St. James’ Episcopal Church Jocelyn McWhirter
All Saints’ Sunday
November 5, 2017
November 1 = All Saints’ Day; Reformation 500; Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
- take us back to 1517
- you come to your parish church on a Sunday morning
- incense; must; unwashed people
- you are there to observe the Mass and receive the sacrament
- the Mass proceeds much like our Holy Eucharist <order of service>
- the priest says it in Latin, facing the altar
- you don’t understand Latin
- you don’t understand the Scripture readings or the Mass
- the bells let you know that the sacrament is being consecrated
- what you know about the Bible is from the images in your church
- Christ, the saints, the glories of heaven, the terrors of hell, scenes of final judgment
This was the church of Martin Luther (1483-1546)
- Augustinian monk
- professor theology at the University of Wittenberg (eastern Germany)
- and, a little over 500 years ago, was having a spiritual crisis
- you would think that if anyone felt right with God, it would be a monk
- but contrition, confession, penance, and good deeds ≠ good enough
- he deserves “the justice of God”
Around the year 1515, he is lecturing on Romans.
- and he reads <Romans 3:23-25>
- Justified by God’s grace, as a gift? Redemption in Jesus’ death, through faith?
- “I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.”
“The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning” → other passages from Paul’s letters.
- <Romans 5:8-9> -- still sinners; God’s love; justified and saved
- meanwhile, here’s what the Christian life is like <Galatians 2:19-21>
- We are not the agents of our salvation. God is. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are saved by God’s grace through faith
Salvation by grace through faith – this was the heartbeat of Luther’s theology.
Treatises and sermons, including “On the Twofold Use of the Law and the Gospel.”
- he considers the predicament of one of the Desert Fathers
- Desert Fathers = 3rd and 4th centuries; Xian monastics in Egyptian desert
- I haven’t been able to discover which one Luther is referring to
- “For over seventy years this hermit had led a life of utmost austerity, and had many followers. When the hour of death came he began to tremble, and for three days was in a state of agony. His disciples came to comfort him, exhorting him to die in peace since he had led so holy a life. But he replied: ‘Alas, I truly have all my life served Christ and lived austerely; but God’s judgment greatly differs from that of men.’”
- prayer and self-denial; admiration of followers; what will God think?
- Luther goes on:
- “Note, this worthy man, despite the holiness of his life, has no acquaintance with any article but that of the divine judgment according to the Law. He knows not the comfort of Christ’s Gospel. After a long life spent in the attempt to keep God’s commandments and secure salvation, the Law now slays him through his own works. He is compelled to exclaim: “Alas, who knows how God will look upon my efforts? Who may stand before him?” . . . The work he has wrought and his holiness of life avail nothing. They merely push him deeper into death, since he is without the solace of the Gospel.”
- that he is saved, not by his own righteousness, but by God’s grace
- Luther contrasts the hermit with two characters from the Gospels
- “The thief on the cross.” <Luke 23:41, 42-43>
- “The publican.” i.e. tax-collector <Luke 18:9-14>
The gospel of salvation by grace through faith was a great comfort to Martin Luther.
- he didn’t have to worry any more about not being good enough
- he now lived by faith in Jesus Christ, who loved him and gave himself for him
The thing is, the gospel of salvation by grace through faith goes against human nature.
- because we’re wired to be good people
- most of us try very hard to please others
- and by extension, we try very hard to please God
- also we’re not used to receiving free gifts
- we like to even the score and not be in debt to anyone
- it makes more sense to us to earn our salvation than to receive it for free
But the hermit is right when he says, “Who may stand before God?”
- How can we ever be good enough for God?
- How can we expect to even the score with God?
The thief on the cross and the tax-collector realize this.
- “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
- “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”
And Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”