are not, even though they triggered the Reformation. Dr. Christian Beyer read aloud the confession of 28 clearly stated articles, to Emperor Charles and some 200 other people gathered in the hall, and an overflow crowd listening outdoors through open windows. After Dr. Beyer finished reading, he said, “Most gracious Emperor, this is a Confession that will even prevail against the gates of hell, with the grace and help of God.” With those words he echoed his confidence in Christ’s great promise that built on the confession of Jesus, the church will prevail against the gates of hell.
With such boldness, they lived out the promise that we recited from God’s Word today, in the Introit. Psalm 119:46 says, “I will speak of your statutes before kings, [O Lord], and will not be put to shame.” Dr. Beyer, John the Steadfast, George, Margrave of Brandenburg, and other Lutheran princes and leaders boldly stood up to Emperor Charles the 5th, and declared that they would not surrender the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they were teaching freely in Germany. They would not bow to the command that they cease preaching the Lutheran teaching, and they would not be forced back into Roman customs that they had rejected. George of Brandenburg told the Emperor: “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.” Charles, quite surprised, said in broken German, “Not cut off head, dear prince. Not cut off head.” (notes from Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord). These bold men literally spoke the Word of God before a king, and were not ashamed.
To be so bold requires a confidence in the Truth of God’s Word, and a passionate love for it. A love so deep for God’s Word that one would rather lose their head than deny their God. These Lutheran lay people weren’t the first, and certainly aren’t the last to so boldly cling to God’s Word. They stand in the line of witnesses such as Moses, who spoke God’s Word to the Pharoah of Egypt. Or Daniel and the three young men, who confessed God above any risk to their lives, to King Nebuchadnezzar. Or Jesus Christ who confessed the Truth before Pontius Pilate, and the chief priests. Or Stephen, the Christian martyr, who confessed his faith before the Jewish Sanhedrin. The apostle Paul before the Roman Emperor Nero. Countless Christians, named and unnamed who died in the Roman persecutions, before Christianity was legalized. And Luther and these other Reformers stand in that same train of noble witnesses, stretching across millennia, who risked their earthly safety to speak God’s eternal truth, without shame, before kings and rulers. And in every one of these examples, they had little to no earthly power or authority to back them up, but relied only the truth of God’s Word. And it was their confession of faith in God that ultimately prevailed over their enemies.
But the Augsburg Confession was not aimed as some sort of insult thrown in the face of the Roman Catholics, but a statement of Biblical truth and a proposal for genuine Christian unity. That proposal still stands. In their opening words, Dr. Beyer read:
“We…are prepared to discuss, in a friendly manner, all possible ways and means by which we may come together. We will do this in the presence of your Imperial Majesty, our most clement Lord. In this way, dissensions may be put away without offensive conflict. This can be done honorably, with God’s help, so that we may be brought back to agreement and concord. As your edict shows, we are all under one Christ and do battle under Him [Exodus 15:3]. We ought to confess the one Christ and do everything according to God’s truth. With the most fervent prayers, this is what we ask of God.” (AC Preface 10-11).
            They understood that the only basis for true Christian unity was around the Word of God. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane with these words: “Sanctify them in the truth. Your Word is Truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:17-19). God’s Word today still is the basis for finding and creating Christian unity. But it takes the serious will of Christians to honor God and His Word as Holy, and to submit all of our teachings and ideas to the examination of His Word, rather than reversing the direction and using our opinions and ideas to judge God’s Word. It takes a shared confidence in the Truth of God’s Word, and a deep love for it. Sadly, we do not share even those minimal foundational principals with many churches today, as many seek to minimize, ignore or overrule the importance of God’s Word. We must be vigilant against the same temptation. Yet among those who do have the highest love for and confidence in God’s Word, there is much room for fruitful discussion.
Returning to our Introit for this day, the remaining verses come from Psalm 46, which inspired Luther to write the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Hear again what you recited earlier: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The Lord Almighty is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress.” Just like the other verse, this expresses the Psalmist’s remarkable trust in the Lord.
Here on Maui we’re in an especially good place to visualize the Psalmist’s words. How high is his confidence in God? We will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Can you imagine standing on the slopes of Haleakala, in the midst of a terrible earthquake, and literally watching West Maui mountains sliding down into the sea, while the Ocean roars and the mountains are quaking? It’s absolutely terrifying if you can visualize it. But the Psalmist says, even if this happens, we will not fear. The earth breaking apart into pieces would not shatter our faith in God, who is immovable. Why? The Lord Almighty is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress. We have a rock, a foundation, a fortress on which we stand.
The same rock on which Jesus built, when He said to Peter: you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  Jesus is our Rock; the cornerstone on which He builds the church. The Lutheran princes stood on the same rock of Christ, boldly confessing before the Emperor. Jesus is the same foundation on which we stand, even in the midst of the greatest catastrophes of our age. Whatever troubles may come our way, we have this answer and sure promise: God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Enclosed safe within the boundaries of His refuge, we need have no fear.
This does not mean that our bodies may not come to harm—as Jesus, Stephen, Peter, Paul, and many early Christian martyrs experienced. But Jesus told us not to fear death, for we shall inherit eternal life through His resurrection. But still we are called to confess the faith today. Though church and government do not have the same relationship today, as they did 500 years ago—and that’s mostly a good thing—still today we as Christians are called to make our confession of Christ. Perhaps not before kings, but maybe before legislators and congressman, or governors and presidents. And under whatever circumstances it may arise that we are called to do so, we should do so without fear or shame, knowing that the authority of God’s Truth operates above and independently from the earthly power of men. Just like the long train of confessors and witnesses before our day, we know that the power of confession is in the Truth of God’s Word, and in God Himself—not in any cleverness or earthly power of our own. In God’s own timing, He determines how and when to topple evil and tyranny by the Word of His mouth.
It also should move us to thankfulness that beyond many other ages in history, we now have far greater freedoms to speak up, appeal to, voice protest or criticism to our government, in ways that others in history never had. But with that freedom comes responsibility to use it wisely, and for the sake of doing good and promoting truth. But above all, whether before kings and rulers, or in smaller settings among friends, family, or our community, we have been called as children of God, and it’s our highest honor to confess God’s statutes, His Word, before others. It’s our highest honor to speak of the mercy of our God, who sent Jesus His only Son, into the world to be the rock, refuge, and foundation of the Christian church. It’s our highest honor to follow in His train confessing the truth that we have heard. With His forgiveness and salvation, and with His mighty Word in our mouths, even the gates of hell cannot win victory over His church. In Jesus’ most holy Name! Amen.


Sermon Talking Points
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1.         June 25, 1530, was the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Lutheran princes appeared before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to “give answer” regarding the hope that they have (see 1 Pet. 3:15). They presented in German and Latin, 28 articles of faith, establishing the continuity with the teachings of the orthodox Christian faith for 15 centuries, and also outlining the most egregious abuses in the Roman Catholic church, and how they were returning to the Bible’s teachings on those matters of dispute. The Augsburg Confession, to this day, remains the foundational expression of the Lutheran faith, and is confessed by Lutherans’ worldwide.
2.         Notable quotes from that day: “Most gracious Emperor, this is a Confession that will even prevail against the gates of hell, with the grace and help of God.” Dr. Christian Beyer, presenter of the Augsburg Confession.               “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.”  George, Margrave of Brandenburg.   “We…are prepared to discuss, in a friendly manner, all possible ways and means by which we may come together. We will do this in the presence of your Imperial Majesty, our most clement Lord. In this way, dissensions may be put away without offensive conflict. This can be done honorably, with God’s help, so that we may be brought back to agreement and concord. As your edict shows, we are all under one Christ and do battle under Him [Exodus 15:3]. We ought to confess the one Christ and do everything according to God’s truth. With the most fervent prayers, this is what we ask of God.” (AC Preface 10-11).
3.         Read Psalm 119:46. How did the Lutheran princes represent this confidence on that historic day? Where is true Christian unity found? John 17:17-19?

4.         The Lutherans were challenged to proclaim Christ’s Word “in the public square” of their day—meaning that they stood before government leaders. Today the relation between church and state is very different, in no small part due to the Lutheran teaching of “the Two Kingdoms”—but we are still called in various ways to give testimony “before kings.” Think of examples.

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